December 13, 2017

Step backwards to move forward

  • Khin Maung Myint

We used to say, “an elephant that is about to charge takes a step backwards”. Humans, like the elephants also have the natural tendency to lean the body back or to step backwards, before dashing forward for taking a leap, to overcome the inertia and build up momentum rapidly. This natural tendency can be utilized advantageously in the nation building process too. Perhaps, it may sound strange but metaphorically speaking, if we want to move our country forward we should go backwards first. That is to look back on our past to identify our weaknesses, mistakes and failures, which are valuable experiences. We can learn important lessons from those past experiences to guide our future steps in the right directions.
What I will be discussing here may not be acceptable to some. Just researching the past to learn about the dynasties, family trees, the dates of the ascendance to the throne of the various Kings, the dates of their demises, their love lives and boasting their past glories only, would be just meaningless if we cannot derive lessons from their failures, mistakes and shortcomings. However, some are just dwelling on the dates and facts without any analysis or recommendations that would be helpful in plotting the course for the present and planning for the future.
Historical researches can provide us with good lessons. There were many achievements and failures in the past history of our country that can provide us with valuable lessons and guidances. Thus instead of only boasting and basking in the glories of the Great Empires and the Kings who built them, their mistakes and failures should be highlighted to bring the new generations to realize the prizes we had paid for the ignorance or lack of wisdoms of our forefathers, to prevent the history from repeating itself.
The first and most important lesson we learned from our past history is, whenever there was unity and peace in the country, our Kings were able to expand their Empires. The best examples were King Anawratha, King Bayint Naung and King Alaung Phayar. Though the days of Empire building were over, we should endeavour to get unity and peace, which would assist greatly in the nation building process.
However, a bitter lesson learned was the shifting of the Kingdom from Pegu (Bago) to Ava (Inwa), which was a strategic mistake. That move isolated the seat of the Burmese Kings from the rest of the world. If viewed without any bias or nationalistic extremism, but from the economics and strategic points of view, it was a grave mistake. The country was almost totally shut off from the rest of the world and thus was deprived of the up to date informations from aborad. Those situations imposed great disadvantages to the developments of the country. I cannot understand why they didn’t consider Syriam (Thanhlayin) or Dagon (Yangon) that were not far from Bago and close to the sea, thus easily accessable by foreign merchant ships. In those days, Thanhlayin had already established itself as a dockyard city providing ship buildings and repairing services for the foreign ships. In the days of the wooden hulled ships, the abundance of good quality timbers available in our country that were suitable for ship constructions made it a popular destination for foreign ships to come for major repairs.
One patriotic scholar argued that shifting the seat of the Kingdom to Inwa was a very wise move. His reasoning was: if it had been at Thanhlayin or Dagon, the capital along with the King would be captured by the British after the First Anglo-Burmese War in 1826 and the country would have been totally colonized since then. However, due to the wisdom of the King who shifted the Kingdom up country, the colonization of the whole country was deferred by many decades. It’s undeniable that after the First Anglo Burmese War, apart from having to cede the provinces of Assam, Manipur, Arakan (Rakhine) and Tenasserim (Tanintharyi) to the British, the rest of the Kingdom and the King were spared. Then again, when the Lower Burma was annexed by the British after the Second Anglo Burmese War ended in 1853, the Upper Burma was again spared and the Kings and the Kingdom remained intact untill the end of the Third Anglo Burmese War in 1885.
Though I don’t want to question the wisdom of that scholar’s view, I’m of the opinion that if the Kingdom should have remained in the lower part of the country, the outcomes or the fate our country would have been different. The Kings and their ministers would not have lost contact with the outside world and would be in touch with the latest developments from around the world and wouldn’t lag much behind others in the region. Exposure to the outside world would have been a tremendous advantage for the economy and also would have made our Kings and ministers more knowledgable and diplomatic in international relationship matters, which are very essential in the ruling of a country. Thus, the shifting of the seat of the Kingdom to the upper part of the country, if viewed from the economics and the international relations perspectives was a mistake and created great setbacks. As the journey from Dagon to the capital up river took nearly two months by boats, which were the safest means of transport for foreigners to travel in those days, the capital and the seat of the government became isolated. It was very inconvenient for the foreign envoys and traders who came to seek the audience with the Kings and meetings with the palace officials for diplomatic reasons and to discuss trading matters. Those situations were very damaging setbacks that led the country to to become underdeveloped and backward, compared to other neighbouring countries of those periods.
The second bitter lesson learned was the self-imposed isolation during the early nineteen sixties. That was a total blunder, which degraded the country that was supposed to be the most developed in South East Asia at the time to become one of the Least Developed Countries in the world. The most disastrous mistake of that era and the driving force behind the povertization of the majority of the population and the country was the nationalization of the industries and businesses. All commodities disappeared from the markets and the people suffered extremely as everything was rationed. That blunder led to the emergence of the black marketing, which still exists until today in some sectors. Worst of all is the deteriorations of the peoples’ morals and characters. I’m mentioning these not to condemn anyone, but just as examples of what we could learn from our past history. There are many more lessons that we can derive from the past, but I think these examples would suffice for the purpose of this article. Thus, we should make thorough researches and analysis of our past achievements and mistakes. Based on those findings we should plot our course for the present and plan for the future. In my opinion, that’s what historical researches should be all about.

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