The Wars of Burma/Myanmar

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The Wars of Burma/Myanmar


The South East Asian nation of Myanmar (also known as Burma), has a long history as an independent nation, punctuated by over sixty years of conquest and occupation as a colonial possession of the expansionist British Empire. Burma was seized by the Japanese in World War Two, and became a major battleground as British, Indian, American, and Chinese forces battled against the Japanese. Three year after the defeat of Japan, Burma once again became an independent nation, but almost immediately plunged into civil war, as Karen ethnic group rebelled and a Communist uprising nearly toppled the new government. The civil war began in 1948, and has continued with varying degrees of intensity ever since. In 1988, a pro-democracy movement was crushed violently by the military dictatorship, which also renamed the nation "Myanmar." In late 2007, a new, so-far peaceful anti-government uprising led by Buddhist monks has been met with violence from government security forces.

It should be noted that the current involvement of the Buddhist monks in the 2007 protests harkens back to the long-running resistance to the British conquest and occupation of Burma in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Many of the protests against British rule were led by Buddhist monks, so the current monk-led protests are part of a tradition of Burmese/Myanmar popular action to unpopular and repressive regimes.

Below is a listing of the wars and conflicts of Burma and Myanmar since the first war with the British Empire in the early 1800s.

First Anglo-Burmese War (1824–1826)

Second Anglo-Burmese War (1852)

Third Anglo-Burmese War (1885)

Burmese Resistance to British Conquest (1885-1889)

Second World War: Burma Campaign (1942-1945)

Burmese Civil War (1948-Present)--Long and complex civil war involving several different uprisings and rebellions against the Burmese government. This long-running war includes government warfare against the Karen, Kachin, Shan and other ethnic groups, Communist rebels, and pro-democracy protesters and rebels (these last two in 1988 and 2007). The civil war includes the "Four Eights" or 8888 Uprising (August 8, 1988 to September 18, 1988), in which over 3,000 were killed by the military. Burmese/Myanmar rebel armies and forces during the civil war include:


Communist Party of Burma (CPB)--The Burmese Communist Party was active against the British and Japanese occupiers, and after independence in 1948, launched a rebellion against the government. The CBP signed a peace agreement with the government ending its rebellion in 1989.

Active opposition to the Myanmar/Burmese government dates from March, 1948 to 1989. The CPB formed in 1939.


Karen National Union (KNU)-- The main Karen insurgent force. Active opposition to the Myanmar/Burmese government dates from 1948 to the Present. The KNU formed in 1947.


United Wa State Army (UWSA)--Formed in 1989 after the Communist Party of Burma ended its war against the government. The Wa ethnic group had formed the bulk of the CPB's military force, and they did not want to end their war against the Burmese government. The UWSA continued resistance using the bases and infrastructure created by the Communists. The Wa live and operate along the Chinese border. Active opposition to the Myanmar/Burmese government dates from 1989 to the Present. The Wa fought against the government as part of the CPB from the 1970s to 1989.


Chin National Front / Chin National Army--The resistance movement of the largely Christian Chin people. Active opposition to the Myanmar/Burmese government dates from 1988 to the Present.


The Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors (VBSW) --anti-government guerrilla group best known for a 1999 raid on the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok, Thailand. The VBSW operates out of refugee camps along the Myanmar-Thai border. Known to be allied with God's Army. Active opposition to the Myanmar/Burmese government dates from 1999. Sources: http://www.fas.org/irp/world/para/vbsw.htm and http://www.tkb.org/Group.jsp?groupID=4311


God's Army of the Holy Mountain, best known simply as "God's Army," is a breakaway faction of one of the largest Burmese opposition groups, the Karen National Union (KNU). Supposedly led by two children, the brothers Johnny and Luthor Htoo, the small Karen guerrilla group gained world fame through the young age of the brothers, as well as when God's Army seized a medical complex along the Myanmar-Thai border in January, 2000. Myanmar military assaults virtually wiped the group out, and the remnants, along with Johnny and Luthor fled to Thailand in January, 2001. This effectively brought an end to God's Army. Active opposition to the Myanmar/Burmese government dates from 1997 to 2001.

Sources: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/para/gods_army.htm and http://www.tkb.org/Group.jsp?groupID=4032



Chinese KMT Invasion (1950)--Refugee Nationalist (Koumintang, or KMT) Chinese soldiers retreated across the Chinese-Burma border to escape the advancing Chinese Communist armies of Mao Tse-Tung.

Sino-Burma Border War (1956)

Thailand-Myanmar Border Conflict (2001)



R. Ernest, Dupuy, and Dupuy Trevor N. The Encyclopedia of Military History: From 3500 B.C. To The Present.New York: Harper & Row, 1970.

Kohn, George C. Dictionary of Wars. New York: Facts On File Publications, 1999.





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