We all have to start somewhere. In academic writing there is an understandable need to find a starting point — often it is a time when things changed, or when a major event tilted history in new directions.

As many New Mandala readers know, a great deal of what gets written about Burma starts in 1962.

What I am proposing to do over coming weeks is to introduce key selections from scholarly works that deal, in some way, with major starting points in mainland Southeast Asian Studies. This will be a very modest series but one which I hope will generate some interest among those who reflect on the region’s obvious starting points, and those who may have others in mind.

Today the analysis of a starting point comes from Michael Aung-Thwin’s 1985 Journal of Southeast Asian Studies article ‘The British ‘Pacification’ of Burma: Order without Meaning”.

In one section (p. 256), Aung-Thwin writes:

On 2 March 1962 the Army staged a coup, it is said, to prevent the nation from civil war. Although the immediate circumstances may have been more political and even personal, the reason given was very nearly correct from the perspective of our argument: it was carried out essentially to resurrect meaningful order in a society that had experienced extreme social and psychological dysfunction; the type of order that neither the colonial system nor the subsequent artificial Parliamentary system had provided.

This selection highlights an approach to Burma’s 1962 starting point that challenges much of today’s prevailing language about the 1962 coup. So what does Burma’s 1962 coup mean for Burmese society today? What emphasis should we put on this starting point when we write about Burmese history? Is Aung-Thwin’s “resurrectionist” argument one that still makes sense?

Thoughts on this topic, and Burma’s 1962 starting point, are very welcome. Next in the series: Thailand in 1932.