Sunday, March 23, 2008

Tibet and the American Civil War

As most of you all would most probably know, there recently has been some turmoil in Tibet. Specifically, there have been violent protests and demonstrations staged by ethnic Tibetans and the Chinese authorities have swiftly moved in to crack down on these protests and demonstrations.

And, inevitably, these recent events in Tibet have drawn much attention from the international community. There have been condemnations of the crack down by the Chinese authorities and there have been those who voiced support for the cause of Tibetan independence; in fact, a local acquaintance of mine actually changed her profile picture on Facebook to show the independent Tibetan flag as perhaps a sign of her support for the Tibetan independence cause. With regards to this, it may perhaps be observed that the loudest condemnations against the Chinese crackdown and support for Tibetan independence both came from within the United States (US).

Well, bearing the above in mind and recalling what I learnt in my American History module last semester, I cannot help but notice certain parallels between what's happening in Tibet with the American Civil War of 1861-1865.

The American Civil War is, I believe, popularly perceived as being a war fought over the institution of slavery in the US, in that I suppose that many of you all would be of the opinion that the war started because while the Northern states of the US (i.e. the Union) were anti-slavery, the Southern states (i.e. the Confederacy) were, on the other hand, supportive of slavery.

However, the American Civil War involved more than the issue of slavery. It was also a war involving the Southern states wanting to secede from the US. As for why they wanted to secede from the US, one reason would perhaps be that these states felt that with the US Federal Government becoming increasingly dominated by the Northern states, their rights and interests would become sidelined.

While the Southern states were of the opinion that, considering that they existed as self-governing colonies and/or territories before joining the US and/or were annexed by the US, it was well within their rights to secede from the US, the Northern states saw things differently. The Northern states, under the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, saw the secession of the Southern states as an act of rebellion and initiated a military campaign, which of course later expanded into the American Civil War, against the Southern states in an attempt to preserve the integrity of the US.

And, of course, as history records, after about 4 years of fighting, the Southern states, facing almost certain military defeat, surrendered and were re-admitted back into the US (the re-integration process was, however, not without its problems).

Okay, I suppose I said enough about the American Civil War and I believe that most of you all would be discerning enough to also, as I have, notice the parallels between the war and what's happening in Tibet. Of course, I am not saying that there is total similarity between these two phenomena but there is undeniably parallels between them.

Lest you all are mistaken, I am not against Tibetan independence but neither am I in support of it. It just seems to me that those who clamouring for Tibetan independence have perhaps not thought clearly about what would happen if Tibet actually declared independence and tried to secede from China. Would there, as a result of this potential secession, perhaps be a war within China which will eventually be won by the central government of China? Also, I find it rather ironic that those in the US who are the loudest in condemning the Chinese crackdown in Tibet and voicing support for Tibetan independence have perhaps forgotten about what happened during the American Civil War. As my friend puts it, when I discussed my conceptualisation of this post with him, people have notoriously short memories with regards to their own histories.


jimmy said...

Well, I guess you've stumbled upon a case in point of "History Repeats Itself".

Isn't it sad that politics makes hypocrites of nations?

Anonymous said...

Dalai Lama, being the unofficial Head of State for all Tibetan People in Exile, has already openly declared
countless times that he does not demand Independence but Autonomy from the Central Govt of China.

The fact that he still makes use of and hold dearly to the Title "Dalai Lama", a title that was awarded by
a Chinese Emperor to the First Dalai Lama, clearly means that he still reveres and respects the Authority of China
over Tibet and the Tibetan people. Otherwise, he should have dropped that Title, instead of unashamely using
that title to his advantage. That is what we call dignity and integrity, especially so if he aspires to be seen
also as a spiritual leader in the Tibetan Buddhist world.

(I am a practising Tibetan Buddhist myself for more than 20 years.)

Anyway, the crust of the problem is not Autonomy or Independence. The key to this is that China has
discovered that Tibet has tons and tons of Uranium and Plutonium underneath its surface. And the US
also knows this. Even India and Russia know this.

Therefore, the Tibetan "struggle" is actually a struggle for the "goodies" that exist beneath the surface (pun intended).

Have a nice day!


Anonymous said...

I think it's a rather tenuous analogy. While it's true that the Civil War was initially a war of secession, Lincoln made it a war against slavery. Also, I hope you're not trying to say that Americans are hypocritical...for example,

'Americans fought a war when some of their states seceded, so how dare they complain when China wants to do the same?'

I think the reasons for seceding are important. And that sensibilities the world over have changed since the 1860's. What was acceptable in the 1860's may not be acceptable today -- not for Americans nor for anyone else.

What you've said about the US Civil War is true, but many things the US did in the past would no longer be acceptable even in the US. As the world's oldest democracy gets older and older, it will become easier and easier to pull things from its past to accuse its people of hypocrisy.

America once atom-bombed, invaded and occupied Japan in its past. If China invades and occupies Japan tomorrow, are Americans supposed to shut up and not complain because they once did the same thing? What America did in its past does not automatically give China the right to do something similar. We should all try to hold ourselves to the highest moral standard available, and that may not always be the American standard. But they do seem to be trying their best.

random said...

I think you need to understand that the southern states joined the Union under very different circumstances from how Tibet 'joined' communist China.

There already *was* a war between China and Tibet when China made Tibet 'join' the PRC.

Before you venture to draw a parallel between the ACW and Tibet, perhaps you should read up a little about Tibet's history.

numbernine said...

There is a better American analogy about what's going on in Tibet. It is the civil rights movement oh the 1960s. The Tibetians under Chinese rule are like the Blacks under Jim Crow, "separate but equal". The Blacks didn't want a separate state, but they were asking for equal rights.

Add to that analogy, they also had a leader who preached non-violence (Dalai Lama is Martin Luther King)

What detracts from that analogy is that while a lot of white Americans were sympathetic to their cause, you won't find a lot of Chinese nationals on their side. Which brings us to another analogy from the civil rights movement: the ball is in the court of the Chinese.

Anonymous said...

I think the comments reflect a deep misunderstanding of the facts involved in the Tibet-China relationship. The 20 year Tibetan Buddhism-practicing Tibetophile mentioning that the Chinese emperor gave the title of Dalai Lama to the first Dalai Lama is just clearly wrong. Ask the current Dalai Lama himself - the title of Dalai Lama wasn't doled out until the "Third Dalai Lama" meaning that the title of the "First Dalai Lama" was granted posthumously.

Second - the guy talking about the Civil War needs to study some US history. It's a shame how bad the US educational system has basically gone down the drain. The war was all about secession - how did Lincoln change it to a war about slavery, by freeing slaves in certain Southern/border territories that the Union no longer had control of?? Have you actually read the Emancipation Proclamation? Go take a look. Seems more like he's trying to garner support of the slaves by freeing the slaves of areas he did not have control over... so that changes the Civil War to a war against slavery? PLEASE

And about hypocrisy. The U.S. invasion on Iraq is predicated on some WMD lie. And why is it when the U.S. decides that its past was deplorable it then gains the moral authority to point fingers at others? "Oh, we were wrong about Iraq. Now nobody else can invade a country because they believe they are producing WMDs. Oh, we were wrong about Afghanistan, now nobody else can invade another country because they believe terrorists from that country committed terrorist acts." How's that for hypocrisy?

And finally, "Random" said that the Southern states joined the Union under very different circumstances.

How was there a war between Tibet and China when Tibet *joined* the PRC? Why don't you go brush up on your history? PRC is the successor government of the ROC which is the successor government of the Qing Dynasty. Tibet was a part of the Qing and administered as such by the Qing ambans. Tibet requested Qing's assistance in expelling the Nepalese. Did the Qing attack Tibet and subjugate them? PLEASE, PEOPLE, READ AND FIND OUT ON YOUR OWN THE REAL HISTORY BEHIND TIBET.

Why don't you think there are any academic articles that assert what you are saying here, that Tibet was invaded, that Tibet was conquered, etc etc. because that is an indefensible position. An academic would get torn to shreds if it made such a claim because there is no evidence to back it up!!! I'm banging my head against the wall thinking that so many of my countrymen have been brainwashed by liberal/Tibetophile elements and never take the chance to just do some serious reading beyond surface-scratching web-browsing research.

numbernine said...

Anonymous - You have a flawed view of the Civil war. Yes, the Civil War was about succession. But what was the main issue of succession in the first place? It was the quarrel between the free states and the Southern states over the institution of slavery. Slavery emerged as the main issue of the Civil War only when it was halfway through, but with so many people dead, how could it not be about slavery? So yes, it does change it into a war against slavery.

Regarding hypocrisy, anybody can be hypocritical when you bring in issues which are unrelated to the incident. Iraq is completely irrelevant to this discussion.

And yes, Tibet was always a vassal state to China, just as so many other minor states were. And in the old days, being a vassal state just meant that you paid a tribute every year because frankly Tibet and wherever the Chinese capital may be are too far away for the Chinese to seriously fuck around with the Tibetians.

Tibet was invaded, that is a fact, and that was after the proclaimation of the PRC in 1949. People who assert that the PRC has always ruled Tibet conveniently forget that between 1911 (fall of Qing) and 1949 (PRC) China did not have a stable government, so how could it claim to govern Tibet?

Singapore has been a British Colony for far longer than it has been an independent nation. Was it then wrong for us to declare independence?

People usually attempt to mislead the discussion by talking about independence. The issue here is not the form of the occupation, but the manner of the occupation, how well the Tibetians are treated. Tibet is a de facto apartheid state: the Tibetians get the worst jobs, don't get to run businesses. The Dalai Lama does not want independence, only for Tibetians to be treated properly. It seems that even that is too much to ask.

The bottom line is that China needs to show that it is deserving of keeping Tibet.

The shocking part about this whole affair is all those sheep who support China while blindly accepting all the distortions in the party line.

Gemini Saga said...

USA "is" hypocritical. On one hand it paints Kim Il Sung as a dictator worshipped by North Korean citizens via huge statue in Pyongyang. On the other hand, USA erect statues of Abraham Lincoln, named countless streets and schools after him. Worships him as the greatest President ever. As an American, I only believe ideals and virtues should be worshipped, not a person nor an object. In addition, USA need refrain interfering other nations business. As far as I am concerned, USA should only defend its interests, not enforcing its ideals on others. Otherwise, USA will soon bankrupt itself (wait! it already bankrupt itself).

Gemini Saga said...

James Buchanan, who is often voted as the worst President of USA by American historians, has a "small" wall dedicated to him in Washington D.C.; while Abraham Lincoln gets a gigantic memorial. The fact Buchanan took a stance of not confronting the southern states' secession movement, cause these historian to believe he is a weak leader. This very fact, may cause many countries around world to believe USA has a double standard when it comes to USA's views on other nations' domestic issues, such as break-away states and civil discord. I am very disturbed to find United States continue to interfere other nations' domestic issues while downplaying or not placing its own domestic issues on high priority.

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