Academic commentary on Cyclone Nargis

During last year’s uprising against the military dictatorship in Burma I put together a summary of academic opinion.  It has continued to serve as a useful resource for readers looking to find out what the world’s scholars made of that all-too-brief period when the world watched Burma and waited for change.  The current crisis – which I have no doubt is far from over - has again generated much commentary from academics. 

Here I have selected some of the statements made during the past few days.  As the humanitarian response to the cyclone continues I expect that experts, of all sorts, will have much more to say.

  • The military regime is extraordinarily xenophobic. They are afraid of everything…If they can’t handle the situation and they let Westerners come in with helicopters, this will demonstrate to their own people the shortcomings of the military…They are more concerned with control and maintaining an omniscience in front of their people than saving lives.

- Sean Turnell, Macquarie University quoted in “Observers say Myanmar has history of xenophobia”, Associated Press, 9 May 2008. 

  • Hell, us nosy, arrogant Americans will ask questions, and maybe lecture them.  Other American instincts are optimism, a we-can-do-anything spirit and good will in times of disaster, but this time Myanmar’s leaders are determined to turn help away in order to keep their oppression a state secret. While driving to work, I was stung by the BBC report in which Myanmar warned that international air drops of food and health supplies would be interpreted as “incendiary acts.” Fine. A lot of Americans are feeling less charitable anyway because of $4 per gallon gas here and a chippy democratic election. Anyway, most citizens probably didn’t know there was country that was renamed and now sounds like marshmallow-chocolate treat. Tragically, nothing sweet is going on.

- Wayne Dawkins, Hampton University writing in “The Bitter Taste of Mass Death”, Politics in Color, 11 May 2008.

  • The military regime really worries only about keeping the support of the army. It doesn’t care about the people, as can be seen in its failure to respond to the cyclone…

- Win Min, independent academic in Chiang Mai quoted in Emma-Kate Symons, “The deluge to come”, The Australian, 14 May 2008.

  • Aid and support must flow freely, massively, competently and quickly, regardless of social class, regardless of political affiliation, regardless of whether or not it was invited. Will disasters continue to strike and affect us? Definitely. Will logistics, planning, response and communication again prove not adequate enough? Possibly. Lessons will continue to be drawn from our mistakes as well as from our successes. Those lessons need to inform future preparedness and response and will have to be offered to and, if necessary, pushed upon those in immediate need. Systems may fail. However, humanity cannot.

- Andrea Allen, Barry University writing in “Valuable lessons should be learned from natural disasters like Myanmar”, The Sun-Sentinel,  12 May 2008.

  • They believe that the countries of the outside world are eager to defeat them and take over their country

- Josef Silverstein, Rutgers University quoted in Marcus Gee, “Myanmar’s generals are ruled by paranoia”, The Globe and Mail, 13 May 2008.

  • That said, if intervention does not take place, we should be honest with ourselves and ditch any pretence that the “responsibility to protect” and the “liberal humanitarian project” mean anything beyond generating warm and fuzzy sensations for Western academics. We should be urging governments to consider the long-term moral implications of not intervening in Burma to prevent the certain deaths of tens of thousands of children and adults from the fury of nature and the epic callousness of their own Government.

- Andrew O’Neil, Flinders University writing in “Kosovo aid the model”, The Australian, 14 May 2008.

  • The government’s very bad; they’re dictators…The food and supplies will get to the people, but the whole amount will not be given to them. They (survivors) have no choice…Even if the villagers think it’s wrong, they don’t dare utter anything because they’d be in trouble…If anyone went against them (the government), they’d arrest them, torture them and keep them in prison.

- Angelene Naw, Judson University quoted in Erin Calandriello, “Judson U. prof from Myanmar seeks storm aid”, The Courier News, 13 May 2008.

  • And the fourth one, probably the most important one, is the military regimes inside — within the military regime, there is a humane leaders — there are humane leaders within the regime, and there are the people who disagree with the top generals, but they are living in their lifeline. So I think this…

- Tun Myint, Carleton College interviewed on NewsHour’s “Myanmar’s Rulers Hold Tight to Power Amid Cyclone Crisis”, 12 May 2008.

Other interesting comments by academics include:

The list of experts available for comment from the University of Michigan also makes for interesting reading.  Over the coming days, and if there is demand, I am happy to update this consolidated document for those who find it useful.  It has been assembled in something of a hurry and as a result any omissions or apparent biases are, I assure you, quite unintentional.

About Nicholas Farrelly