More on Burma v. Myanmar

A reader in Yangon/Rangoon says this about the "Burma" v. "Myanmar" question:

In your article you miss one critical point.

Burma was the name given by the British, and is a corruption of Bamar. The Bamar people are the ethnic majority of the lowland areas of the country, referred to as divisions eg, Yangon Division, Bago Division, Mandalay Division. The other parts of the country are known as States, where other ethnic groups form the majority eg Chin State, Shan State, Karen State each named after majority ethnic group.

Therefore, to insist on calling the country Burma (Bamar) falls into the trap of Bamar nationalism, identifiable not just to Military but to the NLD as well, but always to the exclusion and the expense of the many other ethnic groups.

Unfortunately, Burmese nationalism has been a problem in the country for centuries (and made worse under the British policy of divide and rule), and unless the more inclusive Myanmar is used will continue to be so no matter who is in charge.

If you decide to use this info, please attribute it to ANON in Yangon (the historically correct name for Rangoon), and be assured I am not a stooge, but have friends here from pretty much every community !

Actually we don't disagree. As I said the first time around, within Burma there have been serious arguments for years about what the country should call itself, to reflect the relations among its component ethnic groups. If Burma wants to call itself Myanmar for internal purposes, no outsider should object.

But as for the name outsiders use, here is the plain fact: nearly 20 years ago the brutal SLORC commandos insisted on the change to Myanmar as a way of aggrandizing and legitimizing themselves and of suggesting a Year Zero, history-starts-with-us outlook on the country. There is no reason for outsiders to go along with them, especially now.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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