Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Burma is Creepy

A reader emails James Fallows:
For me, the strangest thing about the news of nukes in Burma is that I first heard it in January -- from a seemingly average guy on the street in Burma.

"During my two weeks of travel around Burma, many people would come up to me when no one was looking, start with a few friendly words, then progress into a series of terrible stories about their government: beatings, arbitrary taxation, health care withheld from pregnant women, children forced into the military, monks who were taken by police and never seen again. . . .

"A few stories seemed at first to be possible paranoia, but I eventually started believing them:

"Your rickshaw driver is a spy"

"That seemed unlikely since he was a very poor looking guy, and why would they care about me? But a shop keeper pointed out-- That guy speaks some English, so why can't he get a better job? I've lived in this town all my life, I know every rickshaw driver, and I've never seen this one until recently. . . . I sometimes see drivers like this with radios, talking to the police. . . . They are spies who report what foreigners are saying and where they are going. They rotate between different cities so that people won't recognize them. I would never speak to you while he is nearby. . . .

"The government is buying nuclear weapons from North Korea"
"A guy in his 50's came up to me on the street and started telling some of the same stories of oppression that I had heard from so many other people. He went on to say that the government is very rich from its monopoly on of the country's natural resources, and the money is used to buy weapons. "The government is buying so many weapons, but which country is their enemy? The people are their enemy." He went on to say that the government is now trying to buy nuclear weapons from North Korea. How could a seemingly average guy on the street know something like that? Wouldn't it be a closely guarded secret? I dismissed it a paranoid rumor, until Hillary Clinton said the same thing six months later.

"Another unexpected thing I heard was "I like George Bush". In January 2009 that was an unlikely statement anywhere in the world. I didn't hear it often in Burma, but more than once. The reason was simply that he had invaded Iraq and taken out an oppressive government. Another person asked "Why can't America do that to our government? You can just use those planes with no pilots that you fly over Pakistan." (Of course, this could have the same result as in Iraq, since Burma is similarly composed of people with a history of fighting each other.) I've traveled a fair amount and Burma is certainly the only place I've been where people would suggest, with a glimmer of hope, maybe America will attack our country."

No comments: