Minzayar Oo for The New York Times
At the museum, a dozen display halls, each easily as big as a football field, show off bombs, mines, machine guns, mortars, warplanes and artillery. Yet even in a city filled with reminders of the military’s might, the country’s sprawling Defense Services Museum, set on 600 acres, perhaps best showcases the mind-set of a military force preoccupied with its reputation and showing off its power. Unofficial estimates of the museum’s floor space put its size at around 540,000 square feet, not much smaller than the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. “There are military museums in other countries, but the one in Naypyidaw is way too big in comparison,” Mr. Ye Myo Hein said. An exhibit inside the museum. The display text reads: “Settee Used by Thirty Comrades at the Blood Drinking Ceremony for Taking the Oath of Allegiance when Burma Independence Army was formed in Bangkok, Thailand.” A dozen display halls, each easily as big as a football field, show off bombs, mines, machine guns, mortars, warplanes and artillery. Photos of military leaders saluting and congratulating each other are everywhere.
Elaborate dioramas portray optimistic versions of the military’s capabilities. One demonstrating the military’s communications capabilities includes a tiny model of an aircraft carrier. Myanmar’s Navy has no aircraft carrier.
Less overtly militaristic mementos abound, too — like a soccer ball from when Myanmar’s national team was ably coached by a colonel, and a plaque from the U.S.S. North Carolina Battleship Commission, sent in thanks for Myanmar’s help supplying teak to replace the decks of the World War II-era ship.
Exhibits at the museum which, aside from members of the military and the occasional school group, gets few visitors.
But aside from groups of soldiers, whose visits are likely mandatory, there are not many people to admire these artifacts.
On a recent visit, museum staff members easily outnumbered the civilians wandering the halls, mostly monks in small groups. One attendant said the museum typically has just a few visitors each day, with an occasional school group.
Nine different Burmese political analysts contacted said they couldn’t talk about the museum — because none had been there.
The museum is set within a 600-acre compound
A military representative declined to discuss details of the museum.
For decades the military used newspapers, radio and television to spread propaganda. In the museum’s wing dedicated to psychological warfare, a to-scale model of a television studio recalled those efforts.
New technology has both threatened, and amplified, those abilities. As Facebook began to proliferate in the country in 2012, many voices on the platform were anti-military.
But Myanmar’s military quickly recognized Facebook’s potential as a convenient way to connect to people, making it an important new tool in an ongoing information war, even if its senior general is no longer allowed on the site.
“Facebook is great for propaganda,” said U Myat Thu, a researcher who works to combat hate speech on the site.
And while the museum may struggle to attract visitors, the military has figured out how to draw crowds to a far more accessible location: the internet.
“No one watches military television or reads their newspaper,” Mr. Myat Thu said. “But they do look at social media. And there the military has a big audience.”
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