Were fast approaching the 20th anniversary of an infamous massacre of people who were protesting against socialist rule. And yet, the majority of Americans wont even notice.
However, the United States government is well aware of what has been going on in the country calling itself Myanmar since 1989. Last week, President Bush extended our import ban on Burma. The goal of our sanctions is to convince the military dictatorship to stop suppressing democracy and to release Noble Peace Prize winner Dr. Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest.
She is the daughter of General Aung San. Hes basically the George Washington of modern-day Burma. Following WWII, he led the negotiations with the United Kingdom which resulted in the establishment of the fledgling democracy. Life was good. But democracy was strangled in 1962.
General Ne Win led the coup which transformed the once prosperous nation into a beggar. He set up the Burmese Way to Socialism which extinguished the flame of economic freedom and banished Chinese and Indian businessmen. Officially, he stepped down from power in 1988but ruled in a veil of obscurity until his death in 2002. During that period he transformed the government with a strong hand into one with an iron fist.
Myriad people demonstrated in the streets. Some say it was chaos, but the students and monks used peaceful tactics. Their civil-disobedience was countered with cold steel and hot lead on August 8, 1988. Some reports say more than 3000 people were killed, the junta counters that only a few were killed. Youll have to decide who you believe.
Regardless of how many were killed during the 8888 Uprising, it didnt stop the movement toward freedom. The National League for Democracy (NLD) won the 1990 election with a landslide. The only problem was that the junta refused to step down. It seems they had a monopoly on guns–no second amendment over there. Its hard to argue with a government that doesnt mind shooting its citizens.
Americans learned that lesson in the 1770 Boston Massacre. History records that those demonstrators were not all that peaceful. And only five were killed. But it was enough to help fuel the movement that resulted in the American Revolution. Of course, Burmas struggle is not over.
In September 2007, the government suppressed protests over fuel prices by killing at least 13 and arresting throngs of people. Since then, government thugs continue to roll through houses and monasteries to arrest anyone they think is associated with the pro-democracy movement. Most Americans didnt hear much about Burma/Myanmar until May 2008.
That was when category-four cyclone Nargis hit Burma at 135 mph. Causing more than $10 billion in damage, it killed more than 100,000some extreme reports say nearly a million were washed out to sea. The junta initially resisted foreign aid, maybe fearing they might lose their iron-fisted grip on their people. In response, President Bush encouraged the world to condemn Burmas military leaders. Under diplomatic pressure from all directions, they eventually allowed aid to flow in. And nobody really knows how many people died lacking timely aid. But it had to be more than a few.
The junta does its best to keep reporters out of the country. They say the peoples unrest is caused by foreign media reports and radio broadcasts in exile. But like a bad movie, the current regime uses those old-time despotic favorites: slaughtering, raping, and displacing to control the folks who oppose them.
But still they oppose.
The people in the democracy-movement in Burma will no doubt do something to remember August 8, 1988 on the 20th anniversary of the massacre. Anyone with even a vague familiarity of the military juntas iron-fisted tactics should not be surprised when the charge to remember the 8888 Uprising is paid in blood.
But of course, that has been the price of freedom throughout the ages.
It just makes sense.
* (August 8, 1988 – a.k.a 08-08-88 – Thus 8888)
A few opinions about the situation in Burma from people much more famous than me: