The Hidden History of Burma by Thant Myint-U review – dashed hopes
Nearly a decade ago, Myanmar threw off its military dictatorship. But what has happened since is troubling
When Thant Myint-U was eight he travelled from the US to Burma with his parents to bury his grandfather U Thant, the first non-European secretary general of the United Nations. But the funeral was not a family affair. A group of students and Buddhist monks seized Thant’s coffin and demanded a state ceremony from the country’s military overlords: the corpse became a rallying point for protests. Burmese troops overran the Rangoon University campus where Thant’s body had been held and killed many protesting students. Riots broke out against the army regime and hundreds were killed or imprisoned in the retaliatory crackdown. Myint-U’s parents were told to leave the country quickly. “I missed my fourth-grade classes,” Myint-U writes in The Hidden History of Burma, and instead “experienced firsthand a dictatorship in action”.
Starker encounters followed over the years. After graduating from Harvard in 1988, Myint-U helped a group of Burmese dissidents who were planning a revolution from across the Thai border. As a historian, human rights campaigner and UN policy planner, he advocated for the brutally suppressed Burmese democracy movement through the 1990s and 2000s, while remaining undecided on the usefulness of economic sanctions. In the wake of Cyclone Nargis, he worked to convince the country’s generals to accept international aid and address the country’s abysmal poverty rates. After the dissolution of the junta in 2011, Myint-U was made an adviser in the Burmese president’s office. Continue reading...
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