Evolved from the colonial poems of Kipling to the specter of nuclear weapons, world leaders are taking a renewed look at provocative Burma.
Rudyard Kipling wrote The Road to Mandalay; a poem about the sometime capital of the British Colony, Burma.
“Come you back to Mandalay, Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can’t you ‘ear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay on the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’ fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!”
Kipling’s poem became a song for Paramount’s first “Road “picture, with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. The Road to Mandalay was renamed The Road to Singapore. Frank Sinatra made the song a hit in his Come Fly With Me album.
Songs and laughter are not the reality of Burma today. Myanmar was renamed after the brutal uprising in 1998. Yangon, formerly Rangoon, means “End of Strife.” This name is an antonym to Burmese life. Pervasive government control, electricity and food shortages, corruption and rural poverty abound. State assets have been “privatized” to military families and government cronies. In spite of abundant natural resources, Burma remains one of the world’s poorest countries.
Human trafficking of women and children for commercial sexual exploitation; conscription of child soldiers, and forced labor camps are found. Extreme human rights violations cause the United States, the European Union, and Canada to impose financial and economic sanctions.
Myanmar sits at the crossroads of Asia’s great civilizations between India, Bangladesh, Laos, China, and Thailand. Strategically located on the vast Indian Ocean; she stretches to the Eastern Himalayan Mountains, but is smaller than Texas.
Ancient cities, spectacular monuments, well preserved pagodas, stupas, and temples make Myanmar a rich archaeological find. People communicate in their own languages, wear their own style of clothing, celebrate festivals, and perform rituals that have existed since time immemorial. Buddhism is influential. Most boys, and many girls, take part in novitiation which is a temporary monastic life; which includes a shaved head, wearing a robe, and staying in a monastery (a nunnery for girls). Monks in yellowish robes hold alms bowls, heads bowed, humbly asking for whatever food is offered.
The George Soros Foundation created The Burma Project in 1994 to increase international awareness of conditions in Burma and help the country to make transition from a closed to an open society.
Aung San Suu Kyi is a Burmese national hero, a Noble Laureate, and head of the pro democracy movement. She was under house arrest for most of the last 20 years; during this time her husband died in England. At the age of 65, she was released in November 2010 and saw her son for the first time in ten years. Bono wrote the song “Walk On” for Kyi. She has millions of supporters worldwide.
Former First Lady Laura Bush, an advocate of Suu Kyi, worked with 16 women senators to draft a letter to the UN to secure Kyi’s release. Mrs. Bush wrote an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, was interviewed in Time Magazine, and personally called General Secretary Ban Ki Moon asking him to pressure the Burmese regime to release Suu Kyi. In 2010 Laura Bush made a U Tube video about Suu Kyi. Happily Laura Bush spoke by phone with the recently freed pro- democracy activist. Encouraged by recent developments, Aung San Suu Kyi announced a return to politics. She had meetings with President Thein Sein.
Burma remains a close ally of China. China and Myanmar have multibillion dollar joint venture pipelines to transport oil and gas. It will link refineries in Western China across Myanmar. Offshore natural gas will go to China. Under civilian control since March 2011, Myanmar has embarked on a series of reforms; released 220 political prisoners, relaxed media control, and legalized trade unions. Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has named Burma as the Chair starting in 2014. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has accepted an invitation to visit the country as soon as possible.
Troubling aspects of Sein’s new government include their nuclear ambition, and their military relationship with North Korea. Norway based “Voice of Burma” broadcast this in a one hour documentary film on Al Jazeera television in the Middle East. A young Burmese military specialist on rocket engines shows that Burma has components for a nuclear weapons program, including technology for uranium enrichment and long range missiles.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are climbing on the Burma bandwagon. Mr. Obama called Aung San Suu Kyi during his visit to Australia last week. Hillary Clinton is scheduled to visit next month.
Let us pray that the Obama Administration does better with nuclear weapons in Burma than it has done with nuclear weapons in North Korea and Iran.