Further to yesterday’s post about the Burmese generals and their reputed lack of intelligence I would like to introduce another slightly contrarian perspective. Thanks to everyone who has already weighed in with their comments.

I have sometimes wondered out loud whether the exceptionalism that underpins many analyses of the Burmese generals is built on another slight mis-reading of their capacities. When we look to the Burmese generals it is all too easy to see them as unique, special and, therefore, difficult to fathom. “Why are they so evil?”, some ask. Others barge through with “Why would they ever do that?”, “What makes them tick?”, “They are just so…incomprehensible”.

Or are they?

Sometimes I think the best available response to these assertions lies in questioning the types of comparisons that are, perhaps inadvertently, at the heart of words like “thuggish”, “ignorant”, “unsophisticated”, etc.

As such, I am intrigued as to whether there is something in the top-level military cultures of neighbouring countries — and particularly Thailand, Bangladesh and, to some extent, India (and particularly northeast India) — that needs to be integrated into the way the world sees the Burmese generals. Are they, dare I ask, no more “thuggish” or “unsophisticated” than many of their counterpart military commanders in neighbouring countries?

The relationships of the militaries of, say, Thailand and Bangladesh to the civilian political processes of those countries is different, sure. But these relationships are also often strained to breaking point. Is it too much to say that, in many ways, they are not that different? And perhaps by better understanding the comparatively more accessible military cultures of these countries it would be possible to shed new light on what happens in Burma, at the highest levels? What could a comparative study of the various elite military cultures tell us?

Of course I accept that each national “high command” emerges from its own historical, cultural and political context. But are there, all the same, general things about the mindsets of Burmese military commanders that could, under current conditions, be best understood through a wider comparative lens?

What do New Mandala readers think? Is this a possible way forward? Or, at the end of the day, are the Burmese generals (their institutional culture, their personal attributes, their approach to running an army/country, etc) really different (and exceptionally so)?