Myanmar’s Agony: “The Road Not Taken”

“The Road Not Taken” is a film (created on an iPhone) by Ko Pauk, of Myanmar (Burma), illustrating the country’s situation. My wife and I were invited to a screening at a local hotel, by Zaw Nay Myo, a gentle soul, poet, and former student leader in resistance to the military regime. He calls my wife his “teacher.” In the sizable audience, we seemed to be the only non-Burmese.

Backstory: Myanmar has been a military dictatorship since 1960. Ruling the country like Al Capone ruled Chicago. In 1990 they allowed an election, but were cluelessly shocked by an overwhelming victory by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy. They annulled the vote and put her under house arrest. Eventually a new military leader, Thein Sein, sought to start Myanmar on a path to democracy.

Suu Kyi was freed and her party again won elections; she became the country’s de facto head. But Thein Sein was apparently sidelined by harder men; and when the NLD won another huge election victory, they called it fraudulent, staged a coup, retook complete power, and imprisoned Suu Kyi, in February 2021.

The film (a basically true story) starts at a small military encampment out in the bush. Despite a false scare of an “enemy” attack, the soldiers seem to be leading a quiet, even dull life. But I was thinking about their actual mission. Myanmar has been beset with endless ethnic and separatist conflicts; and notably, the army has prosecuted a horrifically vicious pogrom against the Muslim Rohingyas, whom the Buddhist majority refuses to accept as fellow citizens. The violence belies Buddhism’s peaceful image.

Then we meet a young woman and her pre-teen daughter. Turns out she’s married to one of those soldiers, a Captain, a contemplative fellow, seen reading a philosophy book. When word of the coup comes, the troop is ordered back to the city. The Captain phones with the good news that he’s coming home. She asks if he’ll be shooting anti-coup protesters. He says yes, if so ordered. But what if she and their daughter are among them? Then of course he wouldn’t shoot. She upbraids him for a lack of human empathy. The call ends unsatisfactorily. The Captain has something to think about. (Apparently he will join the rebels.)

Meantime we do see something of the regime’s ferocity toward the massive protests. Accompanied by a repeated song about their being heroes, giving their lives for democracy. One couldn’t help wondering if things could come to that here in America.

As the wife and daughter of a soldier, the pair become outcasts. Vendors in the marketplace, previously very friendly, now put up signs saying they don’t sell to soldiers or police. Seems awfully brave if anyone actually did that, given the army’s murderous brutality to anyone not knuckling under. Which is most Burmese. In fact the coup, and the repression, plunged the country into full civil war, with the pro-democracy forces linking up with some of the pre-existing insurgencies to fight the national army. It’s wrecking the economy. The soldiers don’t care.

The film ends with another military encampment — this time a rebel force — spiritedly going into battle.

It wasn’t immediately obvious, in each case, what side the depicted soldiers were on. It almost seemed they could be interchangeable.

Mankind’s worst-ever invention was the gun. No guns, no dictatorships. Imagine how much better off the whole world would be if guns did not exist.

3 Responses to “Myanmar’s Agony: “The Road Not Taken””

  1. Lee Says:

    Thank you for highlighting the terrible situation in Myanmar. It is my hope that we (our government) can find a way to bring peace and democracy to this conflict.

  2. Bob Cutler Says:

    True enough, there are major problems with firearms. But in earlier millennia, conquest and repression thrived without gunpowder, and we continue to develop much more fearsome weapons. Whatever the technology, we should strive to reduce hate, greed and intolerance.

  3. kojo Says:

    I’d rate marxism and Islam as humanities worst inventions.
    160, and 270 million-plus deaths besides war, alone, and not many of those were death by firearm. We call that ‘democide’, in the business,
    They lynched, hacked, decapitated, Holodomor’d, beat, starved, concentration camped, electrocuted, stoned, neglected and disembowled.
    Don’t believe? At Pune, the moslems murdered 1.5 million people in one week, with melee weapons.
    The Mogul insisted the heads be piled and tallied up, the records are exact. Herat received a similar treatment. The Khmer-Rouge used sticks, brutality and plastic bags to murder 25 million.
    But, please. Do run through the black iron gate, eyes firmly shut. The one that says Arbeit macht Frei, right over there.

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