Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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U Nu (1907–1995)

Burmese nationalist and prime minister (1948–1956, 1957–1958, 1960–1962). Born in Wakema on 25 May 1907, U Nu secured a BA degree from the University of Rangoon in 1929 and served as headmaster and superintendent of the Pantanaw National High School. In 1936 he was expelled from the University of Rangoon law school along with fellow nationalist Aung San for his anti-British political activity. Imprisoned in 1942 by British authorities, Nu was released upon the Japanese occupation of Burma. He subsequently served as foreign minister in the Baw Maw Japanese-sponsored puppet government while retaining links with resistance guerrillas.

Following the war, Nu became vice president of the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League (AFPFL) and was also unanimously elected president of the Constituent Assembly in June 1947. When Aung San, then deputy chairman of the interim government, was assassinated in the summer of 1947, Nu succeeded him at the colonial governor's request. Nu worked to hasten Burmese independence and signed the independence treaty with British Prime Minister Clement Attlee on 17 October 1947. Nu began serving as independent Burma's first prime minister on 4 January 1948 while introducing parliamentary democracy.

Nu was immediately confronted with a war-ravaged economy, communist subversive activity, and ethnic strife. Burma's neutrality in the Chinese Civil War was compromised when Chinese Guomindang (GMD, Nationalist) troops launched raids from Burmese territory, forcing Nu's government to lodge a protest with the United Nations (UN). He resigned in 1956 and returned to power in 1957 but was ultimately forced to yield to General Ne Win and the Burmese military in 1958, which headed a caretaker government until April 1960. Nu returned to power when his party won the February 1960 elections, but civil unrest persisted. This instability enabled Ne Win to stage a coup on 2 March 1962.

Nu was imprisoned until 1966 and then fled in exile to Bangkok, where he attempted to organize a prodemocratic, anti–Ne Win movement under the United National Liberation Front in 1969. Nu shifted his base of operations to India during 1974–1980 and, on assurances from Ne Win, returned to Burma (now Myanmar) in 1980. Following increased government repression, on 8 August 1988 Nu announced the establishment of a largely symbolic provisional government. In 1989 he was arrested and was kept under house arrest until 1992. Nu died in Yangon (Rangoon) on 14 February 1995.

Udai Bhanu Singh


Further Reading
U Nu. U Nu, Saturday's Son. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1975.
 

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