I went to Burma accidentally. This was almost exactly a year before the September 2007 violence against peaceful demonstrators, many of them Buddhist monks, made the country front-page news. I was traveling by ship, circumnavigating the globe as a teacher on the academic program Semester at Sea; I hadn’t chosen the itinerary. For me and the 600 other Americans on the ship, Burma was one stop on a whirlwind tour of Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.

At the time I was, like most Americans, woefully ignorant of the dire state of affairs in Burma. I learned only weeks before my arrival that tourism in Burma was controversial, and that activists, including world leaders I admired, discouraged travel to Burma. The country now officially known as Myanmar was ruled by a brutal dictatorship whose only philosophy concerned the maintenance of its own power. (They’d also “reclaimed” Myanmar — the country’s… More…