Arrested Histories: Tibet, the CIA, and Memories of a Forgotten War

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Arrested Histories: Tibet, the CIA, and Memories of a Forgotten War, by Carole McGranahan. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010. xx + 307 pp. US$84.95 (hardcover), US$23.95 (paperback).

Carole McGranahan' s Arrested Histories is a valid attempt to place memoirs on a continuum with more formal and official histories, in which all are able, in some manner, to support collective consciousness. It is an important early work on a chapter of Tibetan national history now coming to light: the little-known war of resistance fought by Khampa soldiers between 1956 and 1974. The book is also an ethnography of the process of "binding and loosening" socially meaningful facts, and their accommodation or rejection as an agency of statecraft.

The social process of arrested histories in Tibet acknowledges the long-term Buddhist practice of gter ma, the hiding of religious texts (often commentaries) until the proper time and place for their revelation. McGranahan argues that the historical milieu which created the concept of gter ma has facilitated an heuristic ordering of many historical narratives, in this case a history of the Khampa resistance to the PLA occupying forces in Tibet from 1956 to 1974. The state narrative, as well as the personal narratives of the Chushi Gangdrug members, are neither mutually exclusive nor competitive - any or all can be invoked in socially meaningful ways appropriate to the circumstance. One reason that the narratives of the resistance have not become well-known until now is that the history of armed resistance against the Chinese has been seen as inconsistent with the exiled Dalai Lama's decision to foster Tibetan rights through non-violent means. In addition, the CIA suffered a tarnished reputation during this period of the Cold War as a particularly unattractive agency of empire.

It is evident that the Tibetan government-in-exile, at least since the late 1 970s, has distanced itself from the history of the resistance. The Chushi Gangdrug existed from 1956 to the early 1970s; among many other victories, they are known primarily for creating a national guard that successfully secured the flight of the Dalai Lama into exile in 1959 and allowed the escape of the Tibetan government to India. When relations between the People's Republic of China and the US thawed in the 1970s, financial and intelligence support evaporated, and most of the members of the Chushi Gangdrug marched into India, giving up their arms at the border.

The history of the resistance, although mentioned briefly by the Dalai Lama in his two autobiographies, was never incorporated into the official history of the post-exile government. However, McGranahan, quoting pro-independence activist Jamyang Norbu, notes that the existence of the Tibetan government-inexile and the position of the Dalai Lama as a world leader is entirely dependent on the early successes of the Chushi Gangdrug. …