hacker emblem
Search | Tags | Photos | Flights | Gas Mileage | Log in

CU on the Weekend

Started: 2012-12-10 20:49:24

Submitted: 2012-12-10 21:34:56.736583

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator enjoys his local university's continuing education program

Sometime in August I happened across an ad for the University of Colorado's continuing education program. While skimming through it, just in case anything looked interesting, I noticed that, in addition to the regular set of semester-long night classes, they had a special program called "CU on the Weekend", which featured a single, free, several-hour-long lecture on a particular topic. One in particular caught my eye, Tibet, the CIA, and the Secret History of Camp Hale. I've read several books on the subject of the CIA's secret Cold War program to support the Tibetan resistance to Communist rule in Tibet, including a training camp at Colorado's storied Camp Hale (better known as the World War II training camp for the Tenth Mountain Division), including Orphans of the Cold War: America and the Tibetan Struggle for Survival by John Kenneth Knaus, one of the CIA trainers.

I knew the history: Tibet had enjoyed de-facto independence after the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911 as various warlords vied for control of eastern China, culminating in the Chinese Civil War. After defeating Chiang's Nationalists on the mainland and declaring the People's Republic of China in 1949, the People's Liberation Army marched into Tibet in the early 1950s. The teenage Dalai Lama lived under Chinese rule until 1959, when he fled to India -- accompanied by CIA-trained Tibetan radio operators who kept Washington (and New Delhi) appraised of his movements -- and eventually established a government in exile. As the Chinese began to assert control, some Tibetans began to fight back, and some of them were trained by the CIA in fantastic feats of Cold War spycraft, being exfiltrated in the middle of the night from India into East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), trained by the CIA, and being air-dropped over Tibet. This went on for years, with hundreds of Tibetans being trained at Camp Hale, but in the end the problem was that there were simply too many PLA soldiers, equipped with too many modern weapons, and too few Tibetans fighting back to have much of an impact. The resistance faded into obscurity well before Nixon went to China, and the surviving fighters settled down into an uneasy stateless subsistence in refugee camps scattered around the Himalayan foothills in India and Nepal.

I knew all of this going into the lecture. The lecture rehashed much of the history (in somewhat less detail, since it was only three hours long; trying to squeeze twenty years of history into three hours means much will be left out), but the most interesting part for me was the anthropology: the lecturer, Carole McGranahan, is an associate professor of anthropology at CU, and has done extensive field anthropological research in the Tibetan exile communities in India and Nepal. She speaks both Tibetan and Nepali, and she has lived in the communities and understands them well enough to form deeper insights into their behavior. She's written a book, Arrested Histories: Tibet, the CIA, and Histories of a Forgotten War, which I now need to hunt down and read. It felt like we were trying to cover a semester's worth of material in a single lecture, but I enjoyed every minute.

I thought the lecture was a great way to spend a Saturday morning, though I now fear that I know as much as I can about the history of the Tibetan resistance without getting an advanced degree in history. Which is tempting, but I think I'll stick to my day job for now.