January 14, 2020

The Myanmar Crisis is More Than the Rohingya

by Stanley A. Weiss

BANGKOK — In January of 1863, as the civil war in the United States neared its half-way point, southern Confederate soldiers in Madison County, North Carolina seeking to root out support for the northern campaign to save the union whipped two elderly women, shot a thirteen-year-old boy and twelve others, and then buried the men in a shallow grave.

The Shelton Laurel Massacre, as it became known, was one of the most appalling episodes of the American Civil War, but far from the only one. Today, the massacre is a little-remembered episode in a larger war that was defined less by its worst atrocities and more for the lasting legacy of division, distrust, and devastation that it wreaked on the entire country.

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March 15, 2016

Myanmar’s 40 to 72 Percent Problem

by Stanley A. Weiss

If you walk the streets of this city at the end of the work day, you’ll hear a distinctive sound: the clicks and taps synonymous with Myanmar’s traditional sport, known as chinlone. Sharing certain roots with soccer, chinlone dates back 1,500 years, when it was played for the country’s royalty. While the objective is simple—kick the small woven ball around a six-player circle without letting it touch the ground—the game is difficult. Players leap and dive, executing complex footwork with a combination of dance and martial arts moves. Their athleticism is all the more remarkable given the competition: there is none. The groups of men and women who play nightly do so without any incentive to “win.” Victory comes in the artistry of the moves and the cohesion of the players. In chinlone, collaboration is the name of the game – which is deeply ironic when you consider the source.

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March 28, 2014

Cutting Off Our Nose to Spite Our Face in Myanmar

by Stanley A. Weiss

YANGON–One of them has helped reforest environmentally threatened regions and donated money to assist children with Down syndrome. A portion of every ticket his airline sells goes to social welfare organizations. And when Cyclone Nargis devastated Myanmar in 2008, his foundation contributed more than $8 million to rebuild schools, hospitals, and monasteries.

The other has footed the bill for school fees and medical expenses for the families of Myanmar’s political prisoners. He is actively recruiting doctors from other nations to improve the health care system here, and oversees the only national institution — the Myanmar football league — in which ethnic minorities participate on an equal footing with ethnic Burmans. And at a time when corruption threatens to derail this country’s nascent democracy, he is the highest-profile business leader to have opened his books to an internationally-respected accounting firm and then personally presented the full audit to United States Ambassador Derek Mitchell.

Which is not to say that Tay Za and Zaw Zaw, two of the most successful businessmen in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), are Boy Scouts. Over the past two decades, the head of the Htoo Group and the 46-year-old chairman of the Max Myanmar Group built their vast conglomerates of companies — stretching from banking to hotels to construction — by thriving on connections they developed with a regime notorious for human rights abuses. Those contacts landed the two on the U.S. government’s Myanmar sanctions list, which bans American individuals and companies from doing business with any friends of the old regime.

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March 8, 2014

What Myanmar Could Learn From Indonesia

by Stanley A. Weiss

YANGON, Myanmar–Indonesians of a certain age still speak about Seulawah, their country’s first airplane, a Douglas DC-3 Dakota purchased from an American airman in Hong Kong during Indonesia’s bitter war for independence from the Dutch after World War II. They can recall how the Dutch blockaded Indonesia while the plane was being refitted in India, forcing the aircraft to seek safe harbor here in Yangon, then known as Rangoon, the former capital of Burma. They can tell you how Seulawah was used to smuggle arms and ammunition from Burma to the Indonesian island of Aceh–and how, when the blockade was broken and Indonesia’s revolutionary war was won, it was Seulawah that fetched Indonesia’s founding fathers and ferried them home to a hero’s welcome.

Sixty-five years later, Myanmar–as Burma is now known–is the country haltingly coming to terms with a future of its own making. And this time, it is Indonesia’s turn to lend its Southeast Asian neighbor a hand–not through the power of its jet engines but through the power of its example as a strong yet decentralized political system.

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September 22, 2011

Blessed are the Businessmen and Women

WASHINGTON— Sixty-four years ago today, one of the most prescient memos in American history was placed on the desk of George C. Marshall, the United States Secretary of State.  It was written by Loy Henderson, the director of the State Department’s Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs.  Coming less than a month after a special committee of the United Nations had recommended partitioning Palestine into two states—one Jewish and one Arab—it precisely predicted the violent future that partition would bring.

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June 2, 2010

Can ‘Pashtunistan’ End the Af-Pak War?

UDAIPUR, India – On the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, in the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains, tribesmen here know him as the “Afghan Warrior Poet.” Like thousands of his fellow Pashtun brothers from the surrounding Northwest Frontier Province, he stood as the first line of defense against troops invading from the West. Eventually, he grew disgusted by the corruption of leaders who lived in the capital cities and rebelled. Despite their armies, these leaders could do little to reach or control him in this rugged wasteland. In the name of Allah, he made it the cause of his life to unite his fellow believers, to create their own nation, and live by their own customs.

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