There have been a couple of major crossroads in the history of Myanmar—first, when national hero Gen Aung San was assassinated in 1947, soon after negotiating independence from the British; and second, when countrywide pro-democracy demonstrations took place in 1988, followed by a landslide election victory for the National League of Democracy (NLD), led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
And now, after the rise of a quasi-civilian government embarking on a process of political reform, Myanmar is again at a crossroads. For the new administration, recognizing the critical challenges and how to overcome them will very much determine the nation’s future.
And so the latest book on the subject, aptly titled “Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads,” by Benedict Rogers, a human rights activist and journalist, attempts to tell a “comprehensive, holistic and accessible” story of Myanmar.
There are three sections written in an episodic style. Firstly, the decline of Myanmar from independence to Dictator Gen Ne Win assuming power through a military coup; secondly, significant events such as 1988 uprising, Saffron Revolution and Cyclone Nargis; thirdly, the persecution of groups by the former military regime—ethnic minorities, military deserters, child soldiers and the Rohingya; and lastly, analyzing the current situation and what the future holds.
Each chapter is mostly a summary of events or issues—with the exception of those on ethnic minorities—thus providing a good quick overview for readers new to Myanmar, but lacking any fresh material for aficionados who have been closely following recent developments.
Given the author’s long-standing work as a human rights activist, it is of little surprise that the chapters on ethnic minorities stand out with great detail, including numerous firsthand accounts and interviews, yet much of the attempted analysis is feeble and devoid of any innovative insight—certainly not living up to the attention-grabbing title of the book.
This story first appeared in the December 2012 print issue of The Irrawaddy magazine.