The one time I felt positive towards a dictatorship was over breakfast in Rangoon’s Strand Hotel. It was 1984, a good year to be visiting the city where George Orwell spent many of his Burmese days. Aung San Suu Kyi was still a housewife in Oxford; no one in Rangoon had heard of her. The only political programme on offer was the ‘Burmese Way to Socialism’, an ideology that Richard Cockett’s Blood, Dreams and Gold describes as an ‘incoherent mishmash of undigested, out-of-date political and economic bunkum’. Across town General Ne Win, the programme’s golf-loving champion, was just beginning the seventeenth year of his detested military dictatorship.
Throughout those seventeen years the regime had contrived to isolate Burma from the rest of the world. Foreign businesses had been nationalised, foreign investment excluded and people of foreign extraction pressured into leaving. The economy had shrunk so much that the wealthiest country in Southeast Asia had become one of