Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads, by Benedict Rogers
Try to put yourself in the heavy boots of one of the leaders of a cruel, repressive state that has for years terrorized, murdered, raped and suppressed much of its population and all of its ethnic minorities. You stay in power because you control a powerful army designed and trained to enforce internal control. You’re associated with crimes against humanity. You live in constant fear of your own people who’d tear you limb from limb given the slightest opportunity, of your subordinates who’d purge you if you showed the tiniest sign of weakness, of your army because common soldiers have families too, and of the international community who’d put you in jail forever if only they could catch you. You know that people in your position don’t die comfortable deaths of old age.You’re becoming a very frightened human being.
What will you do if anyone challenges you? Massive and immediate retaliation is your usual option. Disproportionate retribution. Show the minutest hesitation and you’ll be done for by your own colleagues. In a reign of terror everyone’s under threat.
Where’s the exit from this?
Benedict Rogers has written a fine history of the activists who’ve strived in whatever way they can against this Myanmarish, nightmarish, regime. He, like the disorganized internal opposition, still calls the country Burma, refusing to dignify the government with their own invented name for the country. This is the deeply depressing ground-level story of the ordinary people and individual Burmese activists, mostly accidental activists, and what’s happened to them, stories collected on his many visits to the country and its external borders. A story of uncoordinated attempts to change the government’s behaviour and the authorities disproportionate but largely piecemeal reactions to events. A story of a government without initiative or leadership blindly reacting to events as they unfold.
Now, probably for just a few months, Burma is at a crossroads. The leaders are beginning to seek a solution that avoids general and personal death and destruction. The opposition has a charismatic and peace-seeking leader who is looking to introduce real democracy. There’s a chance, a faint and fragile chance, that there can be discussion and change without violent revolution or repressive stampdown. It can’t come overnight, but with a fair wind it could come, and quickly. Maybe, just maybe, the door’s open at last for Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi to create a viable solution and bring it to the world for support.
There’s a tiny, flickering flame of hope.
Read Burma, and think.