Burmese Resistance and the Starling Theory
Burmese Resistance and the Starling
In Burma, where the gun-toting junta is the only authority, it is hardly surprising that most people just keep their heads down and get on with the daily struggle of putting enough food on the table. Making yourself conspicuous in the eyes of the military or their plain-clothes thugs could result in imprisonment on the slightest pretext.
So how on earth have the people of Taunggok, located about 50 miles north of Thandwe, a major seaport in Southern Burma, managed to taunt the all-powerful junta in a defiant display of resistance?
These days most Burmese civilians are too frightened even to look a son or daughter of a military officer straight in the eye when they are out shopping in a big super store. However, in Taunggok, people openly express their displeasure at the corrupt officials who are ruining their country. While the majority of Burmese in towns and cities were still nursing the wounds inflicted by the generals during last September’s protests, the people of Taunggok regrouped and planned a fresh round of demonstrations. When forced to abandon this idea by an increased military presence in the town, they started a poster war against the junta instead.
Where do they get their courage? How do they manage to display these never-say-die attitudes? The answer is quite simple: they just stick to basics, and use their animal instincts to take on the predatory military. The repressed residents of Taunggok have worked out that, when you are so far from the top of the food chain, you must be united to survive against the increasingly violent junta.
Recently, researchers have discovered how vast flocks of starlings manage to stay together when under attack by predators, never leaving any of their number isolated and vulnerable. Each starling constantly tracks seven others as they fly, in order to respond instantly to changes of direction. Cohesion may be threatened under attack, but the flock can regroup very quickly, ready to deal with the next threat.
Similarly, the residents of Taunggok have discovered that unity is strength. Just like starlings, they are vigilant and stick closely together. It is no easy task to paste up a poster in the middle of a town infested by security patrols without friends to watch your back.
No one hesitates to stand up and be counted, either in print or on the streets. When a petition goes around, everyone wants to sign it; a call to rally once more inspired 200 people to assemble in the town centre. Even two lone youths, shouting democracy slogans on the streets, attracted an anxious and protective crowd, ready to regroup as quickly as a flock of starlings once threatened.
These simple starling-like tactics have confused the junta. They cannot understand why the residents of Taunggok will not submit to their military might, as citizens of larger towns and cities have done. The people of Taunggok know that winning democratic freedom is the only way to improve their lives. To achieve their goal, they understand they must be united, a close-knit community, in order to counter intimidation by corrupt local authorities. Just as starlings are aware of potential predators, the brave people of Taunggok know their enemy is the junta and its corrupt minions, who can snatch them at any time. Like the starlings, the Taunggok residents will not leave a member of their flock isolated and vulnerable.
Taunggok was overwhelmed by the government troops on 17 January, but the people still plan further demonstrations. Such a show of solidarity would force the junta to deploy even more troops, potentially outnumbering the population of the town and putting pressure on military resources. The Burmese army is the second largest army in Asia (and the largest, if you include all the newly recruited child soldiers), but in Burma there are at least 50 people to every thug in a uniform.
Adopting the starling theory – taking care of your own and protecting one another from harm – could have a powerful effect on the rest of the country. Imagine the benefits to the people of Burma if the residents of every town were to follow the courageous example set by the Taunggok citizens.
Ordinary Burmese would begin to feel the strength that comes with unity. Knowing that their lives were more secure with the support of their comrades would increase the resolve of the people to fight back against the junta. The swaggering soldiers, who have gained military honours for the abuse, violation and murder of their own citizens, would be revealed for the vicious criminals that they are and be subjected to increased public contempt.
The courageous citizens of Taunggok have proved that strength flows from unity. They have also shown the importance of responding to a threat without delay. These crucial yet simple lessons learnt from the starlings appear to be gaining traction for the people of Taunggok; the rest of Burma may soon follow their courageous example.