Sunday, October 09, 2011

Mac McClelland: For Us Surrender Is Out Of The Question

Mac McClelland is an amazing writer, in the trickster genre. I kind of want to be her. "For Us Surrender Is Out Of The Question" would be completely unreadable if McClelland wasn't so witty, gritty, and down to earth, because Burma and the Karen refugees living on the border of Burma are possibly the most depressing subject I've read about recently, which is saying something. I folded down a page in my library book (!) to remember to include just a tiny portion of the depressing statistics McClelland throws into the real life picture she paints. McClelland briefly crosses into Burma (she actually stays in Thailand with Karen refugees) and describes the situation there:
Myawaddy looked like Thailand might if Thailand experienced twelve times the infant mortality and fifteen times the child mortality- the second-highest child mortality rate in Asia, after Afghanistan's- if the life expectancy were nearly a decade lower, and if its GNI were a fifteenth of what it was despite its having abundant natural resources. It looked like Thailand might if Thailand, which is just a little bit smaller and a little more populous than Burma, spent 40cents per capita on health care rather than $63, or provided 0 percent of childhood vaccinations instead of 100 percent, or were one of only five countries in the world that forbade Boy Scouts, or were the poorest country on the continent and one of the seven poorest countries in the world but had still managed to double the size of its military troops and buy billions' worth of weapons over two decades despite not being at war with anybody but its own run-down people.
Are you shocked and awed yet? ZERO percent childhood vaccinations? Doubled military size? McClelland details just how the illegitimate Burmese government went about doing this- conscription of young boys, forced portering, etc- in other parts of the book. And 40 cents per capita on health care? I felt guilty that I couldn't put this book down, because it was so well written. On the other hand, McLelland is a genius: the Karen refugee human rights workers she stayed with asked her to tell their story to the world, and she has done so with success.

So what's going on in Burma? Well, it's hard to know, because free press is illegal and a Burman education is hard to come by, but in a nutshell, Burma's been at war for a long time. A really long time. Partly ethnic strife, partly religious, partly over resources, partly over borders, and later, anti-colonial- the wars in Burma have been going on for thousands of years. The British were particularly good at playing factions of Burmese (the Karen and the Burmese, for example,) off of each other, which led to internecine warfare that continues today. Aung San Suu Kyi, probably the most famous Burmese person around, called for a democratic government in the late '80s, and that was probably the first and last time that Burma almost made it. She was quickly placed under house arrest, won the popular election, and the junta cracked down. Aung San Suu Kyi has won the Nobel Prize: she's still under house arrest. As McLelland writes, "verboten is the distribution, in any medium, of any information that is unfriendly to the state, the state ideology, members of state government, the state of state government, the state socialism program, the state of the economy... etc" So all the stuff that goes down with no way for the international community to really know about it. And if they knew about it, they wouldn't really do much, it turns out, because Burma is resource-rich. Under both Clinton and Bush, lip service was paid to the "tyranny" (Condoleezza Rice's term) that exists in Burma. There are sanctions in place, and some public outcry from famous people. But Burma's oil and gas make real solutions unlikely. The Junta makes bajillions from countries like China, France, Thailand, and yes, the United States, who have business interests in Burma. The people of Burma don't see the money, but why would the government change, when the international community keeps the money rolling in? Worse, many countries are still selling military equipment to the Burmese government.

Burma is dying, and the international community is facilitating the blistering, bleeding death. Read "For Us Surrender Is Out Out Of The Question" for a much less melodramatic, much more informative, fascinating, eye-opening picture of the worst global situation you've never heard of.