I have always had something of a crush on Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition in Myanmar and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner, who was overwhelmingly elected to the Burmese parliament on Sunday. A woman whose combination of fragile beauty, steely resolve and quiet dignity has never wavered through a life of more tragedy than triumph, she is to me the personification of Hemingway’s dictum that “courage is grace under pressure.” She has endured much: her father assassinated when she was two; a brother who drowned at their childhood home; long separations from her two sons and from her husband who died of cancer in 1999; almost continual house arrest over the last 20 years.
Nothing in her life has been easy, but it is the life she has chosen. She is the same age as I am, and yet I cannot understand what is going on beneath her always-composed demeanor – other than that her life is a mission for which she has given up almost everything. And she seems to have embodied the aspirations of her long-subjected people.
Just as we don’t know Suu Kyi from her images, so we don’t know what is really happening in her country either. We think of such totalitarian states as crushing all opposition and using propaganda and mind control to create future generations of automatons. So we thought of Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China, of South Africa under apartheid. So we think now of North Korea and Iran. And yet somehow these places have never managed to crush the human spirit.