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Burma (Myanmar)

Mountains of Burma by Midnight Oil

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Pack your bags full of guns and ammunition
Bills fall due for the industrial revolution
Stilt houses at Lake Inle, Myanmar, current day.
(thanks, Justin Blethrow)
The Australian band Midnight Oil is well-known for its social and political lyrics. In fact, lead singer Peter Garrett was heavily involved in his own politics during and following the band’s tenure. 1990’s album Blue Sky Mining is no exception to this tradition. Song after song speaks about the travesties against humanity perpetrated by a variety of villains. Full of catchy and poignant tunes, the album is a veritable masterpiece of social anthems.

Track 5, "Mountains of Burma," continues the band’s meaningful way of exposing these tragedies into the big picture of public opinion. Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. That seems to be the major theme threaded throughout the lyrics to this song. Garrett compares the current state of affairs (in 1990) in Burma with similar events in the past histories of other nations. It appears that he is appealing to the government of the new nation of Myanmar (the old nation of Burma) to look to their neighbors for some answers before more bloodshed occurs.

On August 8th, 1988, there was a series of demonstrations, protests, marches, and even riots in Burma called the 8888 Uprising. Prior to the uprising, the country was run by a very totalitarian socialist party, which combined Soviet-style planning with superstitious Buddhist beliefs and teachings. The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was the faltering economy set in place by then-leader General Ne Win. He decided to withdraw new currency in denominations indivisible by 9 (therefore only the 45 and 90 kyat notes remained while the 100, 75, 35, and 25 were rendered worthless and obsolete). His superstitious edict sent the already poor economy into a downward spiral.

Due to the protests, authorities opened fire on thousands of unarmed citizens. Ne Win had ordered the military not to "shoot upwards,” meaning, fire directly into the crowd. Protesters responded with Molotov cocktails, rocks, and bicycle spokes. Estimates of the number of casualties range from the mere hundreds to 10,000. Things got worse from there. In September of ‘88, the constitution was repealed and more imposing measures were enacted. The military took control of the tiny Southeastern Asian nation. Thousands were killed. Tens of thousands fled into the mountains and across borders. The military rule didn’t end until 2015, but when Garrett was writing this album, Blue Sky Mining, in ‘89, he had had enough of the wanton violence across the globe.

He compares the problems in Burma at that time with post WWII Eastern Europe, the Soviet Bloc countries like Poland and East Germany, when he sings the lines, “Will the Sons of Solidarity still march on May Day,” and, “There’s no one on the Reeperbahn.” He compares the marches and protests to the Women’s Rights movement in the United States in the 1970s; “Will the sisters of the seventies still fight for equal pay?” And he sings about the civil wars in Ireland with the line, “And the heart of Kelly’s country cleared.” While Burma might be light years away, the people are experiencing exactly the same issues (including human rights violations) that the closer parts of the world have dealt with (or have been dealing with) for years.

The mountains of Burma are beautiful, exquisite, and breathtaking. Take your pick. Sandwiched between Thailand and Bangladesh, the picturesque nation can take you back in time or whisk you away to a magical and exotic locale… provided you don’t mess with the army.

~ Justin Novelli

Comments: 1

  • Raphael from FranceActually Rob Hirst (the drummer) did write the lyrics, not Peter Garrett.
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