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Burma: Why the West Will Do Nothing

By David Warren

Looking, through the dusk screen of the media, at the events in Burma, one feels a cold and pointless rage. The vicious regime that has long enslaved that country is again winning a struggle in which they have all the weapons. With the "subtle, malign cunning" (I am quoting Kenneth Denby, writing bravely for the Times of London, from Rangoon) that is possible only to a cat with a cornered mouse, the regime has watched the nation's Buddhist monks lead the people onto the streets. It allowed them nine days to vent their grievances, and is now cutting them down.

But the cutting down has been done with much greater efficiency than after the last demonstrations on this scale, that began August 8, 1988. Perhaps 3,000 were massacred in the course of snuffing out the flame of liberty on that occasion. In this latest reprisal of government against people, it seems only a few dozen have been killed -- including the Japanese press photographer, Kenji Nagai, shot down in cold blood to send a message to the other foreign reporters.

We, who do not live under one of the world's thug-socialist regimes, should understand how they operate. Over time, it becomes necessary to kill fewer and fewer people, to keep a population cowed. Yet every generation or so, the people must be forcefully reminded that they are nothing.

The Chinese Communist massacre in Tienanmen Square, in 1989, served to remind the enslaved Chinese people that the post-Mao regime was as murderous as the Mao regime had been; another massacre on that scale will probably not be necessary for another decade or so. If it doesn't come, the regime will fall.

The Berlin Wall came down when the Soviet Communists and their clients lost their willingness to perform massacres. The purpose of popular demonstrations is, in effect, to test that will. Had the Communists been prepared to mow down the young in the streets of Berlin, Prague, and elsewhere, they might still be in power. For it is hard to believe we in the West would have lifted a finger in their defence, any higher than we had over Prague 1968, or Budapest 1956, or Berlin 1948.

In Rangoon, the memories of 1988 remained fairly fresh, and so it was only necessary for the riot police, in their swagger, "banging their batons menacingly on their shields as they advanced" (quoting Denby again), to deliver a modest "refresher course" on the nature of power.

Perhaps here is a good place to insert a little refresher course on nomenclature. Burma was renamed "Myanmar" by its generals after the 1988 massacres; Rangoon became officially "Yangon," and many other towns and districts were renamed, exhuming semi-mythical placenames from much earlier centuries. There were several motives for this, but the chiefmost was simply to spook people, in Burma and abroad, by showing them that the regime could do anything. By continuing to use such terms as "Burma" and "Rangoon," we refuse to be spooked.

Burma today is Red China's most conspicuous client in Southeast Asia. Burma's natural gas is desperately needed by China's burgeoning command economy (big pipelines in the works), and the Chinese delegation stands ready at the UN to veto any condemnation of the Burmese regime. Indeed, by allying themselves with the surviving butchers of Tiananmen, Burma's bizarre socialist generals have secured their own future, in a land that they and their predecessors have turned from the breadbasket of east Asia into the basket case we see today.

And we can do nothing but watch, as we watched Tiananmen, in cold powerless rage.

We could in fact do far more, but we haven't the will or courage for it. The Burmese regime could hardly survive a direct military strike. And, in the person of Aung San Suu Kyi, and in her NLD Party -- victorious in the only semi-free election the Burmese generals ever staged -- we have a plausible alternative regime to install. I think such a strike could be justified as merciful, in the same way one justified sending the U.S. and Australian navies to relieve victims of the 2004 tsunami. The further effect of such a bold act would be to chasten the far more worrisome generals of China.

But this would require a West assured of its own ideals and principles, generous and willing to make sacrifices for them; a West not debilitated by layer upon layer of "politically-correct" self-doubt. And that simply isn't on the table.

© Ottawa Citizen

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