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Activities to split the nation

Published: March 21, 2008
Section: Opinions


A few months ago I visited a communist bookstore in Cambridge and found myself leafing through a little pamphlet entitled “The True Story of the Maoist Revolution in Tibet.” It turned out to be a compendium of four or five hastily written propaganda pieces for The Revolutionary Worker newspaper which painted pre-communist Tibet as “hell on earth” and celebrated the glorious years between the smashed Tibetan uprising of 1959 and the death of Chairman Mao in 1976 as a golden age of enlightened liberation.

I must admit that I love propaganda of all kinds, from the strikingly moving Soviet agitprop films of Sergei Eisenstein to the relentlessly over the top anti-Semitism of Fritz Hippler, and even the slickly engaging corporate propaganda of television commercials. Of course, I don’t take the arguments of any propaganda seriously, but I do think that there exists a great beauty in the way that propaganda merges twisted logic with a thoroughgoing belief in its own truth.

Unfortunately, I can’t wax too lyrically about propaganda, because it’s usually a means to a number of unappealing ends, from mass murder to mass exploitation. When I saw the picture of a Tibetan protestor holding up a peace sign while four Chinese soldiers dragged him down the street, I could not feel anything but disgust at the thought of that pamphlet.

Qiangba Puncog, the Chinese official who leads the Tibet Autonomous Region, said of the recent protests, “we will deal harshly with these criminals who are carrying out activities to split the nation.” And deal with them harshly Puncog and his bosses in Beijing have. It is an amazing thing to see a group of people so long oppressed standing up, mostly unarmed and unorganized, before a great military power and saying “no more.” I’m not kidding when I say that I’m proud just to be in the same species as these people who would rather die than remain subjugated for even one day longer.

I’m not as proud of my government’s reaction to the first major Tibetan uprising in nearly two decades. Not seven months ago, the Bush administration condemned similar actions by the Burmese military junta against a similar protest movement. They did so in terms so clear that I almost thought, for a second or two, they actually believed in democracy. On the current Tibetan protests, the government has remained completely silent save for a statement by Ambassador Clark Randt who urged China to use “restraint.” I don’t know what Randt has in mind when he says “restraint” but it sounds like he’s saying that the Chinese government should try their best to kill fewer people while they violently crack down on a protesting populace whom they’ve oppressed for fifty years.

This is just the latest demonstration of an American foreign policy which likes democracy in places that are insignificant to our economy, but prefers a boot stomping on a human face forever in places where it serves our economic interest. Burma could fall off the map and most of Wall Street would never notice, so it’s fine to kick around the Burmese military, at least verbally. We need China to keep lending us money and giving us outrageous bargains on consumer goods, so to them we ask only that they try not to splash us with blood while they rampage through Lhasa.

And what of the Tibetans? They’ll be defeated as always. Some will die in the streets, some will be beaten and tortured; the lucky ones may rot in Chinese prisons. The rest will go on living under Beijing’s yoke, perhaps hoping for a better future, perhaps remembering the volatile joy of the few weeks in 2008 when they began stealing back their freedom one broken window at a time. It seems to me the least we can do—and I mean the very least we can do—to register our displeasure with this farce passing itself off as political reality in terms a bit stronger than Clark Randt’s.