I was born on Oct. 15, 1988. Twenty-two days earlier, the people of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) were forced by General Saw Muaung and the State Law and Order Restoration Council into a newer version of the military rule it had been subjected to since 1962.
To put this in a more appropriate perspective, this newest junta was instated primarily in response to the 8888 uprising – having started on Aug. 8, 1988 – which was led not by Buddhist monks or by former government activists. Students of the Rangoon Institute of Technology set off the spark, and they were joined in large numbers only after one of their ranks was killed in front of the University’s main building.
These students, who had never lived in a democratic society nor experienced the liberties so many of us often disregard, put themselves on the front lines to fight for the restoration of a democratic government.
Now, 20 years after thousands of Burmese citizens, students and monks sacrificed their lives to see their vision of a free future for their children, Buddhist monks and other leaders have reinvigorated the nonviolent movement for change. On Sept. 23, while I was enjoying watching football and recovering from a typical American university weekend, over 100,000 demonstrators packed the streets of Burma to protest the current military rule of Than Shwe, Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council.
The New York Times reports that witnesses saw soldiers fire automatic weapons into the crowd of monks, nuns and civilians. State television in Myanmar reported nine deaths. In 1988, when blood was said to have covered the bridges harboring the protesters, the Union of Myanmar reported a death total of a few dozen.
The United Nations, who recognized the military government imposed in 1988, failed to pass a resolution condemning – not promising action, just condemning – the harsh response by the government to the peaceful protests.
This is a quote from an article that appeared on the front page of the New York Times on Friday, Sept. 28: “The violence began before dawn with raids on Buddhist monasteries and continued through the day with tear gas, beatings and volleys of gunfire in the streets of the country’s main city, Yangon?”
The people of Burma are looking to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of one of the heroes of the revolution in 1948, when Burma received its independence from the British Empire, and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. While Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for 12 of the last 18 years and hadn’t appeared in public in four years before this week, she remains a symbol of the movement for change. Another leader of the protests, Min Ko Naing, is reportedly in Insein Prison after being severely tortured, while Su Su Nway and other leaders are in hiding.
Public outrage is growing by the day, fueled by constant reporting from the media and growing awareness from government leaders and humanitarian institutions. And yet, I can’t see how outrage alone is enough.
I’m outraged that the New York Jets lost on Sunday. I’m furious that I keep leaving all my work for the last minute. I’m more than angry that my little sister is getting my car after first semester.
Reading about the terrors seen in Burma now, knowing that if not for men much braver than myself (the protesters), there would be no chance for the people of Burma and feeling that I can do absolutely nothing to help the people there are far worse than anger.
So you may ask why I choose to write about this if I’m just going to elicit – or try to – these same emotions from my readers.
And that’s great, because if right now you ask that, and feel what I feel, then maybe you can pass that emotion on to someone else, or maybe even two people. And then maybe those two people will pass it on, and soon everyone at this University will feel exactly what I feel. Then maybe we can take the next step and start acting, for if there is one thing living in a free society should have taught us by now, it’s that while one person can’t change anything by himself or herself, enough people sharing the same emotion can make a difference.
Epstein is a member of the class of 2010.