Hello Myanmar

A Slow Slide

Photo by T Langdon

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
George Orwell, Animal Farm

Recently we travelled to Burma.

Luckily we returned before the corona virus outbreak.

Burma is a large country west of Thailand and is also known as Myanmar. It’s a fascinating country with a troubled past. Over the centuries, it has been ruled by various kings and is made up of a diverse collection of ethnic groups.

Myanmar was invaded by the Mongols in the past and was eventually taken over by the British in the 1800’s.

The Burmese adapted to the occupation of the British from 1885 to 1948; then they had to adjust to the Japanese occupation during the second world war. The country has been under continued military rule since.

The election in 2010 put only a quasi civilian government in place. The real power is held by the military, along with senior Buddhist monks.

When I was researching the history of Burma, I was fascinated to find a direct connection to George Orwell.

He wrote Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, two books I studied in high school. At the time I didn’t realize that he was writing from a perspective of personal experience.

  • George Orwell came to Burma as a nineteen year old British Imperial Police officer and patrolled the countryside, keeping the locals in line.

This is the basis of the story Orwell tells in Animal Farm. It’s a tale about a socialist revolution gone wrong, in which a group of pigs overthrow the human farmers and run the farm into ruin.

At the end, the pigs are as cruel and oppressive to the other animals as the humans were.

Eventually, Burma became independent from the British (1948). The country’s military sealed them from the outside world and launched the “Burmese way to socialism”.

This act turned the country into one of the poorest in Asia. The military acted as revolutionaries and imposed socialism.

Orwell could see it coming.

Some say he wrote the book as a cautionary fable to expose the serious dangers posed by totalitarian government.

Orwell’s description of a soulless dystopia in Nineteen Eighty-Four provides a chilling and accurate picture of Burma, a country that has been ruled by one of the worlds most brutal and tenacious dictatorships.

  • It was published in June 1949 by Secker & Warburg and was the last book he completed in his lifetime.

I made the connection.

When I learned about this link to Myanmar, I wondered how we could study those two books so closely and in such detail and not be taught anything about their connection to the country they were written about.

At the very least, it would have made the whole ‘high-school-book-report’ thing more interesting and relevant.

We should learn from our history.

How did past civilizations become so advanced and then fall into ruin?
It happened to the Roman Empire. Also dynasties in China and empires in India and Cambodia.

I sometimes think we are watching the fall of a civilization in my lifetime.

We haven’t learned from past genocides either.

Why don’t the Myanmar people (Burmese) rise up and save the Rohingya people from the genocide that’s happening today?

This question is asked from the privileged perspective of someone raised in a democratic society in the West.

I need to understand the perspective of someone who has been raised in a society that inspired Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Imagine that you were raised in those circumstances. What would you do?

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