Five Things Americans Should Learn From Tibet

It’s becoming increasingly clear that powerful forces are determined to undermine American from the inside. The effort is apparently either to destroy America entirely or hollow it out and transform it into something fundamentally different from what it ever was or was intended to be.

But what’s really going on, and why? For many of us, the experience is baffling.

One book, however, offers a refreshing – but unsettling – jolt of clarity: the autobiography of the Dalai Lama, Freedom In Exile. This book (and Kundun, the 1997 Martin Scorsese movie which depicts many events described in the book) describes China’s invasion of Tibet in the 1950s.

Americans might learn several useful lessons from the book and movie. Here are five.

1. The idea of deliberately eradicating culture

The idea of deliberately destroying a culture probably horrifies most Americans today. But it was apparently a key tactic during the CCP’s invasion. As the Dalai Lama describes in his book:

“…the Chinese authorities had ruthlessly and systematically tried to destroy our ancient culture.” (231)

One way of destroying the Tibetan culture was through immigration:

“…following a massive immigration programme, the population of Chinese in Tibet now comfortably exceeds that of Tibetans. My countrymen and women are today in grave danger of becoming nothing more than a tourist attraction in their own country.” (237)

2. The idea of deliberately exterminating religion

The Dalai Lama recounted a conversation in which Chairman Mao said, “Religion is poison.” (98)

He later described the CCP targeting religious leaders with tactics specifically focused on undermining religious convictions:

“This bombardment was followed by the merciless torture and execution of women and children…and, incredibly, by the disgusting abuse of monks and nuns. After arrest, these simple, religious people were forced – in public – to break their vows of celibacy with one another and even to kill people.” (110)

3. The idea of deliberately destroying conscience

Americans typically see “conscience” as something sacred. Others see it as a target.

“…the local population had begun to be indoctrinated against religion. Monks and nuns were subject to severe harassment and publicly humiliated. For example, they were forced to join in extermination programmes of insects, rats, birds and all types of vermin, even though the Chinese authorities knew that taking any form of life is contrary to Buddhist teaching. If they refused, they were beaten.” (104)

Why force monks and nuns to kill animals? This apparently wasn’t done despite their beliefs, it seems, but because of them. Forcing people to violate their consciences wasn’t an accident. It was the point. It’s effective brainwashing. To destroy a conscience is to destroy an identity, which makes individuals obedient, compliant, and easier to rule.

Another example was forcing children to murder their own parents.

“The Khampas, of all their possessions, the one the valued above all others was their personal weapons. So when the local cadres began to confiscate these, the Khampas reacted with violence… The Chinese dealt viciously with Khampa resistance: not only were public beatings and executions carried out but often these were done by the victim’s own child.” (104-105)

4. Torture and murder

Americans are almost unanimously against torture and murder. The only question – as in waterboarding – is where to draw the line. But we should keep this in perspective.

“The methods that the Chinese used to intimidate the population… crucifixion, vivisection, disemboweling and dismemberment of victims was commonplace. So too were beheading, burning, beating to death and burying alive, not to mention dragging people behind galloping horses until they died or hanging them upside down or throwing them bound hand and foot into icy water. And, in order to prevent them shouting out, ‘Long live the Dalai Lama’, on the way to execution, they tore out their tongues with meat hooks.” (124)

The Dalai Lama continues:

“Other ex-detainees…were repeatedly given shocks from the electric cattle prods…A young man had one forced into his mouth…and a nun told investigators of how she had had this instrument of torture forced into both her anus and vagina.” (266)

5. Extreme Gaslighting

CCP members seemed to imagine themselves not as villains, but as well-intentioned do-gooders, which “justified” their actions.

“I told him point-blank that it was wrong for them to have done such a thing. But this only started an argument. My criticisms were an insult to the Motherland, which wanted only to protect and assist my people. If some of my countrymen did not want reforms – reforms which would benefit the masses because they would prevent their exploitation – then they could expect to be punished. His reasoning was lunatic.” (111)

From the start, the CCP narrative was that they were “liberating Tibet from the hands of imperialist aggressors.” (51). (The Dalai Lama, apparently, was the “imperialist aggressor” in this scenario.) This narrative rationalized the entire invasion.

“…A harsh, crackling voice announced that…’over the last hundred years or more’ aggressive imperialist forces had penetrated into Tibet and ‘carried out all kinds of deceptions and provocations.’ It added that ‘under such conditions, the Tibetan nationality and people were plunged into the depths of enslavement and suffering.’ I felt physically ill as I listened to the unbelievable mixture of lies and fanciful clichés.” (63)

From Clause One of China’s “Agreement” for the “Peaceful Liberation of Tibet”:

“The Tibetan people shall unite and drive out imperialist aggressive forces from Tibet. The Tibetan people shall return to the big family of the Motherland – the People’s Republic of China.” (63)

Nobody actually believed this narrative, it seemed, including the people declaring it. But that didn’t matter. Words, to them, weren’t descriptions of reality, but tools of power.

Examples like these could go on. Yet in what might seem like a baffling twist, the Dalai Lama has more recently spoken approvingly of socialism and Marxism. It could be that he’s unaware of the connection between those ideas and the horrors his people endured. Perhaps he’s trying to protect Tibetans living under Chinese rule today or is blind to the chasm between the lofty ideals of theory and the brutal realities that always seem to emerge when they’re put into practice. It also seems quite possible that a person might know a great deal about Buddhism, meditation, and the benefits of kindness, yet still be naïve when it comes to overcoming genuine evil in the world.

Either way, the blunt events of his personal story carry more weight than his pontifications on socioeconomic theory. His actions – the fact that he still lives in exile from his homeland today and is free to tell his story openly in the West – speak louder.

That said, his personal story is one we should learn from.

Could what happened to Tibet happen in America?

That idea was once unthinkable. But we Americans can’t be complacent or naïve. There are vicious forces in the world that seek to destroy what we love, and they play hardball. If you think the Dalai Lama is credible, learn from his story, and be on full alert.

IMAGE: The Dalai Lama leading his troops, 1950.

Steve Rose is a pseudonym.

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