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The Iron Road: A Stand for Truth and Democracy in Burma    by James Mawdsley order for
Iron Road
by James Mawdsley
Order:  USA  Can
North Point, 2002 (2001)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Iron Road is the story of James Mawdsley, a citizen of the U.K. and of Australia, who repeatedly put his life on the line in non-violent protests against the inhumane policies of the Burmese government, a cartel of generals, who have ignored the results of democratic elections. Why would someone take such a stand? Perhaps we should ask why more do not. Mawdsley started in the jungle camp of Minthamee, teaching English to resistance fighters, mostly ex-students. After a government offensive, most of these people ended up in a Thai refugee camp and some in a detention center making the author ask 'Why is it, then, that when you follow a courageous, honorable path everyone seems to be your enemy?'

For the author's first protest, he shackled himself to a fence outside a school in Rangoon, after spray painting slogans on a nearby wall. He distributed leaflets and ended up experiencing an interrogation that included the Iron Road torture, in which skin is scraped repeatedly with a piece of iron. This first protest resulted in a quick deportation. The next one came after the author was smuggled into the country by Karen fighters, who risked their own lives to get him there. This one involved stickers and cassettes. After a nine-day interrogation with further torture, he landed in jail for several months. The third protest resulted in a year's incarceration, with regular protests against conditions, hunger strikes, and beatings.

As Mawdsley says 'there is no evil master plan/mind behind all this horror; no one/group has that much control. But the reality is more disturbing. It occurs only through the "consent" & behavior of millions of people, in and out of Burma.' But he also questions the mindset involved in the massacres of civilians. What goes through a soldier's mind as he repeatedly clubs a defenseless young woman; 'What has happened to his humanity, where and how was it destroyed?' Mawdsley shares his experiences and feelings in prison; his frequent self doubt and concern about the pain inflicted on family and friends; the eventual strengthening of his Christian beliefs; and the realization that most of the trustees and guards were as much prisoners as he was. He tells us that he spent most of his time in prison fighting his own weaknesses.

Fortunately his family and many individuals around the world were able to mobilize international support for his cause, and this also publicized the injustices in Burma. It reached the level of the United Nations and the Vatican, and the author was again freed. He returned to Burma six months later. If you've ever wondered what one individual can do to address global wrongs, then read The Iron Road.

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