The recent history and current situation in Myanmar is among the most tragic in the last century. It ranks right up there with Sudan, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Zimbabwe, and North Korea among others. But Myanmar’s, like Lebanon and Zimbabwe in some ways, is not tragic because of Genocide, for we are far from that, but it is tragic because of the fall of a culture and productive country. Prior to the rise of the military Junta in 1990, Myanmar was fairly democratic and was a “shining star” in SE Asia. They had a strong economy and a great and historical culture. It is among the most beautiful countries in the world and has incredible architecture, and now it is all thrown away. The military Junta, like all military controlled governments, will eventually turn the country into a garbage pile.
The events of the last two weeks have been fascinating and frustrating to watch. What a great sight it was to see thousands of Buddhist monks and their supporters stage massive protests against a repressive regime. At the height of the protests I wondered how the Junta would handle it. They could ill afford a Tiannanmen Square incident. The military leaders had to know that mass killings of monks would cause massive outcry in the world community, an outcry that may force the world to act with stronger muscle than usual. Monks are the human embodiment of peace and oneness, regardless of if you believe in buddhism or not. They come across as pure, pious, and innocent, the world would not stand for well-publicized mass killings of such a people.
Sadly, the Junta was aware of this and played their hand extremely well. They allowed the protests, allowed the people to get most of it out of their systems and then instituted curfews and prohibited gatherings of people; pretty standard for authoritarian states. Once the media and world attention lessened a bit the violence started, first just in short bursts – nothing more than a few beatings and occasional killing of an out of hand protester. But the Junta had a larger plan. They new that the real problem were the monks, the people were loyal to the monks and would follow them. So what how do you keep power if you don’t have loyalty? You make people fear you. And that is just what they did. Over the last few days the Military cleared the monasteries and temples of monks that were the harbingers of the protests and killed many of them in brutal fashion. Reports are that thousands have been massacred.
Why is there no outcry? no outrage? Because the American public no longer cares. It was exciting and fun to watch for a day or two, but we lose interest in world events pretty quick. Why concern ourselves with different looking people in a land that exists somewhere in the world called Myanmar when we need to find out if Britany is losing her children. And because there is no public outrage there is no government action.
But then again what are Western governments supposed to do? This is the same catch-22 that we have in dealing with Sudan, Rwanda in the ’90’s, Congo, etc. We have no vested interest in these countries. We have limited resources. Because of international accords, we are expected to respect the territorial rights of a country, etc. etc. Myanmar is no threat to the U.S., no threat to Britain or Germany or France; militarily or economically. Not only that, but China is a close ally of the Junta. If we press to hard on Myanmar, we may have to deal with China. What if China decides, because of our actions against their ally, that they are going to fully reclaim Taiwan militarily. Then we have world war. Certainly this scenario is unlikely, but not out of the realm possibility. On the other hand, don’t countries like us and France and Britain who have freedom and democracy at least supposed to stand for human rights and protect those who can’t protect themselves? We have an obligation almost. How can we stand by and allow a mini (or perhaps soon to be major) genocide occur, regardless of the circumstance behind it. This is the catch-22 for our country. Usually, in these situations we deal with it through sanctions or other economic penalties. But all this does is hurts the people who are already being oppressed. Sanctions can only work if all major countries are on board, but with China supporting the junta, they are a waste of time and will only draw Myanmar closer to China. The currently policy against Myanmar is not working and will not work unless we get China on board, which won’t happen. Unfortunately, I don’t know what the solution is (although I have a few ideas). But that is the job of the policy makers and they will probably screw it up.