50 years of hell

Fifty years ago, the world's largest country invaded one of the smallest and most religious countries, Tibet, a country with few industries and no army. The excuse China gave at the time was that it was reclaiming one of its ancient lands.

Over the next five decades, Tibetans have endured one of the harshest and most brutal occupations in history. Yet, the world remains silent. Today, the situation continues to deteriorate and the military suppression of Tibetan freedoms is the most serious that it has ever ever been.

Under the Chinese occupations, torture and murder by Chinese troops has become rampant. It is estimated that more than 1.2 million peaceful Tibetans have been killed.

Amnesty International estimates that 430,000 were tortured to death in one 5-year period alone.

The 2,700 monasteries that were in Tibet in 1950 have been reduced to 8 today. Nearly 10,000 monks and nuns have been deported to other countries.

The Tibetan language has been banned. The Chinese government has implemented a policy of encouraging its own people to migrate to Tibet with the result that Chinese immigrants outnumber Tibetans in many areas.

In 1959, 100,000 Tibetans fled with the Dalai Lama, Tibet's political and religious leader, to India, where he still lives and operates a Tibetan government-in-exile.

One year later, 340,000 Tibetans died in the first recorded famine the country has ever had. The famine was brought on by a massive influx of Chinese immigrants, more than the economy could handle, and a new Chinese policy of "agricultural modernization."

In 1995, the Dalai Lama announced his recognition of 6-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, a holy man. Two months later, the young boy and his family were taken into custody by the Chinese and none of them has been heard from since.

Two questions remain unanswered: Why has the Chinese government suppressed the practice of a peaceful religion so ruthlessly? Why has the rest of the world remained indifferent to the Tibetans plight?

A Tibetan monk named Palden Gyatso was imprisoned for more than 30 years by the Chinese, during which time he was repeatedly tortured and humiliated. When he finally was able to escape in 1999, he wrote about his imprisonment in the book, "The Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk."

Gyatso's account is an answer of sorts to the first question: The key to success in the world of totalitarianism, as Hitler learned, is propaganda. Everyone must believe the same government-issued claims; everyone must practice the same government-sanctioned actions.

Buddhists refuse to subscribe to the pithy philosophies of Mao Tse-Tung's "Little Red Book." They will not exchange their beliefs for some socialistic doctrines advocated by a system that has failed everywhere it's been tried.

What is more puzzling is the second question: Why has there been no outcry from the United States?

One could argue that the stakes are too small and the risk too large. Obviously, no country wants to take on the world's largest nation. But should the U.S. be giving China "most-favored nation" status?

Other governments are acting: A week ago, representatives of the Parliaments of most of the governments of Europe met in Switzerland to discuss the deteriorating situation in Tibet and what to do about it.

Shouldn't we in the U.S. be doing something to help this small, devout nation that has been abandoned?

As citizens we can do more. For more information try these web sites: Free Tibet (www.freetibet.org), the Dalai Lama's site (www.tibet.net) or www.tibet.com. Or write to Warren Smith of the Tibet Project (11 Divinity Ave., Cambridge MA).