The Righteous War That Never Was

Neither have all possible just wars been fought, since not every battle can be considered fair. Consider the year 1950, when China officially annexed Tibet. The Dalai Lama appealed to the world community for help, but his appeals were ignored. He felt compelled to pursue nonviolent and negotiating tactics to stop the breakup of his nation. In 1989, 39 years after the conflict started, the world community recognized his efforts with the Nobel Peace Prize. Because the international community did not provide the direct help he demanded or impose sanctions on China, Tibet has lost its right to self-determination. Would it have been possible? Few fair reasons are simple to discover, and even fewer are simple to resolve. The reasons this war was avoided might provide insight into the justifications for later conflicts.

The Dalai Lama’s situation is as difficult as it is inspiring. He was the spiritual and soon-to-be temporal leader of his country at the tender age of fifteen in 1950. He was studying for his final while holding the power of religion and politics in his hands. This required extensive research on Tibetan Buddhism, on par with that of a doctoral candidate. No one who has earned a degree can fathom the pressure of being seen as the leader of a country and believed to be the reincarnation of Avalokitesvara, the Buddha of Compassion who rules over Tibet. Most people would have given up under such conditions. The incredible grace and humor with which Tenzin Gyatso conducts himself stands out.

The Dalai Lama, a devotee of Gandhi, has said that using nonviolence was the only option for dealing with the Chinese. His memoirs Freedom in Exile and other works detail this. Kundun and Seven Years in Tibet both reflect this attitude well as well. While nonviolence is a noble and effective method for furthering the cause of justice, it is not always successful in achieving its goals. The Chinese government lacked the moral fiber to react to it, and a public uprising would not have stood a chance. The situation in Tibet met the criteria for a Just War. However, this never occurred, and Tibet was eventually absorbed by China. Why? Moreover, what do we take away from this? Reasonable people may disagree that a legitimate war attempt was inappropriate and that help to Tibet never materialized. Countries’ own interests, the logistical challenges of a war in Tibet, and the political fallout from such a conflict may all be taken into account.

According to Reinhold Niebuhr’s The Nature and Destiny of Man, “Nations may fight for ‘liberty’ and ‘democracy’ but they do not do so until their vital interests are imperiled.” This is the story of how Tibet suffered when China engulfed it. What natural advantages did it have, what vital trade routes did it control, that made it a geostrategic hub? Compared to Iraq, where the United States has fought two operations in the last two decades, Tibet is an oil-free, inaccessible mountainous region with no naval port. Its isolation helped justify our lack of personal investment in it.

In 1950, would it have been possible to convince Harry Truman to fight for Tibetan Buddhists? There is a lack of data, but if Buddhists now make up about 1% of the United States’ population, then they must have been a tiny minority in the United States in 1950. There was no American will for this war after the conclusion of World War II. There was no effective American opposition to China’s claim to this land that Truman could muster.

Transporting soldiers and Supplies to Tibet in 1950 Must Have Been a Nightmare This writer is no military expert, but it seems like transporting soldiers and supplies to Tibet in 1950 must have been a nightmare. Since Jawaharlal Nehru had already told the Dalai Lama he could not act on his behalf, this would have needed his participation. India was too young of a country to mount an effective military campaign against China or to act as a proxy for the West in such an endeavor. In Dharamsala, India, Nehru provided refuge to the Dalai Lama in 1959, but only three years later, in 1962, India lost a border war with China. There wasn’t a reliable ally in the area. No one had any vested interests in the outcome of the battle, and there was no certain way to fund it. One may thus claim that this conflict was warranted, despite the fact that it would never be chosen. It was the conflict that never happened.

The political repercussions are obvious: nobody, then or now, wants to start a land conflict with China, the world’s most populous country. Considering the number of lives lost in comparison to the number of lives saved, it is clear that this conflict was unnecessary. Nehru raised another issue, that it had a realistic prospect of success, which was dismissed. Just consider for a second how the course of the Cold conflict may have been radically changed if this ridiculous conflict had been fought. The real-world ramifications of starting a fight are reason enough to avoid doing so.

It’s impossible not to feel compassion for the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people after learning about their suffering as a result of China’s occupation of Tibet. In retrospect, if nonviolence or just war were not viable possibilities, what else might have been done? Genocidal proportions have been used to characterize the effect on Tibet. In 1979, Lobsang Samten, the younger brother of the Dalai Lama, conducted a fact-finding mission that concluded the following: “One-fifth of the population had been murdered or died of starvation; 6254 monasteries and nunneries had been destroyed, their contents looted, melted down, or sold on foreign markets; sixty percent of Tibet’s sacred literature had been incinerated; Amdo had become the world’s biggest gulag, with the capacity The combined toll of war, hunger, and occupation on the Tibetan population is estimated to be around 1.2 million. Did righteous means of protection exist?

Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama’s second-eldest brother, fled to Chiang Kai Shek after being mixed up in the CIA’s resistance to China. The fact that Tenzin Gyatso was constantly worried about the approval of greater violent opposition to China by the Dalai Lama’s own brother is not well recognized. The situation of the Tibetan people was overlooked since it was on the fringes of both successful nonviolent and just-war measures. A foolish sense of bravado would have us fight every legitimate war, and we also know that refusing to fight any war at all is politically irresponsible. This may be the result of a realistic and wise approach to choosing fair wars based on how well they fit within national resources and interests. It’s sobering to learn that we need to keep coming up with new ways to advance justice.

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