The crackdown on monks and other protesters by the military junta which rules Burma (Myanmar) raises questions for me as a parent.
The obvious first question is: What would I do? The people of Burma do not have weapons with which to defend themselves. They are trying to confront a brutal regime which has shown no compunction about taking murderous action against innocent civilians. To name only one area of past human rights abuses by this regime, this same military dictatorship deliberately engineered the systematic murder, rape and forced labor of many villagers in its efforts to build the Yadana gas pipeline (assisted by Total S. A. and the American oil company, Unocal, now merged with Chevron).
It does not get more ruthless than this regime. They possess the will and the weaponry.
By contrast, the civilians of Burma are only in possession of their lives and their hopes.
But would I, with three young children, join in the movement for democracy in Burma? Would I risk losing my life and leaving my children? The fact is, I don't know if I would. None of us does without being in that situation.
This question of what I would do -- and the fear that it generates in me to contemplate taking life-threatening action -- makes me think of my support for a ban on assault weapon in this country. This has always been a clear-cut position for me: Why would regular citizens need assault weapons?
But what if our country deteriorated into a dictatorship? The growing politicization of the military, the rise of military options outside of civilian control (Blackwater), the increasing links between the Christian right and high-ranking military officers... It may be unrealistic to imagine a dictatorship anytime soon in this country, but it's not impossible -- which is shocking to consider.
And then, what defense would we have? What means of persuasion, other than lofty rhetoric and Constitution-thumping, would we have to confront this take-over of our democracy?
In the end, I still believe that the value of regulating assault weapons – and the resulting lives saved in the short term – outweighs the value of protecting the possibility of armed resistance to an imagined coup d’etat (or, perhaps more likely, an insidious and creeping authoritarianism). I’m sorry, I just don’t think criminals should be able to outgun police.
But the question is not an easy one, and the events in Burma this weekend make it increasingly obvious to me that at some point I might reconsider.
Crackdown. What a casual word for the gashes, the holes in the head, the blood, the pain. We can hardly picture the horror felt by those who are in it.
The other question that this “crackdown” raises for me is: How do I talk to my children about the horrors in the world, the cruelty, the violence?
My oldest, George, is only 3 (my two younger ones are Cole, 2, and Adeline, 5 months). But in just a few years they will hear of events like these and ask for explanations. I could shield them from it. Dismiss it with a quick sketch, and a passing reference to good people overcoming bad people. But that won’t do, and I know it. I believe that I will need to confront these events directly.
Of course there are numerous hardships in our daily, more immediate lives. But macro-events, world-historical events, are important too. They shape our view of those things and people whom we never meet. They shape our sense of right and wrong by providing hypotheticals and extreme examples. They give us a sense of the grinding, inexorable consequences of history as it is made outside the home.
So I guess I will say now just what my impulse is. I want to sit down with my kids. I want to get out a globe or an atlas. Show them Burma. Show them monks in photographs. Tell them about Buddhism. Tell them about colonialism. Tell them about governments that rule by force and governments that rule by laws, and how they both mix it up together. I want to tell them about the courage of these Burmese who are resisting. Tell them about the fears of those who are hiding in their houses and apartments, as well as the fears of those boys who are hiding behind the steel mesh of their helmets and behind their machine guns. I believe that the more honest talk we give our kids, the more we allow them to reframe and advance the conversation in their own lifetimes.
Maybe someday they will face a crackdown like the one the people of Burma face, but here in our own country, on our own streets. And maybe, unlike their Dad, they will know that, despite the risks, they need to join the crowd on the streets. Weapons or not.