Buddha’s Warriors
Mikel Dunham
New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 2004
434 pp.; $29.95 (cloth)

Tibet appears to most of the world as a docile, isolated country that succumbed meekly to the historical imperative of Chinese domination. The assumption is easy enough. Tibet is the most Buddhist of nations, one whose spiritual traditions go back thousands of years and whose leader, the Dalai Lama, espouses nonviolence with mirthful humility. But appearances do deceive, and in fact the Tibetan people fought the Chinese with a level of rage, tenacity, and violence that one can hardly associate with Buddha’s “middle way.”

In a gripping account that covers the period from the end of World War II to the present day, Buddha’s Warriors by Mikel Dunham describes Tibet’s slow descent into war as its people were first baited into infighting by China’s divide-and-conquer strategy and then, realizing China’s true intentions, discarded their ancient tribal loyalties to join together as a nation and resist. They mounted warhorses, stockpiled arms and money in Tibet’s once vast network of monasteries, and countered a Chinese slaughtering machine with their own.

Dunham spent seven years researching his book, basing his story on firsthand accounts by the Tibetan warriors who fought the Chinese as well as by the impassioned CIA operatives who believed so much in their cause. This is not a tale for the squeamish: Dunham describes in detail the widespread and systematic sadism of the Chinese invaders, and a Tibetan response to the barbarism that shatters the Shangri-la myth. They took no prisoners. What becomes abundantly clear in this story, is that even in the heart of Buddhism violence finds a home.

noprisoners_0Four key players drive this drama: Mao Tse-Tung, India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Tibetan general Gompo Tashi Andrugtsang, and the CIA. Mao echoed the ancient Han dynasty’s obsession with a united Motherland and simply couldn’t countenance an independent Tibet. He skillfully manipulated Nehru whose dream of leading a new Pan-Asian bloc made him blind to Mao’s machinations. Gompo Tashi led the Tibetan army (Chushi-Gangdruk) for years, using his charisma and wile to inspire his warriors and inflict frequent defeats on the People’s Liberation Army. A group of dedicated CIA case officers coordinated U.S. air drops and covert support for the Chushi-Gangdruk and, over time, became committed to the Tibetan nation and the heroic Tibetans they trained as covert agents.

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