Transnational Flows of Military Talent: The Contrasting Experiences of Burma and Thailand since the 1940s

  • Nicholas Farrelly


Parts of mainland South East Asia claim the tragic distinction of hosting the world’s longest running civil wars. Some of these wars began in the 1940s; fighters from World War II enjoyed no respite as they were quickly drawn into the local conflagrations that followed the global war. While combat, support, training and supply have remained largely the preserve of South East Asians there have been foreigners, like the ‘visitors’ introduced above, who have sought to make their own contributions. Across decades, transnational flows of foreign military talent have remained integral to the landscape of security, resistance and conflict in this region. Whether ‘government advisors’, ‘mercenaries’, ‘adventurers’ or ‘loons’ they have become enmeshed in wars of ambush and attrition where any front lines are obscured by a sometimes impenetrable mix of history, ethnicity, geography and culture. Understanding the experiences of foreign fighters requires attention to the long-term social, political and economic characteristics of the region. To explain transnational flows of military talent in mainland South East Asia this chapter explores the situation in two adjacent countries, Burma2 and Thailand, and argues that they present contrasting yet mutually reinforcing histories of foreign entanglements. The focus here is the ethnic minority forces, former colonial officers, Chinese militias, government advisors and ‘adventurers’ who have helped shape South East Asia’s long wars.


Central Intelligence Agency Resistance Movement United States Military Chinese Militia Foreign Involvement 
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© Nicholas Farrelly 2013

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  • Nicholas Farrelly

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