zenpundit.com » burma

Archive for the ‘burma’ Category

Messy Wars, Navigating Wicked Problems, and the Soul of American Foreign Policy

Monday, June 18th, 2012

Michael Few is a retired military officer and former editor of the Small Wars Journal: we are honored to offer our readers this guest post by a good friend of this blog.

This fall, I’m hoping to begin teaching high school social studies as well as an elective on Global Issues or Wicked Problems (WPs). WPs are those messy, seemingly intractable problems that seem to evade solutions from conventional planning and decision making methods — terrorism, poverty, water rights, etc… These types of courses are already being taught in the school system where I live, and my hope is that I will be able to become a force multiplier given my experience and background.

Eventually, if this elective course takes off, then I would like the final project to be a collection of TEDx talks, where the students describe a problem, discuss past failed efforts to tame the problem, and offer coping strategies or new solutions.

As I am doing my initial reconnaissance of the student demographics, the first striking data point is their age. The incoming freshman class would have been born in 1998, and the senior class born in 1995. A second surprise that I received is the socio-ethnic backgrounds. Along with the expected mix of white, black and Hispanic children, my school district has a significant first generation Indian population, whose parents teach or work in the Research Triangle Park or surrounding universities. Moreover, there is a minority of Burmese refugees who have found a safe home after fleeing a repressive regime.

How do they see and understand the world?

The attacks of 9/11 were but a faint memory; the Cold War is ancient history. Their childhoods were formed with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in the background, and their pop-culture heroes are Navy Seal Team Six and Call to Duty video games. Drone strikes and the intervention in Libya are normal for them.

It is the way things are. We fight terrorists in other countries in order to protect our way of life. But what is a terrorist or an insurgent? Is it simply someone that disagrees with you?

These students have much bigger problems to solve than simply pacifying villages in the remote areas of modernity. By 2040, when these students are in the prime of their lives, the world population is expected to be nearing nine billion with increased competition for basic resources as the world passes through peak oil and peak fresh water.

If the United States is to remain strong, then these children are our hope. They will be tasked with leading the nation, finding new solutions to coming crisis, and developing innovation in technology, science, governance, and medicine.

As I am developing my teaching philosophy, I am using the same process that served me well as a commander in the military. My purpose is to help develop, mentor, and coach: 1. leaders of character, 2.involved citizens in the nation who understand that rights must be complimented by responsibilities, and 3. the individual self-confidence to pursue a good life respecting themselves and others.

Initially, I want to challenge them to rethink what they’ve been taught or think they know. I want my students to think for themselves and determine what right should look like.

First, I began studying Reinhold Niebuhr. Now, I’m spending some time reading Saint Augustine’s “City of God” and rethinking Just War Theory. If we zoom up from just drone strikes and look at our continued military action across the globe, do we still have the moral high ground? I don’t know. As Saint Augustine wrote,

Whoever gives even moderate attention to human affairs and to our common nature, will recognize that if there is no man who does not wish to be joyful, neither is there anyone who does not wish to have peace. For even they who make war desire nothing but victory — desire, that is to say, to attain to peace with glory. For what else is victory than the conquest of those who resist us? And when this is done there is peace. It is therefore with the desire for peace that wars are waged, even by those who take pleasure in exercising their warlike nature in command and battle. And hence it is obvious that peace is the end sought for by war.

When I quoted Saint Augustine in a comment here, Mark Safranski, the Zen of Zen, replied,

The high ground is in the eye of the beholder. Some people cheered 9/11, including a few American radicals. With multiple-audiences watching 24/7, some will disapprove of our merely existing and bitterly resent and deny the legitimacy of our fighting back because they prefer us defeated and dead. Other audiences are more fair-minded and these are a good barometer – if we are winning them over, securing their admiration and isolating our opponents, our moral behavior in the big picture is apt to be reasonably on track. If we are repelling them, isolating ourselves, driving others to the side of our enemies, then chances are fairly good that we are going astray.

Zen’s point is well-taken, but I disagree. Following a moral life is not based on how others feel about you. It is through living a life that subscribes to your believed philosophy, spiritual norms, and values and beliefs particularly when you have to make an unpopular decision.

John Arquilla, in his most recent “Cool War,” said it best,

’It is well that war is so terrible,’ Confederate General Robert E. Lee once said, ‘lest we should grow too fond of it.’ For him, and generations of military leaders before and since, the carnage and other costs of war have driven a sense of reluctance to start a conflict, or even to join one already in progress.

Caution about going to war has formed a central aspect of the American public character. George Washington worried about being drawn into foreign wars through what Thomas Jefferson later called ‘entangling alliances.’ John Quincy Adams admonished Americans not to ‘go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.’ Their advice has generally been followed. Even when it came to helping thwart the adventurer-conquerors who started the twentieth century’s world wars, the United States stayed out of both from the outset, entering only when dragged into them.

Today, war has become too easy and not too terrible. With our global hegemony in military strength, we can force our will at any time and any place.

But, what is the right thing to do?

What is the moral high ground?

These are some of the questions that my students will eventually have to answer.

Friday, October 5th, 2007


Wizards of Oz, Enterprise Resilience Management Blog, Thomas P.M. Barnett, TDAXP, Hidden Unities, Pundita, Agam’s Gecko, Democracy Project , Simulated Laughter -New!

Free Burma!

Thursday, October 4th, 2007


Senior General Than Shwe of Burma

Than Shwe and all members of the instrumentalities under his authority as commander-in-chief and Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council, are accused of crimes including, but not limited to, actions defined under Article II. and Article II. of The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide:

“Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article III: The following acts shall be punishable:

(a) Genocide;(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;(d) Attempt to commit genocide;(e) Complicity in genocide. “

The mass and systemic suppression and extrajudicial murder of Buddhist monks and ongoing ethnic cleansing campaigns against the Karen minority qualify for a referral to the UNSC for the establishment of an international tribunal to investigate, indict and try Burmese leaders suspected of crimes against humanity and genocide.

Free Burma!

Monday, October 1st, 2007


Free Burma!

The Burmese government is now engaged in wholesale massacres of it’s Buddhist opposition:

Burma: Thousands dead in massacre of the monks dumped in the jungle” –The Daily Mail

” Thousands of protesters are dead and the bodies of hundreds of executed monks have been dumped in the jungle, a former intelligence officer for Burma’s ruling junta has revealed. The most senior official to defect so far, Hla Win, said: “Many more people have been killed in recent days than you’ve heard about. The bodies can be counted in several thousand.” Mr Win, who spoke out as a Swedish diplomat predicted that the revolt has failed, said he fled when he was ordered to take part in a massacre of holy men. He has now reached the border with Thailand. “

eddie of Hidden Unities sent me the following article from TIME:

“But while the junta can control the street, the monasteries and even the web, they can’t control the sky. On Friday the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), working with Burmese groups, released a new analysis of high-resolution satellite images that pinpointed evidence of human rights violations in the eastern Burma. For the first time in Burma, scientists were able to use orbital satellites to confirm on-the-ground reports of burned villages and forced relocations of civilians by the military. The technique has already been used to document human rights abuses in Zimbabwe and Darfur, but in Burma, a closed country that often seems like a modern-day version of Orwell’s 1984, it’s almost like turning Big Brother against itself. “We are sending a message to the military junta that we are watching from the sky,” said Aung Din, policy director for the U.S. Campaign for Burma. “

What if NGO’s, IGO’s and national governments geographically divided Burma into “observation zones” and used government and commercial spy satellites to accumulate evidence of crimes against humanity by the military regime, making these images available on a public wiki ? An open-source pressure campaign for the prosecution of Burmese leaders before a special tribunal or the ICC ?


Free Burma! is a central site for “International Bloggers Day for Burma -October 4 “


The Glittering Eye New!

Swedish Meatballs Confidential New!

Pundita and here

Hidden Unities as well as here

Jules Crittenden

Agam’s Gecko

Thursday, September 27th, 2007


As you are no doubt aware, Buddhist monks have led the largest protests against Burma’s military-socialist junta, which has misruled Burma in various guises for almost sixty years, since the student democracy movement was crushed in 1988. Given the track record of this exceptionally brutal regime, only intense international pressure from the US, the EU and especially, Burma’s major economic trading partner and supplier of military equipment, China,prevent an epic massacre.

As my blogging time is sharply constricted at present, I can recommend others who have been following these developments:

Pundita: Burma: Oh ho! The aged emperor is isolated!, Hello, CNN, we’re trying to prevent a massacre, Diamonds are a dictator’s best friend; beware the white heads!

Duck of Minerva: Crackdown, Photos from Myanmar

Switch to our mobile site