Thursday, August 30, 2007


I find myself very intrigued by the recent protests in Myanmar (FKA Burma), where Buddhist monks are leading what may be the beginnings of a revolution against the ruling military oligarchy. This is interesting on a number of levels. First, because of the secretive nature of the regime in Myanmar, in recent years there hasn't been much news out of the country, period. Second, my friend Vanessa worked for a few years for the non-profit EarthRights International, which sued Unocal regarding their Myanmar pipeline using the Alien Tort Act of 1789. The case was settled out of court, but Vanessa spent some time in Myanmar, and worked very closely with some of the people who I think would be involved with these protests. And lastly, revolutions and how they play out is inherently interesting.

Historically, revolutions are unique in the high degree of social dynamism. New ideas and systems, good and bad, come out of revolutions. We cannot disregard the often high human cost of these conflicts, but without them, we would not have modern representative democracy. Though all too often, the lofty ideals are corrupted, at least for a time. Rid yourself of a corrupt aristocracy - damn, you're dealing with Robespierre and the Terror. Do it again - oops, now you're living in early Soviet Russia. Revolutions, no matter what their origin or how justified they are, can be a roll of the dice.

On the face of it, the protests in Myanmar could be the seed of a reformed and open society. They current government is a corrupt oligarchy of military leaders, who have proven themselves only too willing to sell out their country and citizens for a few measly bucks. Almost anything would be an improvement. It suggests the question, if we are dedicated to spreading democracy and deposing authoritarian governments, what can we do to help promote that in Myanmar, given current events?

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