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Miriam Marshall Segal's Version of
- Subject: Miriam Marshall Segal's Version of
- From: strider@xxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Thu, 14 Jul 1994 01:51:00
Subject: Miriam Marshall Segal's Version of History
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MIRIAM MARSHALL SEGAL'S VERSION OF HISTORY
July 14, 1994
On June 29, 1994, Miriam Marshall Segal, Chairperson of Peregrine Capital
Myanmar Ltd., testified before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia
and the Pacific. She defended the regime in Burma arguing that constructive
engagement should be American policy unless "we are determined to forget the
lessons of our recent history." This is a look at Ms. Segal's version of
In Ms. Segal's testimony she asked the Congress to believe that life in Burma
is getting better and then makes references to Abraham Lincoln, the Holocaust
and modern philosophy to convince them she's right. Unfortunately, her "facts"
about Burma don't bear up under scrutiny. And as for her use of history to back
up her interpretation, well in a phrase that Lincoln might have used, "that dog
just won't hunt."
What makes her comments worth responding to is that they may represent views
larger than her own. According to a source in the Washington, Ms. Segal's
remarks were largely ghostwritten by a staff member of the Burmese Embassy in
Washington. According to the source, the Burmese diplomat is publicly boasting
that he wrote the bulk of Ms. Segal's testimony.
Regardless of who wrote the testimony, it's value rests in its truthfulness.
Let us then look closer at what she wrote.
Segal begins by making a request:
"Please put away outdated information about Myanmar--there is much
which has changed in the last four years."
Yes, some things have changed and others have remained the same. Among the
things that have remained the same: Aung San Suu Kyi is still in prison, Khin
Nyunt is not. The regime remains among the most repressive in the world and its
army is still committing gross violations of human rights against the ethnic
On the side of change, 2,000 political prisoners have been released and others
have been picked up. Many new hotel projects are going in and more roads are
being built to accommodate an expected tourist boom in 1996. Another thing that
has changed is the number of forced labourers. According to relief workers on
the Thai/Burma border, the number of forced labourers used on any given day is
about 500,000. Since there is some rotation among the labourers, the total
slave labour pool is probably about 3,000,000. This is change. Never in
Burma's history has the number been so high. Four years ago there were 43,500
refugees in camps along the Thai/Burma border. Now, the increase in forced
labour has caused more people to flee their homes and the number of refugees has
climbed to about 74,000.
Another change in Burma is that the ludicrous exchange rate has gotten worse.
In 1984 the legal rate was just under 9 kyat to the dollar with a black market
ate four to five times higher. Today, the legal rate is about 6 kyat to the
dollar with the realistic (black market) rate twenty times higher. One last
change worth noting is that the production of opium (the precursor to heroin)
has nearly doubled in the last five years.
Segal claims that the Burmese government has made great efforts to reduce drug
production and trafficking but that:
Sadly, the Myanmar government's effort in controlling cultivation and
trafficking in narcotics are aggressively countered by local chiefs
and warlords with slogans on behalf of democracy and human rights.
The "local chiefs and warlords" who are responsible for the increase in
production are from the Wa and Kokang areas and their actions have been
sanctioned by cease-fires they signed with the government. These warlords are
now referred to in Burma's state-controlled press as "respected elder
statesmen." As for the merits of giving American money to Burma to fight drugs,
a congressional foreign affairs aide put it this way:
As much as we'd like to set up an effective counter-narcotics program
with Burma, at best, they're not serious about controlling drugs, and
at worst, they're in league with traffickers.
Ms. Segal's version of the 1990 elections and the constitutional convention is
also dodgy. She maintains that
[t]he prevalent view in Myanmar was that the elections were held to
organize a convention which would draft a constitution rather than
form an administration to take over the reins of government.
She further claims that the elections had to be annulled because they were
inconclusive and displayed "ominous signs of fratricidal strife." The view of
the people who won the election is different. 392 elected representatives of
Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy believed that they were going
to form the next government. In a show of fraternalism, they were joined by 65
elected representatives from the ethnic parties who signed a political pact with
the NLD. The end result of that election was 457 representatives for Aung San
Suu Kyi; 10 for the government party and 18 others.
If, as Segal asserts, the election was held to organize a convention, then
perhaps she could explain why winners have not been allowed to organize it. The
constitutional convention now being held by the SLORC began with 702 members.
Of the 392 elected NLD members, only 85 were "invited" to participate in the
convention. Six-sevenths of the deputies are simply SLORC appointees and have
no electoral legitimacy at all.
One might expect that a constitutional convention would be characterized by
debate and discussion, but according to delegates who defected from it, every
word is scripted and censored. Debate is not allowed and the NLD members are
more prisoners than delegates.
Since the convention began in January 1993, two of the fifteen chapters of the
constitution have been adopted and another has been discussed. In eighteen
months, that convention has not conducted a single vote on anything. Nothing
better illustrates the nature of that convention than this: from among the
delegates appointed by SLORC to "represent" various ethnic groups there are
about 20 who speak and understand no Burmese. Another 20 speak very little.
All of the convention's proceedings are carried on in the Burmese language and
no interpreters are provided.
Segal's attempt to employ Abraham Lincoln's legacy to legitimate the suppression
of freedom in Burma is at best, a misreading of history. As long as she brings
the subject of Lincoln up, a comparison with his election in 1860 and Aung San
Suu Kyi's is instructive. Lincoln received 1.8 million votes, while the three
other parties in the election received together 2.8 million votes. Lincoln's
legitimacy rested on an something less than 40% of the total vote. Aung San Suu
Kyi did considerably better than that, with her party winning over 80%. Unlike
Lincoln, she was never allowed to take office.
According to Segal,
The dilemma between preserving national unity or advancing the cause
of liberty is not new. Abraham Lincoln faced the same situation in
1862 when the editor of the N.Y. Tribune accused him of not enforcing
certain anti-slavery measures. Lincoln replied, "My paramount
objective in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to
save or destroy slavery."
Segal is taking Lincoln's remarks out of context. If there is anything certain
about his political agenda, it was to end slavery. Lincoln gave 175 speeches
attacking slavery between 1854 and 1860 and he was elected on a platform to
gradually extinguish slavery by prohibiting its expansion, therefore making it
economically unviable as an institution.
When Lincoln was elected, property in slaves was legal and constitutionally
protected. He had no legal authority to end slavery on his own but he
repeatedly pushed for its extinction in the ways open to him. Lincoln secretly
drafted an emancipation plan for Delaware in 1861, which the state rejected.
In March of 1862, he submitted to Congress his plan for gradual emancipation
which was not adopted. A bill he drafted in July of 1862 that would have
compensated any state emancipating its slaves was also not adopted. At very
nearly the same time that he was making the public reply to Horace Greeley which
Ms. Segal quotes, he privately drew up the first draft of the Emancipation
SLORC suspended the 1990 elections because they claim the results were divisive.
Lincoln might well have suspended the 1864 elections using his war powers. He
did not do this despite the fact that his opponent, General McClellan, was
essentially promising to end the war and let the South secede. Lincoln held the
elections even though he believed he would lose and he probably would have had
not the Union armies won crucial victories on the eve of the election. In the
end, Lincoln was devoted not to the cause of national unity, but to liberty, the
constitution and the spirit of the Declaration of Independence.
Segal moves on to current events and asks,
"when is the last time any of the champions of democracy have
clamored for free elections in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait?"
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have consistently criticized both
of those regimes and numerous people have criticized U.S. backing for Kuwait and
Saudi Arabia, especially during and after the Gulf War. American and
international pressure has had some impact on advancing democratization in
Segal then cites Francis Fukuyama's "The Last Man and the End of History." Her
use of Fukuyama however misunderstands and misinterprets his point. Fukuyama's
celebrated book applied the German philosopher, G.W.F. Hegel's dialectical
theory of history to the end of the Cold War. Hegel maintained that humanity
was passing through a series of what are essentially conflicts of ideas and that
eventually, we would become self-aware and therefore, free. Hegel believed the
process to be inevitable and that once we reached the point of self-awareness,
we would have achieved the height of political evolution and in the title phrase
of Fukuyama's book, "The End of History."
What Segal has done is to focus on the supposed inevitability of historical
progress in a way that is not supported by the text. Hegel and Fukuyama
describe a historical process. In contrast, Segal is trying to draw a
prescriptive message and the message is; do nothing because historical progress
is inevitable in Burma anyway.
Her interpretation is crude but not dissimilar to the old Calvinist doctrine of
pre-destination, whereby an all-knowing God must already know who will be saved
and who will be damned. The end result is a doctrine that says you can do
anything you want because God has already determined your destiny. Since this
seems to license all sorts of bad behavior among Christians, it has fallen out
To end, a look at how Miriam Segal begins her speech is in order. Segal says:
I would like to take a moment to tell you a little about myself. I
am a victim of the Holocaust and my father was killed in a struggle
to establish the state of Israel. I was stateless for 18 years.
More so than many others, I know the pain of organized repression and
the value of freedom.
Segal's status as a target of the Holocaust may have given her a ring-side view
of organized repression, but mere Jewishness tells us nothing about a persons
character or response to the Holocaust. During the Holocaust, the Nazis had no
trouble finding people who would collaborate in order to promote their self-
interest. Perhaps the least sympathetic example was Mordachai Chiam Rumkowski,
who ran the Jewish Ghetto in Lodz, Poland. Rumkowski attempted to evade the
Holocaust by becoming indispensable to the Nazis. For four years, Rumkowski
turned the Lodz ghetto into a extremely profitable factory and sacrificed the
helpless so that the rest could live. When the Nazis came for the 20,000
children of the ghetto, he turned them over, saying, "I must take the children
because if not, others will be taken as well." In the end, his fate was
inseparable from theirs. He died in Auschwitz in August 1944, a "victim" of the