The presuppositions of Burmese independence, dating back to the British promise of 1931, were rapidly developing, prompted by the general events of the last decade and, in particular, by the events that shocked the whole South and Southeast Asian world. A certain unease had taken over the country as early as 1939: strikes in the mining and transport industries, agitations of the intellectual youth; the first symptom of a social malaise, which the local government chaired by U. Pu was trying to remedy with agrarian laws aimed at the formation of a class of small owners; symptom, the second, of the intolerance for the slowness with which the self-government inherent in the constitution of 1937 developed. Purely formal concessions, such as the approval of a new flag of the future state. But as the firmament of international relations darkened day by day, and in particular that of relations between the Anglo-Saxon powers and Japan, already at war with China, it was foreseeable that the day would come when Burma too would be involved in the conflict: hence, the care given by the British government to constitute on the spot, forces capable of containing the Japanese expansion, which, on the other hand, could not fail to translate into developments in Burmese autonomy. Thus the foundations of a Burmese navy and air force were laid, even before the opening of the conflict with Japan, in which the Burmese government declared it wanted to participate alongside Great Britain (December 8, 1941). The strategic value of Burma had already been highlighted for some years, that is, since (1939) the highway from Lashio to Kun-ming was completed (see below).
The preparations for the defense of Burma were of little use: only the populations, not strictly Burmese, on the border opposed fierce resistance to the Japanese, who in May 1942 could be considered masters of almost the whole country. And bosses not entirely unwelcome, at least initially. The English governor, together with the principal members of the Burmese government, fled to India; in Burma abandoned to itself, the Japanese associated Burmese elements (chief among them Dr. Ba Maw) with the government, trying to win them over to the idea of ”Japanese co-prosperity”, promoting Japanese teaching, calling young Burmese to study in Japanese universities. In March 1943 the Japanese occupiers declared that they wanted to make Burma an independent state and, as if to concretize their will, in August they abolished the military occupation government and seemed to want to give the Burmese state a little more than the semblance of independence: Burmese diplomatic representatives were accredited in Japan, in Man-chu kwo, in Thailand: and the humble Burmese government even declared war on Great Britain and the United States and signed a military alliance with Japan. But behind the screen of the independent Burmese government, the Japanese occupation weighed on the country: the censorship on the radio and the press was despotic and unintelligent, the Japanese interference in economic affairs continued and unbearable, some measures, such as compulsory labor, unpopular. Basically, the Japanese attempts to galvanize the public spirit and to incite it against the Anglo-Americans met with success only in some layers of the Burmese population: most remained passive, both in the face of the Japanese occupation, and in the face of the gradual recovery of Burma by the forces British, which in September 1945 found its conclusion. Indeed, if anything, a certain color of national war of liberation occurred precisely in this last phase: even elements who had welcomed the advent of Japan, now participated in the war against the invaders: thus the gen. U. Aung San, former minister of war in the pro-Japanese Burmese government, and now head of the “Anti-Fascist People’s League for Freedom” (AFPFL), to which, in essence, we owe the strong impetus given to the political renewal of the country. At first, the League refused to enter the narrow legislative and executive councils that the British Labor government, far from indulging in a policy of resentment, had instituted as an opening to a more complete autonomy of Burma; then, in September 1946, U. Aung San accepted the position of adviser for defense and foreign affairs and six of his party comrades headed other departments, thereby causing the hardening of the parties not represented in the League. In January 1947, despite Churchill’s lively protests against the gratuitous dismantling of British imperial positions, they began in London, at the invitation of the Labor government, conversations with a Burmese delegation to establish the essential points of the country’s future constitutional situation, loudly demanded by all parties and especially by extremists, who even called for the “war of independence”. Faced with such excesses, the AFPFL already represented a moderate position, with which – despite the difficulties for the treatment of frontier populations, which the new Burma did not intend to give up – the British government soon reached an agreement (communicated to the Municipalities January 28, 1947): the elections to be held soon would have established, through a constituent assembly, the future structure of the country: in the meantime, the current executive council assumed functions of provisional government, as if it were a domain (although the qualification from dominion was not recognized in Burma); and as if it were a dominion, Burma obtained to be represented in London by a High Commissioner, to send and receive diplomatic representatives, and to be temporarily employed in the UN under British patronage. The elections of April 9, 1947, although somewhat limited in significance by the low turnout and the boycott of the extremist nationalist parties of U. Saw and Ba Man and one of the two Communist parties, gave the AFPFL an overwhelming majority.. Despite many moral and material difficulties (unemployment, strikes, famines), of which U. Aung San (assassinated in Rangoon on July 19, 1947) was also a victim, the constituent assembly was able to carry out its work (constitution of September 24 1947) and, with the guarantee of a special regime, to overcome even the obstacles of the frontier peoples. On October 17, 1947 Takin Nu, successor of U. Aung San, defined by treaty the positions with respect to Great Britain: Burma is recognized fully sovereign and free to remain in the British Commonwealth or to leave it, in the confidence that more than legal ties can ideal ties and interest of course. In fact, in the absence of a true secession of Burma from the British Commonwealth, it implicitly follows that it continues to be part of it, without the situation being juridically specified. Life in independent Burma is still in a fluid state. The popular league currently in power is going through a period of crisis, opposed as it is by extremists on the right and left.