Tibet's 'charms' in a Westerner's eyes

Liberals hold out Tibet and the Dalai Lama as paragons of virtue and spirituality. But how accurate are those characterizations? They're obviously accurate when Tibet and the Dalai Lama are compared to China and Mao, whose horrific human rights abuses rival those of the world's most brutal regimes. But when Tibet is compared to Western nations, its charms leave much to be desired, according to accounts provided by noted anthropologist Frank Bessac, whose obituary ran in Sunday's New York Times.

Recounting Bessac's adventure-packed life, the Times notes that as a 28-year-old Fulbright scholar in anthropology, Bessac fled China's communist revolution in 1949 and made "a perilous year-long trek south through Tibet to India."

Bessack, according to The Times, "shared the trip's most perilous segment...with a small party that included Douglas S. MacKiernan, an American diplomat" and CIA spy who'd been stationed in Tihwa. Some White Russians also travelled with the group.

In April 1950, tragedy struck. As The Times explains:

(A)s the party was setting up camp, a Tibetan military patrol approached and, mistaking the travelers for bandits or Communists, opened fire. Mr. MacKiernan was killed along with two other men, becoming the first C.I.A. officer to die in the line of duty. Mr. Bessac, at the time a couple of hundred yards away, heard the shots, raced toward the gunmen and confronted them waving a white flag.

The killings, which the Tibetans recognized almost immediately as tragic errors, were not reported in the West until months later.

So what happened to the Tibetans who did the shooting? Leftists who despise Western culture - and hold out Tibet as a shining example of spiritual enlightenment -- might be surprised. Bessac later published accounts of his sojourn in Life magazine and a book, and as The Times explains:

When Mr. Bessac and the other surviving member of the party, Vasili Zvansov, a Russian who had been shot in the leg, arrived in Lhasa a few weeks later, Tibetan officials suggested to them a range of appropriate punishments for the patrolmen. These included gouging out their eyes and having their ears, noses or limbs cut off. Mr. Bessac wrote that he assented to the lighter penalty of flogging.

"I watched and enjoyed the whole proceeding," he wrote in the Life article, though in his book his reaction was somewhat revised.

"It was deeply terrifying and degrading, also for me," he wrote. "When the flogging of the four horsemen was over, to my surprise the men came over to me and thanked me for saving their lives."

The young Bessac, incidentally, met with then 15-year-old Dalai Lama who honored him as a dignitary. They remained on friendly terms until Bessac's death at 88 earlier this month.