HEN thewheels o Air ForceOne touchdown at Yangon Interna-tional Airport, United StatesPresident Barack Obama willbecome the rst serving USPresident to visit Myanmar.Three previous US presi-dents have visited Myanmarprior to taking oce or aterexiting it. Richard Nixon didboth.The experiences o ormerpresidents Ulysses S. Grant,Herbert Hoover and RichardNixon had in Myanmar aredocumented in personal writ-ings and news reports, whichoer ascinating and some-times humorous accountso a nation as it was seenby some o America’s mostamous politicians.In 1877 ormer presidentUlysses S. Grant embarkedon an around-the-world tourthat took over two years tocomplete. The tour was areputational rebuilding toolor Grant, whose second termas president rom 1872 to1877 was marred by scandalsand widespread corruption.By March 1879 Grant hadmade it to Myanmar via India.He departed Calcutta by boat,arriving in Yangon to meetwith Charles Aitchison, Chie Commissioner o the BritishCrown Colony o Burma.Modern aviation will ensurethat President Obama arrivesmuch more quickly, but at theexpense o the leisurely cardgames enjoyed by Grant.“During the day we loll,read and play Boston to whileaway the day,” wrote Mr Granto his trip in his personal jour-nals, which were later pub-lished as the
Papers of UlyssesS. Grant, Volume 29: October 1,1878 – September 30, 1880.
Mr Grant was struck bythe “gay colors” worn by theBurmese on the streets o Yangon, a city then o just100,000. In it he saw tremen-dous potential: a new railwayline had just been nishedand another was nearingcompletion.“With these roadsand the navigableriver… or some eighthundred miles to theinterior, I predict thatRangoon will outstripeither Calcutta or Bombay -in wealth by 10 years and inpopulation by 25,” predictedMr Grant.India’s rigid caste systemand the limited rights it a-orded women had deeplytroubled Mr Grant.O Myanmar’s emalepopulation, Mr Grant wrote,“Females are not shut up,but visit and receive visits.They act as salesmen and dobusiness as rely [sic] as inEurope.”He added, “The Burmese arenot bigoted and do not objectto the intermarriage o theirrace or religion with people o any other race or religion.”Grant departed Yangon andtravelled to Mawlamyine, atthe mouth o the ThanlwinRiver, where he marveled atthe power o elephants usedor timber logging.“The intelligence shewn[sic] by these beasts looks likereason rather than instinct.Their strength is too wonder-ul,” wrote Mr Grant.Despite Grant’s positiveimpression o Myanmar, thecountry was under siege bythe British Crown, whichhad already claimed hal thecountry. The Burmese stillcontrolled Upper Myanmar,which was ruled by KingThibaw.An article rom
The New YorkTimes
published in 1879 de-scribed the fashpoint or thedispute, “The origin o troublebetween the Burmese and theBritish Resident at Mandalayis that the latter protects,and reuses to deliver up toslaughter, two royal Princesand their amilies, who havetaken reuge at the Residency.”Despite simmering ten-sions, major confict wouldbe held at bay until the ThirdAnglo-Burmese War brokeout in November 1885. By thistime Grant’s journey was longover.Herbert Hoover, who en-tered the Oval Oce in 1929,visited Myanmar in 1905, dur-ing his pre-political years as asuccessul mining engineer.In
The Memoirs of HerbertHoover: Years of Adventure1874-1920,
Mr Hoover tellso how he became aware o mining prospects in Myanmarthrough a chance encounterwith Mr A. C. Martin, a railwaycontractor in Burma, duringa trip between Malaysia andSri Lanka.While making his waynorth to Mandalay beorevisiting Hsipaw in Shan State,Mr Hoover was enraptured bythe people he encounteredalong the way.“I stole a day o at Rangoonto visit the Shwedaung [sic]Pagoda, and later on, a dayor two at Mandalay to absorbthe atmosphere o the onlytruly happy and cheerul racein all Asia—the Burmese,” saidMr Hoover.Mr Hoover’s itineraryincluded crawling throughabandoned mine shats bycandlelight where he had aclose brush with a Bengalitiger. The moment had themakings o an H. Rider Hag-gard tale and Mr Obama’splanned speech at YangonUniversity is certainly aless treacherous schedulingchoice.Mr Hoover returned toMyanmar in 1907, spendingthree months here with hiswie, two young sons andsister-in-law. At the outbreako the First World War, Hooversold his interest in the BurmaMine Company.Forty-ve years passedbeore another would-be USpresident visited Myanmar.Richard Nixon, vice presidentunder Dwight D. Eisenhower,rang the bells at ShwedagonPagoda in 1953.The most memorablemoment o Mr Nixon’s visitcame when he encounteredanti-American protestors inPegu, now Bago, 80 kilome-tres northeast o Yangon.The incident, recalled byMr Nixon in
RN: The Memoirsof Richard Nixon,
cited this asa ormative moment in hisapproach to addressing theissue o Communism.Against the advice o hissecurity detail he waded intoa crowd o protestors holdingsigns “Go back Warmonger.”Anti-American sentimentwas running high in Asia atthe end o the Korea War.When Mr Nixon ound whohe thought to be the leadero the protest, he introducedhimsel, then asked why theman was so upset.According to an articlerom the United Press in1953, “Vice President RichardM. Nixon took the wind outo the Burmese Communistsails today by marchingsmilingly into the middle o an anti-American demon-stration and shaking handsall around.”“The experience bolsteredmy instinctive belie thatthe only way to deal withCommunists is to stand upto them. Otherwise they willexploit your politeness asweakness. They will try tomake you araid and thentake advantage o your ears.Fear is the primary weapono Communists,” Mr Nixonwrote.Mr Nixon returned toMyanmar in 1985: it was 11years ater the Watergatescandal prematurely endedhis second term as president.The visit was hardly coveredby the press, as the countrybegan to close itsel o rom journalists.A short article by the As-sociated Press noted thatMr Nixon’s second trip wasin keeping with Myanmarsuperstition that he wouldreturn.“Local belie has it thatvisitors who ring the bell[at Shwedagon Pagoda] willreturn to Burma,” the articlestated.Mr Nixon met with GeneralNe Win, the chie architecto the “Burmese Path toSocialism,” which was largelyresponsible or plunging thecountry rom prosperity intopoverty.The legacy o GeneralNe Win’s rule continues tothe present day. Howeverwith considerable momen-tum moving orward in thereorms process, PresidentObama will be meeting aleader who has shown adesire to enact lastingchange.
Cping tigs, intllignt lphnts nd bfindingcommnists:
memoirs o visits by three ormer US presidents
“I stole a day o… atMandalay to absorbthe atmosphereo the only trulyhappy and cheerulrace in all Asia— the Burmese,”said Mr Hoover.
From let to right: Unknown emale, Myanmar President Dr Ba OO, ormer President Richard Nixon andormer First Lady Pat Nixon at Shwedagon Pagoda in 1953.
Photo SoURCE: UNKNoWN