Gandhi in Burma

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Gandhian politics of non-violence.

The protests in Burma are not getting enough support from the blogosphere. We tend to ignore black-and-white issues where there’s nothing clever to say. So let’s be boring: the junta are pigs, the protesting monks are right, and Aung San Suu Kyi is a hero.

Let’s just call her “the Daw” (honorific meaning aunt). Remember her party won the last elections in 1990. For seventeen years the Daw, the rightfully elected leader of the country, has been kept under house arrest by a bunch of military thugs. She has had a lot of sympathy over the years from overseas, the Nobel Peace prize etc etc, but not much actual help in the form of pressure on the junta.

BTW, it’s Burma not Myanmar because she says it is.

The Daw is a consistent follower of Gandhian principles of non-violence.

Gandhi was IMHO the man of the twentieth century; his new revolutionary politics worked in India, in Eastern Europe, and in the American civil rights movement. They played an important part in the overthrow of military dictatorships in Latin America, and the apartheid régime on South Africa – the ANC played with terrorism but in the end stayed essentially non-violent. That’s a very good scorecard, compared to the often fruitless and long-reverberating violence of both Jacobin Reds and de Maistrean Whites (or Greens and Black-and-Tans, Irgun and the PLO) in the same period. A non-violent revolution carries far less baggage, and has a better chance afterwards of overcoming the past in an Oresteian catharsis, rather than recycling it.

OK, if you are not a Quaker or a Gandhian, some wars and revolutions are just. It’s America’s bad as well as good luck that a high proportion of them are in your history – the Civil War (on the Northern side), WWII and probably the War of Independence, WWI, Korean War, and Gulf War I. That leaves the 1812, Mexican, Indian, Civil (on the Southern side), Spanish-American, Vietnam, and Second Gulf wars as either unjustified or doubtful. The existence of the United States depended on earlier British victory in the doubtfully just Seven Years’ War. That’s an unusually high ratio of “good” wars. And self-deception is bound to make it look even better, as in Fred Thompson’s absurd rhetoric. So perhaps America is especially prone to the jihadist temptation of redemption by the gun. It doesn’t work. Vencerás, pero no convencerás.

Update 1 October: Short online petition here. Worthwhile as the Chinese government is sitting on the fence – it’s a bad example for the Chinese people whichever way it goes.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web