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Orphans of the Cold War: America and the Tibetan Struggle for Survival Hardcover – September, 1999


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 398 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; First Edition edition (September 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1891620185
  • ISBN-13: 978-1891620188
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,091,607 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

From the Chinese Revolution of 1911 until after the Second World War, Tibet enjoyed de facto independence from China. When China invaded Tibet in 1950, some in Washington saw support for the Himalayan nation's self-determination as a legitimate challenge to resurgent world communism.

Orphans of the Cold War is the inside story of America's clandestine support of Tibetan resistance, written by a 44-year veteran of the CIA who helped organize the training of Tibetan agents in Colorado and their deployment on the high Tibetan plateau. America's military aid to Tibet was much more substantial than generally realized, with airdrops of supplies into the interior and the maintenance of 2,000 guerrillas in Mustang, Nepal, throughout the '60s. John Knaus's description of these daring operations is contextualized by excellent analysis of the diplomacy of the period, especially at the UN. This is a colorful adventure story, supported by unique photographs of the "Roof of the World," with a cast of characters that includes presidents, ambassadors, Tibetan herdsmen, and the Dalai Lama. It is also a heartbreaking story of courage operating against ultimately impossible odds.

By 1974, after rapprochement with China, America ended its paramilitary support of Tibet. The Dalai Lama sees this as positive: before, American support was largely a cold-war tactic, but now, he says, "the help and support we receive from the United States is truly out of sympathy and human compassion." --John Stevenson

From Publishers Weekly

Knaus brings a dose of realpolitik and detailed history to the often romanticized subject of Tibet. A former CIA officer and a friend of the Dalai Lama's family for 40 years, Knaus became involved with the CIA's clandestine operation to support Tibetan self-determination in 1958 and watched it sputter, flourish and fizzle under Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson. At a CIA-staffed training base in Colorado, Tibetan resistance fighters learned guerrilla warfare, and the CIA air-dropped those Tibetan men, arms and equipment into Tibet. By 1959, large pockets of central Tibet came under rebel control. But most Tibetans were unwilling or unable to adopt guerrilla tactics, and the CIA, according to Knaus (who retired from the agency in 1995 and is now a Harvard East Asian scholar), greatly underestimated China's willingness to decimate the Tibetan resistance. By 1974, having opened diplomatic relations with China, Washington cut off support for Tibetan paramilitary and political programs. Although the Dalai Lama accused the U.S. of sacrificing Tibet to the exigencies of Cold War geopolitics, Knaus portrays Western politicians, operatives and diplomats often motivated by altruism or idealism. Nevertheless, as the title implies, this remarkable book demonstrates that the Tibetans have been triply "orphaned": by the U.S., which never delivered on its promise of sustained support; by India, which gave sanctuary to the Tibetan government-in-exile but pursued an equivocal policy designed to placate China; and by the UN, where support for Tibetan autonomy faded as China's star rose. This thorough diplomatic and political history is vital to an understanding of the tragedy of modern Tibet. 53 pages of b&w photos.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Steve on December 14, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A beautifully researched book that covers the US's involvement with Tibet from 1942 to 1974. The author only spends one chapter to his personal involvement with the Tibetan resistance, the rest is the interesting political maneuvering done it the time period. The author spent several years interviewing many of the principal characters and researching the available archives. Just about every statement the author makes is backed up by a primary source. The author makes a very good attempt at an objective portrayal of the events described although his main sources, understandably, come from Tibetan, Indian and western sources. The Chinese view comes mainly from published speeches. This book is also a good source to other books about Tibet. One book by Sydney Wignall, 'Spy on the Roof of the World' is also a interesting account of Chinese/Tibetan relations in 1957.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Angus MacLean Thuermer on July 8, 1999
Format: Hardcover
As one who knows the author, has visited Tibet, and was involved in the fringes of the operations, I can only say that Ken Knaus has given us the background we need to understand the situation as it exists in Tibet today and the role USA/CIA played in it. A Must Read book.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Philip A. True on February 6, 2002
Format: Paperback
As someone who knows the author and who provided some assistance for the initial phases of the resistance effort, this review will suffer from bias. Nonetheless in my opinion the author has done an excellent job in presenting not only the operational details in the CIA's involvement with the Tibetans, but he has mined the diplomatic sources to provide invaluable background on the genesis of our assistance. Why we became involved will become much clearer as the complex relationships and interests of India, ourselves, China, and others are detailed in the book. Although the Tibetan resistance movement is not much more than a lengthy footnote in the history of the Cold War, nonetheless it an interesting and often tragic event made even more so by the fair-minded analysis of the author and the entertaining style used in the telling. "Orphans..." is a must read for history buffs of this period and our relationships, overt and covert, in this part of the world
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amitava Mazumdar on May 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Like I do with many books I read, I picked this one up because of issues arising in current events. I harbored some sympathies with the plight of the Tibetans and wanted a better understanding of the issues. (Honestly, I was inspired to pick up a book after watching Brad Pitt's movie about the Nazi mountain climber.) This book provides an excellent history on the involvement and motivation of the United States, as well as that of India. More importantly, it offers a wonderful narrative about naive and unwordly (but nevertheless capable of scheming) Tibetans being drawn into international diplomacy for the sake of their homeland. Much of the book focuses on CIA assistance to Tibetan rebels, which also provides an entertaining sense of adventure: parachuting CIA spies, Tibetan training camps in Colorado, armed resistance in Tibet, and covert operations in Nepal. Unlike fiction, however, history does not always provide exciting climaxes. In this case, with gradual abandonment by the United States, the Tibetan resistance movement eventually just vanished, leaving only the Dalai Lama's government in exile in India. The United Stated does not discuss Tibet much and, as such, our relationship with Tibet is unclear. Essentially, the United States has tacitly recognized Chinese sovereignty but has never actually retreated on its support for Tibetan self-determination. Such ambivalence, following our strong support for Tibetan resistance, can not be describe as anything but betrayal.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Grey Wolffe VINE VOICE on April 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover
First let me say that this is a well written and research book by a man who spent the majority of this 35 years in the CIA as a operational officer. Knaus has done a worthy job of presenting the facts while keeping he own bias at the forefront so that we are allowed to make up our own minds as to what was done, why it was done, and what it accomplished. This is a very 'fair' look at something that this man spent his whole career at. Having said that,

Once again the CIA proved that in its' early days, it was nothing less than a poor excuse for an employer of over educated under qualified members of the Eastern Establishment and their scions to supplant the British Raj after World War 2. These men who "lost China" were looking for a way to disrupt Mao and the Chinese Communist and Tibet seemed the perfect answer. The idea that they knew nothing about Tibet (they used National Geographic maps to find places) never stopped these guys. Did they really think that a country of 1.7 million could hold off China whose Army was over 2 million? For twenty years they encouraged an insurgency (mostly in name only) and then dropped it like a hot potato when Nixon went to Beijing in 1972.

The CIA which never foresaw the fall of communism in Europe, and will probably at some time claim to have known about the revolts in North Africa, was busy in the 50s, reliving the 30s in Europe. What they never saw coming was that the world has changed but they still haven't. And you wonder why they can't find Osama bin Laden?

Zeb Kantrowitz
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