On February 1, 2021, the military of Myanmar (previously known as Burma) overthrew democracy and installed an extremely brutal military dictatorship. The population has been protesting against that, so the military has been using extreme violence to suppress the resistance. Most of the public’s resistance has been nonviolent, but — out of frustration — some people have been resorting to violence.
Of course, this nation had been colonized by a European nation, so that background plays into the current crisis. The nation exists in the context of other nations in that region. Mainstream news media in the U.S. have been quite negligent in reporting accurately and with enough depth to help us understand.
I appreciated reading a substantive and informative article titled, “Myanmar’s Coming Revolution: What Will Emerge From Collapse?” It was published in Foreign Affairs. I encourage you to read it at this link: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/burma-myanmar/2021-06-11/myanmars-coming-revolution?utm_medium=newsletters&utm_source=fatoday&utm_campaign=Myanmar%E2%80%99s%20Coming%20Revolution&utm_content=20210611&utm_term=FA%20Today%20-%20112017
When I read the article linked above, I immediately saw connections with many other issues, so I wrote the following information to express the thoughts that occurred to me:
Many of the problems around the world have their roots in colonialism. Colonial oppressors – just like other kinds of oppressors – have used a “divide-and-conquer” strategy to keep the population divided against itself and therefore powerless to join together to defeat the oppressors. Even in the U.S. South, the white business elites divided blacks and whites against each other so they would not be able to join together to create labor unions to fight for better wages and working conditions. As a result, unionization and wages are the lowest in the South compared to any other part of the U.S.
Gandhi pushed hard for decades to keep India together, but hard-core Hindus and Muslims violently divided the nation after 1947 independence. They have remained virtually at war with each other – with ongoing violence in the northern area of Kashmir – and now both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons. If they have even a “small” exchange of nuclear weapons, they would destroy both nations. This is stupid and mutually suicidal, but this is the same as the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. did throughout the Cold War. Now Biden is vigorously expanding upon Trump’s reckless expansion of recklessly provocative new nuclear weapons with no practical purpose. (Also, India is now governed by a politician and political party whose roots were violently opposed to Gandhi’s nonviolent, conciliatory efforts to help Hindus and Muslims get along peacefully with mutual respect. The person who assassinated Gandhi came from that political party which was militantly Hindu and anti-Muslim. Serious repression of Muslims, Christians and others has been escalating.)
The two paragraphs above point out that we Americans have no room for smugness when we look at the stupidity and cruelty of other nations’ governments.
Within the U.S., powerful political forces – the Republican Party, for example – want to divide Americans by race with white people dominating every other race. Trump’s politics of divisiveness built upon racism and have continued. Now the Republican Party is blatantly passing laws to sharply restrict voting rights of people in various demographic groups that are likely to vote for Democrats.
The government of Israel has been escalating its violence for several decades in order to expel Palestinian people from their land – and to take away Palestinian people’s human rights – and to practice genocide against them. Jimmy Carter and a growing number of other people have described Israel’s policies as apartheid. I have been studying this for a long time. Just last Friday I talked with my old friends, Craig and Cindy Corrie, who are the parents of my old friend Rachel Corrie, who was murdered by an Israeli military bulldozer that was going to destroy the home of a Palestinian person. Rachel was part of a nonviolent movement. She was standing quite visibly on a big mound of dirt, wearing a bright orange safety vest, and shouting into a bullhorn. The bulldozer driver obviously saw her directly in front of him. He plowed into her, drove over her, and then lowered the bulldozer’s blade and backed over her again. She died.
For many years, more than 95% of the violence in that area has been Israeli violence against the Palestinians. But U.S. politicians and news media keep calling it a “conflict” as if the violence were 50-50. American politicians keep saying “Israel has a right to defend itself.” They give billions of our tax dollars to Israel’s military so it can practice genocide and steal Palestinian land. See this may to see what has happened there:
Just like when South Africa’s apartheid used laws and violence to oppress the indigenous African population and separate them into little pieces of disconnected areas (“bantustans”), Israel likewise has carved Palestine into disconnected areas and required countless “checkpoints” and inspections to make Palestinians wait to travel. Many Palestinians who have needed urgent medical care have died because the Israeli military has prevented them from getting access to a hospital.
One powerful lesson from the Foreign Affairs article is the persistent oppression of racism and ethnocentrism. Many places around the world – in addition to those mentioned above in this e-mail – are suffering badly because one kind of person feels entitled to dominate, oppress and exploit another kind of person. We see this in many countries on all continents (except not in Antarctica).
So besides working for peace and social/political justice in specific geographical areas around the world, we also need to work for the broad ethical value of recognizing that all people are one human family. I often hold a sign with that message during the peace vigils I organize on Wednesdays and Fridays in Olympia. All kinds of pedestrians and motorists feel welcomed, included and affirmed by that message, regardless of how they might differ from me. This include people who are extremely overweight, people who have many tattoos, people of the “wrong” race or religion or sexual orientation, people who have physical or mental disabilities, and so forth. We need to create a society where EVERY person is equally welcomed, included and valued.
The Foreign Affairs article laid out the long history of militarism in Myanmar. I had not previously known much about that, so I am grateful for this opportunity to learn about it. Just like the other issues I have mentioned above, this is one localized example of the globally pervasive scourge of militarism, which inherently oppresses people because it believes “might makes right.” We need to work for nonviolence and peace all the way from the very local interpersonal level through the community level to the national level to the global level. Every violation of that value is a case study that needs to be understood – and healed.
The article also identified economic factors. That too is a recurring theme in practically all regions in conflict. For example, decades ago when Northern Ireland’s Catholics and Protestants were fighting each other, they were not arguing about theology. The conflict arose from unequal political and economic power. Although most of Ireland is predominantly Catholic, Northern Ireland is predominantly Protestant (and affiliated with the Church of England). Protestants held most of the economic and political power in Northern Ireland, and the Catholics resented it. The brutal civil war there resulted from that imbalance. In about 1978 I met an elderly couple from Belfast, Northern Ireland, who had organized an effort in a neighborhood that had Catholics on one side and Protestants on the other side. They brought both kinds of people to buy a run-down apartment building on the border and jointly rehabilitate the building so both kinds of people could live there and be a peaceful buffer that would also model a nonviolent and reconciling way to live.
Also, around that time, Mairead Maguire (a co-founder of the Peace People in Northern Ireland, who won the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts), said: “Nonviolence is not for the elite few. It is for everyone to live. It is a way of life based on respect for each human person, and for the environment. It is also a means of bringing about social and political change, and resisting evil without entering into evil. It is a whole new way of thinking.”
I believe we need to ground ourselves in principles and values of peace and nonviolence – and then apply them to all geographical areas and to all social & political issues. We need to solve problems, not keep polarizing people against each other.
Earlier I had mentioned the racism within the Republican Party. Just now I mentioned divisive religious polarization that relates to political and economic injustice. Closely tied to these is right-wing Christianity’s sexism and nationalism (and conversion to Trumpism)and the racism within the radical “white nationalist” wing of right-wing Christianity. They have been promoting lies that this must be a “Christian nation” that empowers right-wingers to oppress anyone who is not a fundamentalism. That movement has solid roots in blatant racism. Much of the origin of the “school voucher” movement came out of the South, where – after the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling and Civil Rights laws required integration – white racists created private schools and used various schemes to get public funding to finance “private” schools for white kids. This has persisted and grown with the “school voucher” movement. We need to stop those vouchers for several reasons, including protecting taxpayers from financing right-wing schools (many of which teach cruel, stupid fundamentalist theology to vulnerable kids), and stopping this way of promoting racial segregation and discrimination in hiring teachers and staffs and discrimination in excluding certain kinds of kids from enrolling.
Yep. All issues are interconnected. We can make progress on a variety of issues. Pick one or several, and work on those. That’s what I keep urging people to do.
Here is another geographical link that came to mind when I read the article: The article briefly discusses the military’s role in the economy. I was reminded of Egypt, where the military owns many businesses and was an economic power in addition to being the military power. Egypt’s police were corrupt and cruel, but many Egyptians worked for businesses owned by the military, so they had an affinity for the Egyptian military. This, of course, perverted the political relationships within the country.
Many people in the West who support democracy supported Aung San Suu Kyi, but we were not yet aware of her shortcomings. Her later behavior surprised and upset many Western supporters of democracy. This article briefly explains things that we need to know. I’ve read more thorough explanations elsewhere, but this is useful additional information and context.
The article proceeded with more information about ethnic divisions and ethnic military efforts. Our friend there mentioned those efforts too. I had been only minimally aware of them. Again, divisiveness by ethnic groups – and military violence – are serious problems that cannot lead to real peace and fairness that a nation needs.
What to do? Since Nonviolent Peaceforce was founded, I have supported it financially. I produced two TV programs interviewing knowledgeable people who were helping to get it started. They work in very positive nonviolent ways in several conflicted geographical areas, including Myanmar. See this: https://www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org/program-locations/myanmar
Rather late in the article they explain the February 1 coup, which the coup leaders denied was a coup. They claimed to be constitutionally protecting the nation during an emergency. Of course, we are used to such baloney from people who are destroying democracy. In the U.S., the Republican Party claims to be protection “election integrity” by violating many principles of democracy. Just a few days ago, General Michael Flynn (who had committed serious crimes on behalf of Trump – and whom Trump pardoned) called for a military coup against the U.S. like the one that occurred in Myanmar, and he also called for imposing martial law upon the U.S. Our whole nation should have been outraged, but this was treated as rather trivial.
It is very difficult for oppressed people to remain nonviolent when the oppressor increased violence upon them. But that is the only way to really solve the problems. I have been sorry to see some people gravitate toward armed resistance and ethnic-based military retaliation. For decades I have been reading materials from – and financially supporting – this organization, which has been promoting strategically effective nonviolent resistance for people in many countries in their own languages: www.aeinstein.org/. Their resources have been used in Burma and dozens of other areas suffering oppression, violence, dictators, etc.
This article says an insurgent military victory against the junta is not possible unless a neighboring country uses its military to help the insurgents defeat the military dictatorship, but the article said that is not likely.
Then the article moves on to discuss Myanmar as a “failed state” especially because all sectors of its economy have crashed. This information is significant. I would like to see the world figure out how to help nations in such a crisis revive themselves – or accept help from international sources without becoming dominated by those economic helpers. Certainly the dominant international economic bodies (World Bank, International Monetary Fund, etc.) have resources, but they are so ideologically committed to oppressive doctrines (Milton Friedman’s theories, the “Chicago Boys,” “neoliberalism,” “austerity,” etc.) that those bodies would impose new kinds of oppression if they were to participate in an economic recovery effort. The world needs to figure out better solutions.
After the long and dismal discussion, this article nears its end with a section titled, “BREAKING FREE FROM THE PAST.” It offers a more hopeful remedy than I had expected, although it is still unlikely to occur. This part of the article says China’s help will be necessary. Unfortunately, both of the U.S.’s political parties – and President Biden and the mainstream U.S. news media – are whipping up a new Cold War against China. The U.S. is vigorously antagonizing the nation whose active, positive help is absolutely necessary in order to help Myanmar recover democracy and prosperity.
Serious efforts from the United Nations are necessary, but – as we have seen – the U.N. has mostly just been sitting on its hands. It’s one thing to issue a formal statement, but that is far less than the bold strategies and actions that are really needed.
I’m glad the article briefly implies that Myanmar’s own people must be leaders instead of relying on salvation by international sources. I would have like to see this concept developed more thoroughly. Oppressed people need to empower themselves from the grassroots up.