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Faceless Killers

A Burmese soldier patrols through a neighborhood burned in recent violence in Sittwe, Arakan State. (Photo: Reuters)

Alders Ledge 
May 21, 2013

The Anonymity Of Myanmar’s Murderers  (The Darkness Visible series)

When Hitler came to power the world was shown the face of the evil that had befallen it. That little mustache and comb-over hair style has come to define what it means to be evil for many of us. No matter how you dressed the man, no matter how many kissing baby scenes are shown to us of him, Adolf is still the man who launched the Holocaust. For Jews, Romani, Sinti, Communist, Poles, and countless other victims the simple addition of that mustache to an image invokes the memory of his terror.

A similar attachment to the image of Pol Pot can be found in Cambodian communities around the world. The memory of what happened when the Khmer Rouge took power still haunts the landscape of Cambodia. The men who helped bring about the horrors of the “party” still linger as old reminders of what once was. Old men now, the rest of Cambodia wait for the Khmer leaders to pass away as the world forgets the hidden genocide that these savages unleashed.

It is in this way that the two genocides define what it is in historic cases of this crime for the people, the victims, to know who it is that oppresses them. In the case of the Holocaust survivors it was their neighbors and their countrymen. They could almost predict who it was that sold them out to the gestapo. Old rifts in the social fabric were brought to the surface as the Nazi regime exploited the worst tendencies of mankind. For these victims of genocide there was clearly the Nazi party itself to blame… Hitler at it’s head.

In Cambodia the order of the Khmer party was clouded. Most victims knew their attackers. They had grown up with these people. Like the Jews of Europe, the Cambodian victims of genocide could often name their attackers by name and often where they had lived and grown up. But the major difference was that in Cambodia, most of the victims of the genocide couldn’t identify just why they were being selected for death. Instead of being selected for ethnic differences the Cambodian regime chose their victims by social class, political affiliation, level of education, and level of “pollution” by foreign influences. Just as to who was giving the orders, most Cambodian victims couldn’t tell you any of the other party leaders outside Pol Pot himself. 

What links the two genocides in just how they came about is the establishment of a “cult of personality” that their architects were able to create prior to the start of the killing itself.

Adolf Hitler came to power almost against the will of the German people… almost. With the acceptance of his political style (fascism) the German public warmed to the ideas the man presented. This was aided by the fact that Hitler offered the world, literally. For all the setbacks the German people felt they were suffering under the rise of the Nazi party Hitler always seemed to have a perk to offer so as to soften the blow.

Pol Pot on the other hand came to power through war. It was in this conflict to gain control that Pol Pot was able to manipulate his followers into blind obedience. With promises of utopia at the other end of the tunnel, Pol Pot was able to build camaraderie amongst the old peasant class. His cult went from being the outsiders to being the rulers. Thus allowing Pol Pot to force ideals that the majority of Cambodia had rejected upon them through military dominance.

In Burma we can’t seem to identify the leader of the government outside the puppet he/she/they present in Thein Sein’s presidency. We are told that Myanmar is a government in transition from military rule to democratic rule. Yet the old junta offers up one of their own to act as president. So without transparency we are left with only a puppet where past genocidal regimes have offered a cult like leader. 

For months now I have watched as countless activist single out Thein Sein as the supposed mastermind of the genocides against ethnic minorities across Burma. And with every claim to that extent I have countless questions that go unanswered. Such as how does the mastermind of the Rohingya genocide promise to start looking at recognizing the Rohingya as an ethnic group? Hitler never promised to help his victims in any way whatsoever. And how is that Thein Sein is the leader of this genocidal campaign when he can’t seem to organize his own party let alone an offensive campaign of extermination? Pol Pot had his party wrapped up air tight before launching his genocide.

Before anyone starts to assume I’m defending Sein let me make it clear now that Thein Sein should be held accountable for his role in this genocide. The man should be tried for crimes against humanity. And for doing nothing to stop it, Thein Sein should be executed.

I just don’t think that Thein Sein is the brains or the muscle behind the genocides occurring in Myanmar. He is just a willing puppet.

The old junta is still hiding behind the scenes. They still push the buttons in Myanmar’s government as they hide amongst the seats of its political parties. When Rohingya were found within an opposing party they demanded (and got) the expulsion of Rohingya from positions within the government. In doing this they act like the SA prior to the formation of the SS in Hitler’s Germany. They weed out their enemies and single them out for death.

Faceless, the true leaders of Burma are able to avoid guilt by pinning it to willing accomplices. If the world suddenly decided to act and stop the Rohingya genocide it would be Thein Sein left standing beneath the gallows. This is the benefit of being invisible. They can still elicit the fear that they have grown accustom to without the threat of being held accountable.

Saddam Hussein achieved this not by hiding behind the curtain but rather by forcing members of his government to sign off on the most corrupt orders that came off his desk. By affixing guilt to countless others Saddam made it less likely that he alone would be held accountable for the deaths of thousands of Kurds and Iranians. When he decided to use chemical weapons the world was unable to claim that Saddam alone gave the order since the papers were littered with other signatures. It was only through his narcissism that Saddam got himself hung.

So is it the lack of narcissist in the junta that leave us without a clear figurehead to blame for the genocides currently taking place in Myanmar? Doubtful.

The door to Burma has been sealed shut for decades. Before the country opened up a couple years ago the only stories we had of life behind the blinds was that of what refugees had told the world. Today we finding out that their tales were just the tip of the iceberg. We are seeing what it means to be trapped under the weight of mad men. Looking through the doorway we are seeing desperation, starvation, and hopelessness.

The fact that we can’t write down a list of the killers’ names doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. We can see the evidence of their misdeeds from the Shan state down to the Arakan state. On the faces of Rohingya refugees we can read the stories of these murderers’ sins. The evidence is there even if we can’t yet find just who it was that put it there.

Thein Sein is a admiral foe. He is far from weak, the junta wouldn’t have put him out in front if he wasn’t. This is a smart enemy who knows how to manipulate the media attention he receives as he lies from behind a tainted smile. When in the presence of world leaders he knows how to walk and talk. Thein Sein is a talented foe.

But he has a weakness.

No man wants his legacy to be that of destruction and murder. Thein Sein is no different. All it takes to break his facade is the correct pressure from the right leaders. With the right people cutting him off at the knees, Thein Sein’s narcissism will come to the surface.

So now all we have to do is find a way to make heroes out of cowards.

We need to find ways to get our nations’ leaders to come out and address the issue at hand. We can no longer tolerate lip service from the people we elect to represent us. If they will not act then we must go against the political affiliations that have guided us this far. We must seek out leaders who will seek justice even when it is hard to do.

Until then we must continue to apply pressure on our current leaders. We must be relentless in our efforts to grab their attention and hold it. Once we have them by the leash we must guide them to the actions we want. We cannot wait for them to come around to the issue on their own, G-d knows they never will. It is our duty to push them toward what is right. It is our battle to force politicians to do what is most unnatural for politicians to do… that which is right.