In the book “Finding George Orwell in Burma,” Emma Larkin paints a clear comparison between the current military regimes which has ruled Burma for over fifty years to the British colonial government which ruled Burma up to 1948 (Larkin 5). George Orwell was a British writer who witnessed the oppression of the colonial government on the residents of Burma. Orwell wrote three books including Burmese Days, Animal Farm, and Nineteen Eighty-Four. According to Emma Larkin, many Burmese locals regard this trilogy as a prophecy of the atrocities that would befall the Burmese people after the gaining of independence. Many locals, therefore, regard Orwell as a prophet. Many similarities exist between the military government of Burma and the colonial government that ruled the country before independence.
Firstly, like in the colonial days, there is little media freedom in Burma. While tourists are highly welcomed in the nation to generate income for the corrupt government, journalists are constantly harassed and arrested. Foreigners are treated with suspicion and even openly harassed by the police and other local law enforcement agencies. For example, in her research on George Orwell, Emma Larking had to disguise herself as a foreign tourist to avoid harassment.
Secondly, there is widespread poverty in Burma resulting from the oppression regime. Most of the country’s resources are controlled by a few powerful individuals affiliated with the dictatorial government leaving only limited resources for the rest of the citizens to meet their needs. For example, despite the vast resources available in Burma, in the fifty years of dictatorial rule, Burma has fallen from being the wealthiest country in eastern Asia to being the poorest. Thirdly, there is a flawed justice system with little rule of law. The citizens of Burma lie under constant fear of unjustified incarceration without trial. Even where such trials are held, these are just mere formalities as the court system is also corrupt and controlled by the wealthy individuals.
Fourthly, the government has enacted a system of installing informers in the society to have a tighter control over the citizens. Interactions between individuals are therefore constrained as people are afraid of speaking out in public. A resident whom Larkin interviewed said “It doesn’t make any difference whether they have informers or not. It is enough that we believe their informers are everywhere. After that, we do their work for them”(Larkin, 2006). Lastly, the dictatorial government adopted a system of communism which became flawed with corruption. Hard work on the part of the citizens does not bear many dividends n the individual worker. The hard work is supposed to bear fruit for the community as all the resources are supposedly communally owned. However, due to the flaws that exist in the system, these benefits only trickle down to a few individuals. This translates to a types of forced labor as was evident in Burma during the colonial days.
Question 2 (A)
To retain control over its citizens, most of the Burmese military governments since independence have relied on the element of fear. The fear among the residents has ensured that these citizens remain loyal to the government with little disturbances in the form of uprisings or resistance. To maintain the fear in the citizens, the government uses different tools at its disposal.
The first tool used by the Burmese government is the army. The primary purpose of the Burmese troops is to protect the country’s territory from external attacks. However, the troops have also been deployed internally to maintain order, enforce new laws such as curfews and also to crush any signs of civil unrest, especially within the country’s urban centers. These armed forces hen deployed are authorized by executive order to crush the resistance using extreme force. Fr example, it is not uncommon for the troops to open fire n demonstrating crowds this leaves the citizens under constant fear of starting an uprising.
The second tool that has been used to maintain control over the Burmese citizens is the police force. After the 1964 coupe, the police were granted extensive power. The police can execute arrests on the citizens for different minor reasons. The number of police officers has also been increased to exercise more control. Furthermore, the police have been reinforced by the transfer of different officers from the army to the police force that has transformed the police into a kind of military.
Thirdly, the country’s intelligence forces have also been used to exercise control over the citizens. The intelligence forces have embedded many spies in the Burmese community. As such, signs of any uprisings are quickly realized by the government and actions taken to extinguish such uprisings. The people of Burma, therefore, live in constant suspicion of each other as they have no information on the identity of these spies. Lastly, the government of Burma has also exercised tight control over the country’s media. Therefore, there is tight control n the information flow system. Communication systems are also highly monitored. The citizens, therefore, find it difficult to gain access to information.
Question 2 (B)
Whether in a democracy or a dictatorship, fear is one of the primary tools employed by governments in exercising control over their citizens. For example, Breaking of the law on the part of the citizens comes at a certain cost such as incarceration or hefty fines. It the fear of the incarceration or the payment of these hefty fines that keeps the citizens from breaking the law. Most of the citizens view the prisons as punishment facilities other than rehabilitation centers.
In most developed countries, street surveillance is not an uncommon occurrence. For example, the US government used the events of 9/11 terrorist attacks to create fear in citizens, therefore, justifying the installation of surveillance cameras in most cities. These surveillance cameras give the government to monitor the streets and, therefore, control the public, all in the disguise of preventing future such attacks.
Additionally, political campaigns often center around issues that center around fear. For example, most politicians often offer promises to fight terrorism if they are elected. They promise that they and only they are in a position to fight this growing threat. The citizens end up electing such leaders out of the fear of terrorism.
From the readings, it was striking to realize the similarities that exist between the colonial government in Burma and the current regime. These similarities can lead one to view the colonial governments in most countries as having been a form of dictatorial regime. Therefore, in cases where such countries gained independence only to fall under the rule of another dictatorial regime, one can view such a case as not gaining independence but as a regime change from one dictatorial regime to another.
The realization on how world governments use fear as a factor to maintain control over their citizens was also particularly striking. For example, many world governments deploy their militaries in the urban streets to maintain peace in case of civil unrest within the country. This is irrespective of the type of government whether a dictatorship or a democratically elected government. Additionally, the heads of such democratically elected states also retain the power to declare curfews within their states in times of national emergencies. These curfews are designed to instill fear in the citizens to maintain law and order.
Finally, the role that is played by the media in maintaining control over citizens was also particularly striking. For example, in Burma, the media is strictly government controlled which allows the government to control the type of information that the citizens can access. As thus, the citizens are unable to mount any major resistance against the government.
- Larkin, Emma. Finding George Orwell in Burma. New York, N.Y: Penguin Books, 2006.