Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Myanmar: The Path of Indifference

The Myanmar government’s deliberate policy of callous indifference towards the tragic plight of its citizens ravaged by cyclones during the past few weeks is nothing new. This ruthless and disgusting variation on humanity’s inhumanity to humanity has been played out repeatedly in the annals of history. Here are two examples. In 1943 (during World War Two) there was a massive famine in the Honan province of China. The late journalist Theodore White was in China as a correspondent for Time Magazine. When he heard rumors about the famine he went to Honan to investigate for himself. What he saw can be read in chapter four of his best-selling book In Search of History. What had had happened was that the Nationalist Government of Chiang Kai-Shek had ruthlessly collected all the grain that had been harvested in the Honan province as a means of payment of that province’s taxes, leaving nothing for its populace to eat. Theodore White filed a story in Time that exposed the horrors of the famine and the Nationalist government’s unwillingness to aid its victims. (Indeed Chiang Kai-Shek, instead of taking action to assist the victims, tried to get Theodore White fired). It was only after a massive outcry in the world press that Chiang was shamed into taking action to aid the people of Honan (it was the same callous indifference that led the Chinese people to overthrow Chiang in 1949).

The other example took place in the Ukraine in what was then the former Soviet Union in the aftermath of World War Two. The Ukraine (Russia’s breadbasket) had already suffered greatly during World War I and the Russian Revolution. It suffered even more during the purges and the Five Year Plans ordered by Josef Stalin during the 1930s. It was further bled white by the Nazis when they occupied the Ukraine from 1941 to 1944. But if that was not enough it suffered even more when Stalin, having reestablished his authority over the Ukraine after expelling the Germans, ordered a new purge and reestablished his failed agrarian policies—this resulted in a massive famine which led to the deaths of millions of Ukrainians. Nikita Khrushchev (Stalin’s commissar for the Ukraine) later wrote in his memoirs that the conditions in the Ukraine were so dire that some of the famine victims were resorting to cannibalism to survive.

When governments treat its own citizenry as enemies then death is the inevitable result. The only question being what manner of death will its people be forced to suffer and endure before it succumbing?

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