Wake Of The Storm

Once again the despicable military junta that holds the nation of Burma hostage has forced the world to examine the presumptive “right” of inviolable national sovereignty. A horrifying natural cataclysm has just sheared away tens of thousands of its captive and wretched citizens, and laid its principal city to waste, while hundreds of thousands more — having already been reduced to ignominious poverty by their long years of thralldom to a brutal and criminally incompetent tyranny — now face the certain prospect of lethal famine and pestilence. The civilized peoples of the world stand at their gates, seeking nothing more than to help a ruined and prostrate country bind its wounds, feed its hungry, clear its rubble, and bury its dead. But, jackals that they are, Burma’s captors greet their visitors with a feral and desperate snarl, caring only to defend their kill.

That in the 21st century the world still permits entire nations to be kidnapped and enslaved in this way should shame us all.

Related content from Sphere


  1. greg calbi says


    The sad news out of Burma had a familiar ring to it. Lest we forget how we fed our hungry, cleared its rubble and buried our dead. Unfortunately, the Burmese can’t move to Houston.

    Posted May 8, 2008 at 8:01 am | Permalink
  2. the one eyed man says

    We should all be shamed by the response to Katrina: no doubt about it. However, the difference between Katrina and the disaster in Burma is that the former was due to the ineptitude of the current administration, while the latter is systemic. Staffing FEMA with nincompoops, combined with the right wing belief that the best way to treat government is to starve it, led to the disaster in New Orleans. Had Katrina struck in the Clinton administration, when James Lee Witt ran FEMA, the response would have been quite different. Burma has been like this for decades.

    Burma is the saddest country I have ever been to. Once the rice bowl of Asia, its people live in a ruined country which has completely fallen apart. I would agree with Malcolm to the extent that some dictatorships are so odious that they ought not to enjoy the protections of sovereignty. Burma is one of them: if any country has earned and received global disgust, it is Burma (except from the one country which has any real leverage: China). I would have no problem with gunboats going up the Irawaddy River (aka the Road to Mandalay) to distribute food and supplies. Reporting has suggested that the latest catastrophe to hit Burma might finally result in a toppling of the military regime. Let’s hope so.

    Posted May 8, 2008 at 9:30 am | Permalink
  3. Malcolm says

    Gentlemen, gentlemen! I remember with gruesome clarity the horrors of our shameful response to Katrina, and am making no defense of it here. You needn’t take every last remark about any news item anywhere in the world as a mandate to air your obsessive loathing of the Bush administration and the American Right; it begins to have a whiff of monomania. My support for nearly all of this administration’s policies scarcely exceeds your own, and as for its competence, we are in perfect agreement. I must also point out two important distinctions here, which are that Bush and his crew will be gone in January as the result of free elections, and that meanwhile we have all had the luxury of denouncing them in the public square without fear of imprisonment and torture.

    Peter, I am glad to see your remarks here about the presumption of an unquestioned “right” to sovereignty. That you agree at least in principle to this casts some of our other disagreements in a somewhat different light.

    Posted May 8, 2008 at 10:37 am | Permalink
  4. JO says

    Don’t shush them, some of us out in the flyover country(Arkansas) just love it when you and Peter get out the epees and cast out “en guarde” or “en garde”. See I haven’t had a chance to find out that Peter and I have the same views on some things! On a more serious note, I was not aware of the seriousness of the despotic leadership(s) in Burma. If we have the ships already there, I believe, they were doing some sort of exercises in that area, why can’t we use force to deliver food? I know that I belie my southern upbringing here, but why not send in assassin special ops? Is that the same as terrorism in reverse?

    Posted May 8, 2008 at 12:28 pm | Permalink
  5. the one eyed man says

    I don’t loathe George Bush, and I certainly don’t obsess over him. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he is doing what he sincerely thinks is best. (I think Cheney is evil, however – and he is smart enough to know better.) Nor do I loathe the Right – they just happen to be wrong about most things. No reason to loathe them for it or obsess over it, just like there is no reason to loathe the Oakland A’s because they are prolific at losing ball games.

    As for sovereignty: I think it is useful to draw distinctions here. Sending troops into a country to distribute aid against the wishes of its government violates territorial sovereignty but is not an invitation to engage in battle. Sending troops into a country pre-emptively to prevent an imminent threat by attacking their military – if, for example, Neville Chamberlin had attacked Hitler — is a greater level of intensity. Sending troops to do battle when there is no imminent threat but the government is odious – if, for example, we attacked North Korea – is a greater level still.

    It is hard to argue against either of the first two scenarios. Using military force for the third scenario – where the victims are the country’s own people – is much more problematic. I don’t think that there is an absolute here – that it is never justified under any circumstance – but, in my view, the circumstances which could justify invasion are limited to things like genocide, forced starvation, and the like.

    Posted May 8, 2008 at 12:32 pm | Permalink
  6. Malcolm says

    Reasonable remarks all, Peter. In particular I think you have limned the important considerations regarding sovereignty quite nicely.

    I think we could have quite an interesting discussion about what constitutes a suitable threshold for action under these different scenarios, but that had perhaps better be left for a post of its own.

    I think we can agree, however, that the world is at least justified, if not morally obliged, to offer what succor it can in this case, regardless of whether the Burmese junta likes it.

    Posted May 8, 2008 at 12:48 pm | Permalink
  7. Malcolm says

    Jeanie, the gang running Burma these days are among the worst in the world.

    Posted May 8, 2008 at 12:50 pm | Permalink
  8. Hi all,

    I Am hoping that this tragedy is the needed impetus to topple Nee Win’s cadre’s – harsh yet lingering grip on power. The false notions that the current regime is able to address any problems that may come up in Burma has been swept away by the typhoon.

    I loved Burma when I was there in ’82 & ’84. It is a magnificent and sweetly Buddhist realm on one side (the people) and a fierce cruel horror-filled quagmire as a state…

    I try to stay in touch with my friends there with rather poor results, but high-hopes of better days ahead…-

    Posted May 8, 2008 at 1:54 pm | Permalink
  9. Malcolm says

    Well, Pat, I’m with you and Pete on this. I hope this crisis is enough to bring down this contemptible regime.

    Posted May 8, 2008 at 2:05 pm | Permalink
  10. Dear Friends,

    Humanitarian relief is urgently needed, but Burma’s government could easily delay, divert or misuse any aid. Yesterday the International Burmese Monks Organization, including many leaders of the democracy protests last fall, launched a new effort to provide relief through Burma’s powerful grass roots network of monasteries–the most trusted institutions in the country and currently the only source of housing and support in many devastated communities. Click below to help the Burmese people with a donation and see a video appeal to Avaaz from a leader of the monks:


    Giving to the monks is a smart, fast way to get aid directly to Burma’s people. Governments and international aid organizations are important, but face challenges–they may not be allowed into Burma, or they may be forced to provide aid according to the junta’s rules. And most will have to spend large amounts of money just setting up operations in the country. The monks are already on the front lines of the aid effort–housing, feeding, and supporting the victims of the cyclone since the day it struck. The International Burmese Monks Organization will send money directly to each monastery through their own networks, bypassing regime controls.

    Last year, more than 800,000 of us around the world stood with the Burmese people as they rose up against the military dictatorship. The government lost no time then in dispatching its armies to ruthlessly crush the non-violent democracy movement–but now, as tens of thousands die, the junta’s response is slow and threatens to divert precious aid into the corrupt regime’s pockets.

    The monks are unlikely to receive aid from governments or large humanitarian organizations, but they have a stronger presence and trust among the Burmese people than both. If we all chip in a little bit, we can help them to make a big difference. Click here to donate:


    With hope,


    Posted May 11, 2008 at 2:58 pm | Permalink
  11. Malcolm says

    Thanks, Pat.

    Posted May 11, 2008 at 8:27 pm | Permalink