As a student in the Rangoon University, he served on various student’s organizations and bodies, notably as Editor, Vice-President and President of the Rangoon University Student’s Union, and as one of the founders and Presidents of the All-Burma Students’ Union. He also served, even as a student, along with another student representative, on the University Act Amendment Committee appointed by Government of the day early in 1938 and succeeded in getting a fairly progressive University Act passed by the Burma Legislature, an Act which had been the source of so much country-wide students’ agitations and strikes in 1920 and 1936. He also contributed articles to local English and Burmese press as a student and served for a time on the editorial staff of “New Burma” the only Burman-owned and managed nationalist, tri-weekly in English in those days. In October 1938, he ended his law studies abruptly in order to place his services for the patriotic cause of national freedom, by joining in Dohbama Asi-ayone (Thakins), at that time the only militant and intensely nationalistic political party in Burma.
He was General Secretary of that party since about his joining of the party till August 1940 when he evaded arrest and went underground to continue the fight for his country’s freedom. As a Thakin leader, he was arrested and detained early in 1939 for being one of those leading “a conspiracy to overthrow Government by force “according to Government communiqué of the day but was released shortly after. As General Secretary of the Thakin Party, “there was no doubt that he worked hard…” and was one of the triumvirate who made Dohbama Asi-ayone (the official title of Thakin Party) “such a subversive movement it to-day is” as written in Government records of that time, responsible for formulation of a number of important decisions and policies of the Party. He served also on the Working Committee of the All-Burma Peasants’ League and was one of the principal figures initiating a Freedom Bloc of parties and elements interested in the struggle for Burma’s freedom, along with Dr. Ba Maw, during 1939-40. He also acted as Secretary of that Freedom Bloc till he went underground. In March 1940, he led a Thakin delegation to the Ramagarh session of the Indian National Congress at that latter’s invitation and visited Gaya, Benares, Allahabad, Agra, Delhi, Peshawar, Khyber-Pass, Lahore, Amritsar, Ahmadabad, Bombay and Calcutta in India. After he come back from India, he served for a short time on the Governing Body of University College, Rangoon, as a representative of the Rangoon University Students’ Union while conducting an intensive anti-imperialist, anti-war campaign in Burma. A warrant for his arrest came out, and he evaded the warrant and went underground, even though the warrant had to be withdrawn later owing to signs of unrest created amongst the youth in Burma on account of the warrant.
He then went to Amoy, china, to seek international contacts and aid for his country’s freedom struggle and stayed for about two months in the International Settlement there, when the Japanese came and took him to Tokyo as the contact was arranged by his comrades in Burma. In Tokyo, he stayed for about three months and came back to Burma early in 1941, to communicate the plans given by the Japanese to his comrades in Burma. He went back to Tokyo soon after, taking with him the first batch of young men to be given military training by the Japanese for the purpose of leading an insurrection in Burma.
Early in 1942, he came to Bangkok and there organized the Burma Independence Army with the help of the Japanese. He marched into Burma, along with the latter, when they invaded Burma. Ever since he and his comrades were in Japan, they had conflicts with the Japanese which became more and more intensified as the Japanese marched into Burma and persecuted the people more and more. He even tried to organize and anti-Japanese movement before he came into Burma and after the Japanese occupation of Rangoon without success. But the fact of anti-Japanese sentiments in the Burma Independence Army were well known in the country, and for that reason and because of the machinations of anti-B.I.A. political opponents taking advantage of certain excesses committed by some “B.I.A. administrations” formed in the rear under the authority of the then Japanese Commander of (B.I.A.) etcetera, the B.I.A. was reorganized into a much more retrenched Burma Defence Army (B.D.A.) when he became Commander of that Army with the rank of full colonel.
In March, 1943, he and Dr. Ba Maw along with two others were invited to Tokyo by the Japanese Government, was promoted to the rank of Major-General, had an audience with the Japanese Emperor and decorated with the Third Class Order of the Rising Sun. When he came back from Tokyo, he gave a broad hint at a reception given in honour of the Tokyo visitors that the independence coming to Burma was more or less “nominal”. He then was appointed on the Independence Preparatory Commission for presenting questions relating to Burma’s defence and the B.D.A. of which he was commander. Later, with the inauguration of the so-called Burma Independent State, he became Defence Minister, with the rank of Major-General, was decorated again on its anniversary with the First Class Order of Sacred Treasure by the Japanese Government along with several others, but he made and open anti-Japanese speech at the ceremony celebrating the anniversary of Burma’s independence, attacking the nominal independence of Burma. That speech was reported to have repercussion even in Tokyo government circles.
He attempted again to form an anti-Japanese Resistance Movement from 1943 and succeeded in forming the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League in August 1944. He came into contact with the Allied Headquarters towards the close of 1943. Finally he led the open general rising against the Japanese militarists on 27th March 1945. In September 1945, he and ten other colleagues went to Kandy to conclude a military agreement for the amalgamation of the Patriotic Burmese Force (as the Resistance Forces were then called) with the Burma Army under British control. He was offered the post of Deputy Inspector-General of the Burma Army with the rank of Brigadier by Lord Louis Mountbatten on behalf of the British Government, but he nominated one of his deputies to that post, while he himself left the Army to continue to strive for the independence of his country. He became President of the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League in August 1945 and was re-elected in that office at the first Congress of the AFPFL held in January 1946, attended by over one thousand three hundred delegates from all over Burma and attended by nearly one hundred thousand people on its opening day. In October, 1946, he was asked to put up eleven names for participation in the Governor’s Executive Council. But as he could not obtain satisfactory terms from the Governor, he withdrew his nominations. But such was and has been the popular sanction behind him and AFPFL of which he is President that even the British Government in Britain was compelled to admit in their Parliament the popularity of AFPFL and keep the doors “still open” for AFPFL to come into the Governor’s Executive Council.
Aung San, Burma’s Challenge, Rangoon, The New Light of Burma Press Ltd., 1946 December.