The vast suffering caused by Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar has been exacerbated by the country’s brutal military rulers, with foreign governments and international aid agencies unable to reach as many as 1.5 million victims.
The cyclone has repaid in full the vast hubris of the Burmese, who for decades have enjoyed exceptional quality of life and a prominence in world affairs well out of proportion to their size.
Put simply, from the day the military took power in 1962 until the cleansing winds of Cyclone Nargis fell silent last week, Burma has had it too good for too long.
In a way, one can understand the intense nationalism of the Burmese people. Theirs is the largest country in mainland south-east Asia. Theirs is the longest electoral cycle. This nation of 55 million (subject to revision, check newspapers) is an export powerhouse, supplying secretaries-general to the UN, foreign-policy disasters to China and ASEAN, and now millions of rooves to the streets.
A Burmese government spokesman says military police confronted Nargis on 1 May after suspecting that it intended to form a political party. Somewhere between zero and 22,000 people died as the category-four cyclone resisted arrest, however the storm was subdued and questioned by authorities before being deported the following day.
Of course a cynic may ask whether the official line is truthful, but to do so would be to ignore the ancient charm of one of Asia’s most magical tyrannies.
So far, the government is sticking to plans for a constitutional referendum this weekend. In a bid to win support for continued military control of the country, a planned television ad campaign will tell voters that if they don’t remember how bad things were under Win Maung and the People’s Freedom League, they should ask anyone who survived.