Thursday, December 20, 2007

Gandhi is applicable in today's Burma.

By Dr. Sein Myint

December 19, 2007 - The question "Is Gandhi applicable in today's Burma ?" has been raised by a writer from the Shan Herald Agency for News. In the nonviolent struggle against the Imperial British colonists in South Africa and in British India, Gandhi told his followers not to take 'an eye for an eye' but to take 'blows from the adversaries, to make them feel guilty for their cruel actions.'

Shan Herald's author pointed out that Gandhi was not fighting against 'lawless power' as in present day Burma, for both South Africa's apartheid regime and the British were known as 'apostles to the Rule of Law.' And when Life's Margaret Bourke-White asked Gandhi if he believed that he could use nonviolence against someone like Hitler, Gandhi's response was, "When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and, for a time, they can seem invincible. But in the end they always fall. Think of it always." The Shan Herald's writer seems to have agreed.

Certainly, the writer from Shan Herald is not the first person; this question has been on the mind of many people from the Burmese democratic opposition for quite some time now. The question is very relevant to our cause in the struggle for freedom from the military tyranny in Burma.

Mahatma Gandhi's nonviolent struggle has always been an inspiration for all freedom fighters including Burma 's democracy icon, Daw Aung San Su Kyi, who is an ardent believer and practitioner of this doctrine. Her father, the late Bogyoke Aung San, however, relied on more conventional methods, using all or any available opportunities in his struggle for Burma's independence from the British and later from the Japanese.

In the movie, Thirteen Days, about the Cuban Missile crisis in October, 1962, the United States President JF Kennedy boldly applied a naval blockade on Cuba while confronting incoming USSR ships loaded with long range nuclear missiles. At the same time he pressured Soviet Premier Khrushchev to withdraw the existing short and medium range nuclear missiles from Cuba. The drama intensified as the Soviet ships approached the blockade and the prospect of the World War III increased.

The world narrowly escaped from the brink of nuclear holocaust when the Soviet ships decided to turn around and avoided the confrontation. Nikita Khrushchev was the first to blink in this nuclear showdown with President Kennedy, and subsequently paid the price and lost his job. Next year President Kennedy was allegedly assassinated by a lone assassin, a communist sympathizer Lee Harvey Oswald, in Dallas, Texas.

The question is what might have happened if Khrushchev had not backed down but decided to order his ships to continue sailing into the American naval quarantine zone and ordered Soviet nuclear submarines accompanying the cargo ships to retaliate, once the US navy destroyers fired upon the Soviet ships.

At the same time the Soviet medium and short range nuclear missiles were already aimed at the east coast of the United States, including Washington DC, the US was standing by at Defcon-2 level, with B-52 strategic bombers loaded with nuclear bombs up in the air, and the ICBM silos in the Midwest were opened-up ready for firing. It could have been the beginning of a nuclear war followed by a holocaust.

"Did President Kennedy make the right move by calling Khrushchev's bluff and ordering a naval blockade on Cuba ?" Everyone in the While House was extremely nervous and tense during the showdown and was quite relieved once they heard that the Soviet ships had turned back. Did meeting the 'force' with 'force' pay off?

It is a total reverse from offering the other cheek to your enemy. But to answer the question, first it is essential for us to examine and understand everything about our adversary; i.e. their strengths, weaknesses, culture, belief, attitude, mentality, up-bringing, and all other prevailing circumstances that are likely to change with time. And compare notes with all relevant historical background before we decide on the best possible action.

For example, the attitude and mentality of the late 19th century Imperialist British Raj and 21st century Burmese military dictator cannot have been the same, although there could be some similarities on the methods applied to quell and control demonstrations against them. And in the prevailing political circumstances supporting and influencing the decisions of both regimes are not the same.

Therefore the decisions by the Governor-General in British India against the nonviolent Indian Congress could not be the same as the decisions by the Burmese military junta against the nonviolent Buddhist monks and activists.

Hence, the short answer to the question of whether nonviolent methods will work against the hard-line military dictators in Burma is, 'yes' it will work in the end, but when is the end? This is an important question, for the end may come next year or in ten years. But, one thing for certain is that many people inside the country will have to endure much more suffering before they obtain the fruit of freedom. Anyhow, our Lord Buddha taught us that Life itself is 'suffering.'

Dr. Sein Myint is a member of Strategy Group for Burma and Technical Advisory Network (TAN), a team of Burmese intellectuals. He also serves as Director for Justice for Human Rights in Burma (JHB) and as a member of Board of Director for Burma Fund, the financial arm of NCGUB. Dr. Sein Myint received his engineering degree from Rangoon Institute of Technology and his Ph.D. from University of Manchester , United Kingdom . Currently he is working as Fire and Gas Consultant for a major oil company in Alaska, USA..

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