Burma/Myanmar is a country in mainland Southeast Asia. The total territory of the country is 261,969 square miles (676,580 square kilometers) and its 2004 population is estimated to be 49,362,000. Although a mid-range country in territory and population, the Burmese miltiary is the 11th largest in number of service personnel. With 595,000 people in uniform it ranks just behind Turkey with 665,000 people in uniform and Brazil with 673,000 people in uniform. The burden of miltiary expenditure in Burma is greater than in Turkey or Brazil because it is a relatively poorer society. According to the CIA Factbook the total size of the economy was estimated at $74.3 billion in 2004 with a purchasing power parity of $1,700 per capita. The comparable figures for Turkey are $508 billion and $7,400 per capita, while the comparable figures for Brazil are $1.49 trillion and $8,100 per capita.
The life expectancy at birth in Burma is only 57.34 years while the life expectancy at birth in neighboring Thailand is 69.33 years. The infant mortality rate per 1000 live births in Burma is a tragic 107 while in Thailand it is only 26. The prevalence of child malnutrition as a percentage of children under 5 years of age in Burma is a disastrous 28.2% while in Thailand it is 17.6%.
Formerly officially known as Union of Burma and still often referred to by that name, the name of the country was changed in 1989 to the Union of Myanmar. Before that it was the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma. The decision to rename the country Myanmar has been officially recognized by the United Nations. Some foreign governments, such as the United States of America, do not recognize this change of name, since they do not recognize the military government which instituted it.
In 2005, the miltiary government moved the capital from Yangon, formerly called Rangoon, 600 kilomters north to Pyinmana. The move may reflect the paranoia of the military government about the possibility of a military attack by the United States. Burma is a client state of the People's Republic of China.
Disciplined Faux Democracy
In a demonstration of the oxymoronicism characterisrtic of military regimes, Lieutenant General Thein Sein, head of the National Convention, said that the country was transitioning toward "disciplined democracy." Speaking on December 5, 2005 to approximately 1000 hand picked pliable delegates to a sham constituional convention, he insisted, "This is the first step in the transition to democracy, and it is the most crucial step. Genuine and disciplined democracy -- there is no other way, this is the way." Actually there is another way. The miltiary could step down and allow the emergence of liberal democracy.
Aung San Suu Kyi
Much of the recurring international news about Burma involves the fate of imprisoned democratic dissident leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. After the current Burmese military junta assumed power in 1988 it allowed elections in 1990. When National League for Democracy (NLD) presidential candidate Aung San Suu Kyi won the contest for that office by a landslide, the Burmese military refused to recognize the result and reasserted its power. She has been in house arrest for 16 years. On November 29, 2005, the military extended her house arrest, presumably for another year.
- n.a. "Myanmar Vows 'Disciplined Democracy' Amid New Demands to Reform," Agence France Presse. December 5, 2005.
- n.a. "Myanmar Extends Aung San Suu Kyi Detention," Assoiated Press. November 28, 2005.
- n.a. "Burma Confirms Capital to Move." BBC News. November 7, 2005.
- Christina Fink. 2001. Living Silence: Burma Under Military Rule. Bankok: White Lotus. ISBN 974753481. London: Zed Press. ISBN 1856499251.
- Emma Larkin. 2005. Finding George Orwell in Burma. New York: Penguin Press. ISBN 1594200521.
- Mya Maung. 1998. The Burma Road to Capitalism: Economic Growth versus Democracy. Westport, CT: Praeger. ISBN0275962164.
- Jeffrey Meyers. 2000. Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation. New York: W.W. Norton. ISBN 0393322637. See Chapter 4: "Policing Burma, 1922-1927," pp. 48-72.