An editorial in yesterday’s New York Times entitled “Myanmar’s Cowardly Generals” excoriates the brutal military regime in Myanmar, aka Burma, for threatening the country’s pro-democracy leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, with additional criminal charges for letting an uninvited American visitor spend the night in her home. Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Prize winner, has been under house arrest for 13 out of the last 19 years and has not been permitted to receive visitors. As a result of the man’s unexpected visit, she is now undergoing a criminal trial and facing an additional five years imprisonment.
Except for the most ardent supporters of military rule, everyone would agree that the people of Burma are suffering under tyranny. The tyranny is not just that the military regime in Burma hasn’t been elected. It’s also because the regime is extremely brutal.
The situation in Burma holds some valuable lessons for Americans.
First, there is strict gun control in Burma. That means the citizenry are not permitted to own weapons, a state of affairs that is the dream of gun-control advocates everywhere.
The result of gun control in Burma is obvious: the Burmese people have no means by which to resist violently the tyranny under which they suffer. They must meekly submit to the tyranny.
That’s not to say, of course, that they would resort to violence if they did own weapons. As Thomas Jefferson pointed out in the Declaration of Independence, oftentimes people will tolerate a lot of oppression before resorting to force of arms in the attempt to throw off the shackles of tyranny. The reason for that is that violent revolutions produce lots of death and destruction and not guaranteed success. People must think long and hard before resorting to violent resistance to tyranny.
But the nice thing about the right to keep and bear arms is that at least it provides an option for people who are suffering under tyranny. If the tyranny becomes insufferable, people’s weaponry at least gives them the chance of overthrowing it. Without weapons, there is but one option: submit.
Second, the tyranny in Burma gives us a good example of the type of foreign policy envisioned by the Framers. As bad as things are for the Burmese people, the U.S. government is not invading and occupying the country. That is a good thing. An invasion and occupation would undoubtedly kill and maim hundreds of thousands of people and wreak devastation across the country, as it has in Iraq.
The fact is that the situation in Burma is the business of the Burmese people, not federal officials in Washington. This principle is no different in every other country on earth, including Iraq, Iran, Guatemala, Cuba, Chile, and other countries where the U.S. government has attempted regime-change operations.
Third, there is another way to help people who are suffering under tyranny, oppression, or harsh economic conditions. It is the way that was envisioned by our American ancestors. Here was the message that early Americans effectively sent to the world when the United States were established: “We know that there are vile and brutal tyrannies all over the world. There always have been and there always will be. We will not send our military forces to save you from tyranny. However, let the word go forth that if people who are suffering under such conditions wish to escape, there will always be at least one country that will accept them and not force them back — the United States of America.”
Fourth, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial is a sham, one in which the outcome, one way or the other, is preordained. Given the military mindset in Burma, there is no way that military officials would ever accord the accused due process of law or trial by jury because then the result would be in doubt. Despite the fact that the trial has the trappings of a legal proceeding, British Ambassador Mark Canning put it well, “All the paraphernalia of the courtroom is there. The judges, the prosecution, the defence. That’s all there, but I think this is a story where the conclusion is already scripted.” (Although the first part of the trial was held in secret — national security, of course — Canning and other diplomats were allowed to witness a later part of the proceedings.)
We would be remiss if we failed to take note of the type of person that military officials consider to be a threat to national security — political dissidents and critics of the state.
Gun control. Military rule. Denial of due process and trial by jury. Let’s just hope that such tyranny never comes to America. Let’s also hope that the U.S. government leaves the Burmese people, along with everyone else in the world, alone.