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The Trouble in Burma

By David Warren

More than a fortnight has passed since a major cyclone struck the heavily populated coastal and delta plains of Burma, causing casualties in six figures, both from the immediate effects of violent winds and flooding, and those of disease and starvation in the aftermath. Indeed, one published estimate sourced to the Red Cross set the final toll of the "second wave" as high as two million souls.

To this day, international relief organizations are still negotiating with the socialist regime in Rangoon to get direct access to survivors. The supplies they are delivering are impounded by this totalitarian government. The relief agencies have no way of knowing to what use they will be put; and every reason to suspect they will be put to inappropriate uses. As of yesterday, the limit of official cooperation had been extended to promising that select foreign diplomats will be taken on a helicopter ride over some of the afflicted territory.

Readers of this or any daily newspaper should already be aware of the above. A number of my correspondents have asked why I haven't written about such a big issue.

The more knowledgeable about Burma ask why I don't explain to readers the nature of the Burmese regime, since they do not believe this is made at all clear in most media reports. Specifically they ask, why is an openly Leftist and atheist regime, closely allied with Communist China, that persecutes all religious believers, and especially Christians -- presented as if it were a product of some exotic, lunatic, quasi-religious Right? How is that outrageously ignorant misrepresentation helpful to understanding what is happening in Burma?

One thing I do think worth clarifying from the news coverage. There is little or no mention of direct U.S. or Australian efforts to bring aid to Burma. This is worth noting because, in the first weeks after the great tsunami of 2004, almost all emergency aid was delivered by the U.S. and Australian navies, in a spontaneous operation of historical proportions that was itself largely ignored or belittled by the mainstream media, who devoted most coverage to the relatively small, slow, and inept efforts of the United Nations. Indeed, the very effort to give the U.N. more than their share of credit, resulted in their getting more than their share of blame when the routine incompetence of that organization fell under the spotlight.

But one of the lessons that emerged from the tsunami, was the pointlessness of even trying to land emergency supplies in Burma. There was nothing that could be done then, nor is there anything that can be done now, short of landing the supplies with an invading army. And as John Robson has argued, that option is recommended only with the braggadocio of persons who also express outrage at previous rescue-invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In other words, it is recommended only by people whose value as political allies is nil -- in the tough real world -- and to whom, therefore, we need never listen.

While, to my knowledge, substantial efforts have been made by the U.S. and Australia to assist in moving supplies, they have learned their lesson, and the noise and posturing about Burma's non-cooperation is therefore coming chiefly from the diplomatic corps of the European Union -- with their long history of generating heat without action.

My answer to correspondents has been, "What do you say?" The value of hand-wringing is limited. It is an appropriate expression of lamentation at funerals, but it does not bring the dead back to life, nor in this case prevent the spread of death among a people who have had the misadventure to fall under one of the world's most despicable socialist regimes. Comment is almost out of place, and the best journalistic effort must be to report and document accurately what has happened. For a day will come when Burma's current masters have migrated from earth to hell, and their survivors -- like the hundreds of millions of other victims of ideologically-driven governments worldwide -- will need assistance in recovering their own history.

The officially-stated "Burmese Road to Socialism" was embarked upon after a coup in 1962, and the country has been effectively sealed ever since. It does not occupy a vacuum, however. The very journalists who have heaped comparative praise on socialist China's own relief operations after last week's earthquake in Szechuan -- on the basis of very little information -- should note that it was the Chinese politburo, as usual, employing its veto at the U.N. Security Council, to prevent even a discussion of what its brother politburo in Burma has done.

© Ottawa Citizen

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