There is nothing more disheartening than to watch the struggle for freedom fail in a faraway country. There is no more helpless feeling than to hear reports of massacres and reprisals, bloodshed and brutality, and be unable to change one mote of dust on the scene. The first tendency, when confronted by such situations, is to pretend they aren’t happening. The second tendency, when evidence of savagery is too blunt to avoid, is to look away, move on, concern ourselves with something else — climate change, maybe, or the extinction of some clam species in the Pacific.
For 20 years, Burma has been ruled by a particularly vicious military mafia. It has stifled freedom, persecuted those who advocate it, and indulged in the usual arbitrary weirdness of those who wield absolute power: changed the name of the country, changed the name of the capital city, moved the capital elsewhere. The Burmese military rule by the gun.
Recently, Buddhist monks began a protest against the government. They marched in their saffron robes down the middle of Rangoon’s (or Yangon’s, if you please) boulevards. Others joined in. The outside world got excited. The military thugs got down to business, mowing down demonstrators, and sending them off to prison camps. Nobody knows quite how many have died, or how many have been “disappeared.”
But we know this: the protests are over. The mafia is happily in control of the situation.
More than two years ago, I posted on the free world’s reflexive urge to cry “Never again” every time a new horror occurs in the unfree portions of the globe. I can’t add now to what I said then. The horrors will come again, so long as horrible men wield power. If we are unwilling to challenge that power, we should at least stop posturing. We should stop preaching policy changes, as if mere policy could change a mote on the scene in Burma. We should refrain from sending UN envoys, and appealing to an “international community” composed, in large part, of horrible men. We should value our own freedom that much more, because we have been reminded of how precarious it is elsewhere.
And we should honor those who died, and those who vanished without a trace, in the pursuit of a free, decent life.