Aung San founded the modern Burmese military (the Tatmadaw) on December 26, 1942 in Bangok with the historic Thirty Comrades. He was instrumental in bringing about Burma's independence, but was assassinated six months before its final achievement. He is recognized as the leading architect of independence, and the founder of Union of Burma. Affectionately known as "Bogyoke" (General), Aung San is still widely admired by Burmese people, and his name is still invoked in Burmese politics to this day.
Aung San received his primary education at a Buddhist monastic school in Natmauk, and secondary education Yenangyaung High School. He went to College at Rangoon University.
In February 1936, he was threatened with expulsion from the university, along with U Nu, for refusing to reveal the name of the author of the article Hell Hound At Large, which criticized a senior University official. This led to the Second University Students' strike, and the university subsequently retracted their expulsion orders. In 1938, Aung San was elected president of both the Rangoon University Students Union (RUSU) and the All-Burma Students Union (ABSU) formed after the strike spread to Mandalay. In the same year, the government appointed him as a student representative on the Rangoon University Act Amendment Committee.
Aung San received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature, Modern History, and Political Science in 1938.
In October 1938, Aung San left his law classes and entered nationalist politics. At this point, he was anti-British, and staunchly anti-imperialist. He became a Thakin (lord or master—a politically motivated title that proclaimed that the Burmese people were the true masters of their country, not the colonial rulers who had usurped the title for their exclusive use) when he joined the Dobama Asiayone (Our Burma Union), and acted as their general secretary until August 1940. While in this role, he helped organize a series of countrywide strikes that became known as Htaung thoun ya byei ayeidawbon (the '1300 Revolution', named after the Burmese calendar year).
He also helped found another nationalist organization, Bama-htwet-yat Gaing (the Freedom Bloc), by forming an alliance between the Dobama, the ABSU, politically active monks and Dr Ba Maw's Sinyètha (Poor Man's) Party, and became its general secretary. What remains relatively unknown is the fact that he also became a founding member and first secretary-general of the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) in August 1939. Shortly afterwards he co-founded the People's Revolutionary Party, renamed the Socialist Party after the Second World War. In March 1940, he attended the Indian National Congress Assembly in Ramgarh, India. However, the government issued a warrant for his arrest due to Thakin attempts to organize a revolt against the British, and he had to flee Burma. He went first to China, seeking assistance from the communist Chinese, but he was intercepted by the Japanese military occupiers in Amoy, and was convinced by them to go to Japan instead.
The capital of Burma, Rangoon, fell to the Japanese in March 1942 (as part of the Burma Campaign in World War II), and the Japanese military administration took over the country. In July, Aung San re-organized the BIA as the Burma Defense Army (BDA). He remained its commander in chief—this time as Colonel Aung San. In March 1943, he was once again promoted to the rank of Major-General. Soon afterwards, he was invited to Japan, and was presented with the Order of the Rising Sun by the Emperor.
On August 1 1943, the Japanese declared Burma to be an independent nation. Aung San was appointed War Minister, and his army was again renamed, this time as the Burma National Army (BNA). His cooperation with the Japanese authorities was to be short-lived: Aung San became skeptical of their promises of true independence and was displeased with their treatment of the Burmese people. He made secret plans to drive the Japanese out of Burma and made contact with the British authorities in India, with the help of Communist leaders Thakin Than Tun and Thakin Soe who had anticipated and warned the independence movement of the more urgent threat of fascism before the Japanese invasion. On March 27 1945 he led the BNA in a revolt against the Japanese occupiers and helped the Allies defeat the Japanese. March 27 came to be commemorated as 'Resistance Day' until the military regime later renamed it 'Tatmadaw (Armed Forces) Day'.
In January 1946, Aung San became the President of the AFPFL following the return of civil government to Burma the previous October. In September, he was appointed Deputy Chairman of the Executive Council of Burma by the new British Governor Sir Hubert Rance, and was made responsible for defence and external affairs. Rance and Mountbatten took a very different view from the former British Governor Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith, and also Winston Churchill who had called Aung San a 'traitor rebel leader'. A rift had already developed inside the AFPFL between the Communists and Aung San leading the nationalists and Socialists, which came to a head when Aung San and others accepted seats on the Executive Council, culminating in the expulsion of Thakin Than Tun and the CPB from the AFPFL.
Aung San was to all intents and purposes Prime Minister, although he was still subject to a British veto. On January 27 1947, Aung San and the British Prime Minister Clement Attlee signed an agreement in London guaranteeing Burma's independence within a year - he had been responsible for its negotiation. During the stopover in Delhi at a press conference, he stated that the Burmese wanted 'complete independence' not dominion status and that they had 'no inhibitions of any kind' about 'contemplating a violent or non-violent struggle or both' in order to achieve this, and concluded that he hoped for the best but he was prepared for the worst. He is also believed to have been responsible, in part, for the persecution of the Karen people, based on their loyalty to the British and having fought the Japanese and the BIA. Dorman-Smith had in fact rejected a request for an AFPFL delegation to visit London and tried to bring Aung San to trial for his role in the execution of a village headman during the war.
Two weeks later, on February 12 1947, Aung San signed an agreement at the Panglong Conference, with leaders from other national groups, expressing solidarity and support for a united Burma. In April, the AFPFL won 196 of 202 seats in the election for a constituent assembly. In July, Aung San convened a series of conferences at the Sorrenta Villa in Rangoon to discuss the rehabilitation of Burma.
However there are aspects of U Saw's trial that give rise to doubt. The possibility of a conspiracy involving the British - a variation on this theory was given new life in an influential, but sensationalist, documentary broadcast by the BBC on the 50th anniversary of the assassination in 1997.
His literary work entitled "Burma's Challenge" was a hit among other publications.