For decades Burma’s ruling military junta has governed through terror, determined to meet dissent with intimidation, detention and murder. It is because of the military’s particular cruelty that the story of the Buddhist monks of Burma is so compelling.
The last time the Burmese people stood up to their vicious government, thousands were killed. Perhaps remembering this tragedy, the monks of Burma asked others not to join them when they began marching and praying in protest.
But the momentum of their movement could not be denied, and as the number of marching monks exploded from dozens to thousands in a matter of days, Buddhist nuns joined in, quickly followed by thousands of other Burmese who had come to watch.
The military was slow to react at first but, true to its nature, has now returned to violence as a means of putting down peaceful dissent.
We may never know the true number of murdered civilians, or the fate of many monks and others who have been abducted. We do know that, despite arrests, tear gas, the closing of monasteries and flying bullets, the protest continues, at least for now.
We salute the courage of the monks of Burma, who, knowing all too well the cost, defied their brutal government to lead this saffron revolution.
Related links: The BBC has a Burma protest primer, an analysis of whether the protest will succeed and a protest gallery. Human Rights Watch has the latest on Burma from a humanitarian perspective. The CIA World Factbook is a good place to go for statistics and basic information.
As many as 100,000 anti-government protesters led by a phalanx of Buddhist monks marched through Yangon, the largest crowd to demonstrate in Burma’s biggest city since a 1988 pro-democracy uprising that was brutally crushed by the military.