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Burma and the difference between Hardboiled and Noir

Monks were shot and killed in Rangoon. Crackdown troops have been called into the capital from the provinces. As the Blues song says, “You’ve only got your life to lose.”

Burma is a collection of many small nations with diverse histories, languages, cultures and aspirations. It is difficult if not impossible to say how a consensus would emerge in the event the military leaves the scene. General Aung San showed a way toward a solution. So it is possible. As for Yugoslavia or Iraq, the analogies may not hold. Analogies work better in science and literature than in politics where the dropped glass always breaks in a new and novel pile of debris. From this distance, it appears the military has managed to unite these diverse groups in a common cause.

They say hardboiled comes down to a tough perspective on life but there out of the howling silence in dark back streets some good can be found. There is a crack of light and if you follow it, then you might just keep your life and one or two small dreams. Noir is a locked room with no way out. No matter how hard you try, there is no hope, no chance of getting out, and no helping hand offered will mean a damn thing.

The Burmese are in the middle of a large crime fiction story. There will be more than one broken heart, more than a few monks clubbed or shot, and more than hurt and tragedy than any one story can ever tell.

In the streets of Rangoon and dozens of small towns in Burma, monks, students, shopkeepers, and the mass of people have hard choices in the few days. Do you bolt the door and hide under the bed; or do you take to the streets? What would you do? Unless you’ve spent time in Burma, you can’t really understand how desperate it is for most people. We are talking about lack of electricity, fuel, and food. This is about basic necessities to live. Climb up the hilltop and look down and see nothing but hunger, repression, and hopelessness. Would you stay under the bed or take to the streets?

The world is waiting to find out whether the horror of repression is only the first act of a hardboiled drama or the third act of a noir drama with the curtain falling hard. It’s the difference between getting knocked down and getting up from the floor and finding a way out. That’s hardboiled. But sometimes when a man is knocked down, he stays down. He’s finished. That's noir. When a noir ending happens to an entire country, that scales crime and tragedy beyond what most of us can comprehend.

My only regret is that I’m not in Rangoon.

If you want to keep up on the latest about developments in Burma, here are some websites:

New Mandala

Asia Sentinel

Siam Sentinel

Thailand Jumped the Shark

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