Death or freedom

Sebastian Strangio

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A Karen soldier keeps watch. Photograph: James Mackay/Enigma Images

The nation of Myanmar was born under a dark star. It emerged into independence on January 4, 1948, at an exact time — four o’clock in the morning — divined by Burmese astrologers. But almost immediately the country fell apart. In its first year, the new Republic of the Union of Burma came close to collapse as civil war erupted between the central government and breakaway ethnic rebels. The state survived, but ethnic conflict would leave a deep imprint on the psyche of the new nation. In 1962, arguing that the country’s squabbling politicians were unable to prevent the Union’s dissolution, the military, or Tatmadaw, seized power, terminating Myanmar’s early interregnum of parliamentary rule.

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