Critical Mass

We note with considerable interest the goings-on in Burma these days, where the military junta that runs the country — one of the most repressive governments in the world today — is finding itself in a bit of a cleft stick as Buddhist monks are waging an ever-bolder campaign of civil disobedience.

Were any other group attempting such defiance of the ruling committee, they would be crushed by the armed forces, but such is the popular allegiance to these monks that the army, so far, has not dared, and so they are being pushed ever deeper into a very difficult corner.

Science-fiction readers, of which I was one myself in my youth, may note some similarity in this situation to one that the late Isaac Asimov described in his Foundation series. In that story, when a credulous agricultural populace was forced to choose sides between the technological priesthood of the Foundation and the mighty army of the Galactic Empire, they sided with the priests — the stewards of their immortal souls.

It certainly would be wonderful to see this awful regime driven from power in a bloodless revolution, but it is not in the nature of those who have gained absolute power by force to surrender it peacefully. Something has to give way soon. The world is watching.


  1. Kevin Kim says

    Here’s hoping for a peaceful resolution, but I share your pessimism. These monks had better be ready to die for what they believe in. How old are they, on average? Many of them look awfully young.

    Semi-relevant trivia: Pol Pot was on his way to becoming a Buddhist monk before he received his true calling.


    Posted September 26, 2007 at 4:31 am | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Hi Kevin,

    Many have observed that the passionately religious mind is easily diverted to political zeal. One does not have to look far for contemporary examples.

    Posted September 26, 2007 at 10:10 am | Permalink
  3. eugene says

    From what I remember, Theravada Buddhism encourages men to experience their lives as monks at early stage. It is very common for Thai men to go to temple to serve one or two years. I guess it is the same case in Cambodia, Laos and Burma. It is somewhat like a military service there. And we know some of them, after this short religious experience in life, become monks, soldiers, pirates, pimps or trannies in Bangkok night clubs.

    So I guess Pol Pot’s case is just a black swan.

    Posted September 26, 2007 at 11:01 am | Permalink

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