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The Dalai Lama's War

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In the late autumn of 1962, there was a short, intense border war between India and China. It resulted in the complete rout of an underprepared and poorly led Indian Army. For the two rising powers, the battle—and its outcome—was seen in national, civilizational and ideological terms. These nations were, or at least saw themselves as, carriers of ancient civilizations that had produced great literature, philosophy, architecture, science and much else, but whose further evolution had been rudely interrupted by Western imperialists. India became free of British rule in 1947; China was united under Communist auspices in 1949. The recovery of their national independence was viewed as the prelude to the reemergence of China and India as major forces in the world. Thus, the defeat of 1962 was at once a defeat of the Indian Army by its Chinese counterpart, a defeat of democracy by Communism, a defeat of one large new nation by another and a defeat of one ancient civilization at the hands of another. In India, the defeat was also interpreted in personal terms, as the defeat of Jawaharlal Nehru, who had held the offices of prime minister and foreign minister continuously since independence in 1947.

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