I'm watching CNN in Beijing, which keeps tut-tutting President Bush for saying "Burma," rather than "Myanmar," in his just-completed UN speech, as if this were merely another of his gaffes.
I'm with Bush. For nearly twenty years, since first visiting the country during the violent protests in 1988, I've followed arguments about the twists and turns of what to call the country in Burmese. The complications mainly involve what the various names say about the relations between the Burmese people proper and other ethnic groups within the nation.
But when it comes to referring to the nation in English, there's little debate. Myanmar is the name invented 18 years ago by the benighted junta, known as SLORC* back then and the State Peace and Development Council now, when it seized power through force. When Westerners say "Myanmar," they're not being culturally respectful to the people of a beautiful but oppressed nation. (We don't call China Zhongguo or Germany Deutschland just because the locals do.) They're bowing to the whims of the generals who still imprison Aung San Suu Kyi.
There is no reason to humor them. Say Burma, as George Bush did. And CNN, grow some backbone when it comes to terminology!
* "State Law and Order Restoration Council."
Update: Thanks to my Atlantic colleague Graeme Wood, I learn that I am agreeing here not merely with George W. Bush but, it seems, even with John Derbyshire! Sort of....
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