Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Two cheers for colonialism?

The reports out of Myanmar are not good. Hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of Burmese killed -- by other Burmese -- for opposing their government.

The title of this post reflects a question that I first encountered in the pages of Look magazine when I was 12, and that comes back to me now and then: is it always better for a people to rule themselves, to be independent? Or may it not sometimes be objectively better for a people to be ruled by outsiders who are better, or at least less bad, at it than they are themselves? And how does one tell the difference?

In its relatively short run, the current military dictatorship ruling Myanmar has already racked up a list of atrocities against its unhappy people that appears to me to eclipse the record of occasional cruelties that it took the British over a century to compile during their domination of India and Burma. The incident usually considered the most extreme example of the latter, the 1930 Qissa Khwani Bazaar massacre in Peshawar, is still strongly resented in India because as many as 400 civilians were killed.

But the Myanmar generals have exceeded that British tally many times over. I can't help but ask myself: if the British were still in charge in Burma, would we be hearing of British troops mowing down hundreds of Burmese demonstrators and Buddhist monks, with the British government trying to lock down communications to conceal it? And would Myanmar have endured the years of oppression and misery their own generals have inflicted on them?

And is Zimbabwe better off under its bloated tyrant Mugabe, just because he's African?

I don't think so. Maybe being ruled by your own countrymen isn't a panacea for the world's ills, after all.