I just visited Myanmar, known to most of us as Burma, where the people have been under the oppressive boot of a huge colonial power, the Japanese fascists and homegrown socialist nut cases for nearly 150 years. Finally, they have democracy, and for the most part, are happy as hell.
Here’s a brief history:
From 1824 to 1886, Britain conquered Burma and incorporated the country into its Indian Empire. After World War II in 1948, Burma attained independence from the British Commonwealth.
In 1962, the military launched a coup and ruled as “socialists” with a sadistic desire to kill their constituents for more than 50 years. In 1990, the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, won a landslide victory. Instead of handing over power, the junta placed NLD leader and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for about 15 years.
Suu Kyi’s party won elections in 2015 and rules the country today, but she could not become president because her children have British passports. Moreover, the military rewrote the constitution before leaving power to allow them to control key ministries.
Nevertheless, the people I met are relieved that they can actually speak freely after years of oppression.
I visited Bagan, the beautiful former capital of the country. Bagan is near the city where George Orwell, a British officer in Burma, wrote The Road to Mandalay. You can find numerous copies of Orwell’s books in the local bazaar.
My Bagan guide told me how he and his family had lost their home under the military in 1990. My guide, now 41, recalls as a teenager the trauma for his family and dozens of others being forcibly removed from their homes. But he sees a bright future for Myanmar, particularly in his hometown, which has some of the most amazing Buddhist temples in the world.
Yangon, the largest city with more than six million people, still shows the signs of the errant ways of the military government. Some of the old British buildings stand vacant and in despair because the military government ignored their decline. The new government has launched a renovation campaign to preserve these beautiful structures that survived World War II but almost did not make it during 50 years of socialist oppression.
Interestingly, there is a growing Roman Catholic community, with a large church and a seminary, Unfortunately, I just missed the time when it was open.
Myanmar still has its problems—a mix of ethnic groups seeking autonomy—and continued tensions between the government and the military. But, for the most part, the people are happy that freedom has come to Myanmar.
The visit made me think that we Americans need to take a breath and realize how lucky we are!