From the Publisher
"This is a dark and amazing tale, an essential reminder . . . Devastating . . . Shocking . . . Nixon and Kissinger spent the decades after leaving office burnishing their images as great statesmen. This book goes a long way in showing just how undeserved those reputations are."
—Dexter Filkins, The New York Times Book Review
"[A] gripping and well-researched book . . . Sheds fresh light on a shameful moment in American foreign policy . . . Admirable clarity."
"A profoundly disturbing account of the hitherto hidden role of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands . . . Bass has defeated the attempted coverup through laborious culling of relevant sections of the Nixon White House tapes, declassified State Department documents and interviews with former officials, American and Indian, who were involved . . . After reading Bass's account of this shameful episode, one has to . . . conclude that where the Bengalis were concerned, Kissinger and Nixon simply did not give a damn."
—Neil Sheehan, The Washington Post
"Bass takes us inside the Oval Office to reveal the scandalous role America played in the 1971 slaughter in what is now Bangladesh. Largely unknown here, the story combines the human tragedy of Darfur, the superpower geopolitics of the Cuban missile crisis and the illegal shenanigans of Iran-contra . . . [A] harrowing tale."
—Peter Baker, The New York Times, Favorite Book of the Year
"Devastating . . . Excellent . . . Bass, a historian at Princeton, has written an account—learned, riveting, and eviscerating—of the delusions and the deceptions of Nixon and Kissinger. Steeped in the forensic skills of a professional academic historian, he also possesses the imaginative energies of a classical moralist, and he tells the story of the choices and the decisions that led to the slaughter in Bengal . . . appropriately as a moral saga . . . Indispensable."
—Sunil Khilnani, The New Republic
"A riveting read with direct relevance to many of the most acute foreign-policy debates of today."
—Gideon Rachman, Financial Times
"Absorbing . . . Bass draws up a severe indictment of Nixon and Kissinger."
—Pankaj Mishra, The New Yorker
"The best book I read this year was Gary Bass's The Blood Telegram, which showed through superb reporting and excellent analysis that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger gleefully abetted the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent Bengalis . . . Excellent."
—Isaac Chotiner, The New Republic, Best Books of the Year
"Thankfully, Princeton University professor Gary Bass has provided us with a helpful reminder of Nixon's true character. In The Blood Telegram, Bass expertly recounts the stunning indifference of Nixon and . . . Henry Kissinger to the reports from US diplomats of Pakistani genocide . . . Vivid, often disquieting detail from Oval Office tapes unearthed by Bass . . . Bass has performed an essential function."
—Michael Cohen, The Guardian
"[A] superb book . . . Bass deploys White House recordings, including several new transcripts, to excellent effect, and . . . the book contains enough material to make the reader sick . . . Astonishing . . . A morally serious book that nevertheless reads like a first-rate novel."
—The Times Literary Supplement
"It was a non-subject for scholars, a no man's land for knowledge . . . [u]ntil the arrival of a memorable book by Princeton professor Gary Bass . . . While doing justice to the victims, also, for the first time, draws out for us its lessons . . . The book is also a tribute to politics in its true sense . . . I do want readers to be aware of the appearance of Gary Bass' book, which I hope will be widely read (and translated into French!) . . . A return to Bangladesh is required reading."
—Bernard-Henri Lévy, Le Point
"[A] stellar new book . . . Astonishing . . . The Blood Telegram . . . remedies that omission. . . A meticulously researched and searing indictment of the shameful role the United States played . . . The book tells of the damage wrought when world leaders abandon rational calculation and allow their country's interests to be subordinated to personal prejudices and animosities."
"Bass has written the definitive account of the political machinations behind one of the worst (and most widely ignored) humanitarian crises of the 20th century . . . Bass also offers Americans much-needed context about America's pre-9/11 involvement in a region where it still finds itself with bloody hands . . . Nuanced yet unflinching . . . Bass shines a much-needed spotlight . . . Fascinating and truly frightening."
—Nick Turse, The Daily Beast
"Blistering . . . [A] must-read."
—The New York Post
"Gripping, thoroughly researched, concisely organized, and engagingly written . . . Impressive."
—Harold H. Saunders, Foreign Affairs
"A vital contribution . . . Bass is the first to investigate in any detail the complicity of President Richard Nixon . . . Bass's meticulous scholarship demonstrates how both Nixon and Kissinger . . . became witting accomplices to this genocide . . . Important . . . He demonstrates an extraordinary grasp of the internal politics of the country [India] . . . Bass's painstaking research and his scrupulous portrayal of the choices that created permissive conditions for the genocide should now lead to a much-needed reappraisal of the foreign policy legacies of both individuals."
—Sumit Ganguly, International Security
"Gripping and excruciating . . . A powerful reminder of the frailty of international law in international crises . . . A must-read . . . Remarkable."
—European Journal of International Law, Best Books of the Year
"Fascinating . . . [A] rich book, constantly shifting between Washington, New Delhi and Islamabad, all corners of the narrative expertly covered by the author . . . Bass's skill in unravelling the complex strands . . . is admirable."
—Michael Young, The National
"A searing indictment . . . A shocking tale . . . We witness here the best of American diplomatic tradition . . . against the worst in the White House . . . The Blood Telegram sends an acidic whiff from the past to the present through a deeply cautionary tale."
—William Thorsell, The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
"Amazing . . . Bass exhumes the tragic, relatively unknown story."
—The Japan Times
"It has been a long time since I have read a book that has spoken as powerfully to me as The Blood Telegram. The relevancy and power of this book stems from the basic moral dilemmas that it addresses on practically every page. Every person planning to join the United States Foreign Service, or already serving should read this book."
"Admirable . . . Vivid . . . Useful—and often frightening—insights . . . Poignant."
—Teresita C. Schaffer, Survival
"Excellent . . . Illuminating . . . Very well-written. The pages almost turn themselves."
—Asian Review of Books
"Gripping . . . [An] uncommonly fine addition to the histories of the Cold War era . . . The immediacy of good page-turning journalism."
—National Catholic Reporter
"Unsettling . . . It breaks new historical ground with rigorous scholarship . . . Insightful and chilling."
"Harrowing . . . A damning portrait . . . Tremendously lucid . . . Bass holds these leaders to a much-needed reckoning. A deeply incisive lesson for today's leaders and electorate."
—Kirkus Reviews (starred), Best Books of the Year
"With urgent, cinematic immediacy, Gary Bass reconstructs a critical—and, to this day, profoundly consequential—chapter of Cold War history defined by appalling American complicity in genocidal atrocity and terrifyingly high-stakes superpower brinkmanship. It is a story of immense scope, vividly populated by figures of enduring fascination, and ripe with implications for the ongoing struggle to strike a more honorable balance between wartime realpolitik and our ideals of common humanity."
—Philip Gourevitch, author of We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families
"Gary Bass has excavated a great tragedy, one that's been forgotten by Americans but is seared into the memory of South Asians. His talents as a scholar, writer, and foreign-policy analyst are on full display in this brilliant work of narrative history. Nixon and Kissinger come damningly alive on the pages of a book that shows, like nothing else I’ve read, the folly that goes by the name of 'realism.' "
—George Packer, author of The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America
"Gary Bass has done it again, uncovering a dark chapter in the historical record and bringing it vividly to light, forcing us to confront who we were then and who we are now. The Blood Telegram is a richly textured story with many fascinating layers, from the moral bankruptcy of U.S. leaders in the face of genocide to the multi-faceted politics of South Asia and the lasting geopolitical legacy of these events. It's also simply hard to put down!"
—Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of A New World Order
"Gary Bass is unique: an investigative historian who explores the past in a masterly way that combines the best of journalism and scholarship. His latest book reads like an urgent dispatch from the frontline of genocide, a lucid and poignant description of a moral collapse in American foreign policy. Bass has painstakingly written a vital history—and a story, in the best sense of the word—that we must come to grips with."
—Peter Maass, author of Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War
"The most notable new arrival on most people’s bookshelves is Gary Bass' Blood Telegram . . . Readers are given a full account of the horrors of that near-genocide, and of the cynicism of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. It is a remarkable achievement, and deserves to be on every shelf."
—Mihir S. Sharma, Business Standard
"[An] engrossing, droll, and ultimately shocking account of Bangladesh’s liberation war, as seen from Washington . . . Bass's meticulously researched book resurrects the reputation of an unsung diplomat."
—Salil Tripathi, Mint (New Delhi)
"This is an immensely absorbing book for those interested in not just Indo-US relations but the making of foreign policy in democracies as a whole."
—The Indian Express
"The book sets the record straight of a disgraceful period in US foreign policy . . . Brutal detail . . . Nixon stands disgraced over Watergate but his wilful role in the genocide in East Pakistan had not till now received the full historical attention it deserved."
—Minhaz Merchant, The Times of India
"He writes in a vivid and racy style and never fails to hold the reader's attention. The book is a thoroughly researched and damning indictment . . . Bass demolishes Kissinger’s defence . . . Deeply perceptive."
"[A] gripping, if sordid, story . . . A startling revelation."
—Shougat Dasgupta, Tehelka
"Gripping. His material is so rich and his research so detailed that it is difficult to put down the book once one begins to read it . . . Bass has accomplished something truly remarkable."
—The Asian Age
"A scathing indictment . . . Bass . . . dismantles the smug aura of success that has generally been attached to the Kissinger-Nixon era . . . The book combines a racy narrative with meticulous research and excellent academic rigour. . . Bass offers a fresh perspective."
"A monumental account."
—Economic & Political Weekly (Mumbai)
"Most admirable and thorough . . . An accomplished scholar of human rights, Bass draws on a mass of documents and tapes to shed light on the United States of America's involvement . . . Bass's cumulative indictment of Nixon and Kissinger is formidable . . . The wealth of detail and the range of insights in this fine book."
—Srinath Raghavan, The Telegraph (Kolkata)
“A must read . . . It is one of the finest books on the 1971 war written by a neutral observer . . . The author makes an honest effort to find out what made the US administration a mute spectator in one of the worst genocides of our times.”
"An absorbing book . . . A fine portrayal . . . A damning indictment . . . A meticulous investigation . . . Remarkable . . . A precious contribution."
—The Daily Star (Dhaka)
"The Blood Telegram by Gary Bass is the best single account of how the United States responded to the 1971 Bangladesh independence war . . . Highly readable . . . A justly lauded work . . . A uniquely fascinating glimpse into the operation of power at the highest levels . . . Vivid . . . The best researched and most lucid indictment of the Nixon White House . . . Will certainly stand the test of time. . . It is a worthy tribute to Archer Blood's integrity and professionalism and holds invaluable truths and lessons for future generations."
"Fascinating . . . Unique . . . The book is a powerful indictment of Nixon and Kissinger."
—The Friday Times (Lahore)
"Gripping . . . A chilling and bare-knuckle account . . . A scalding view . . . The book spares no players."
—The News International (Pakistan)
"Eminently readable and exhaustively researched . . . Gripping . . . The book is peerless in the sheer quality and quantity of sources it uses . . . An unmatched account."
The New York Times Book Review - Dexter Filkins
In The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide, Gary J. Bass…has revived the terrible and little-known story of the birth of Bangladesh in 1971, and of the sordid and disgraceful White House diplomacy that attended it. This is a dark and amazing tale, an essential reminder of the devastation wrought by the hardhearted policy and outright bigotry that typified much of the diplomacy of the cold war.
A thoroughgoing, long-overdue excoriation of the actors behind the humanitarian crisis that propelled the creation of Bangladesh. Bass (Politics and International Affairs/Princeton Univ.; Freedom's Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention, 2008, etc.) largely lets the words of President Richard Nixon and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger from White House tapes reveal their perfidious actions on the world stage during the Pakistan-India crisis of 1971-1972. Nixon's deep distrust of India--which he viewed as an ungovernable cauldron of Soviet-leaning liberals, lefties and hippies--and his longtime support of the military in Pakistan disastrously steered his and Kissinger's resolve not to stay the hand of Gen. Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan against a dissenting East Pakistan in March 1971. In the terribly divided nation, reeling from a cyclone that had caused a massive loss of life, the democratic elections had trounced Yahya and overwhelmingly elected Mujibur Rahman and his Awami League, who had hinted at autonomy if not succession for the East Bengali entity. Yahya's ensuing military crackdown instigated a bloodbath against Bengalis and Hindus that was witnessed and carefully documented by the horrified staff at the American embassy in Dacca. Led by ambassador Archer Blood, whose cries of "genocide" were baldly dismissed by Nixon and Kissinger, the embassy sent a collective "dissent cable" to Washington chronicling their alarms. These leaks allowed Sen. Edward Kennedy and others to expose the truth of Nixon's illegal military supplying to Pakistan. In his tremendously lucid analysis, Bass reveals the cold cunning of all sides in the face of the killing and fleeing of millions of refugees into India, including Indira Gandhi, who turned the humanitarian disaster into political profit. By revisiting these tapes and other primary sources, Bass holds these leaders to a much-needed reckoning. A deeply incisive lesson for today's leaders and electorate.
Read an Excerpt
The Blood Telegram
By Gary J. Bass
Random House LLC Copyright © 2013 Gary J. Bass
All rights reserved.
Archer Blood, the United States' consul general in Dacca, was a gentlemanly diplomat raised in Virginia, a World War II navy veteran in the upswing of a promising Foreign Service career after several tours overseas. He was earnest and precise, known to some of his more unruly subordinates at the U.S. consulate as a good, conventional man.
He had come to like his posting to this impoverished, green, and swampy land. But outside of the consulate's grimy offices, in the steamy heat, the city was dying. Night after night, Blood heard the gunshots. On the night of March 25, 1971, the Pakistan army had begun a relentless crackdown on Bengalis, all across what was then East Pakistan and is today an independent Bangladesh. Untold thousands of people were shot, bombed, or burned to death in Dacca alone. Blood had spent that grim night on the roof of his official residence, watching as tracer bullets lit up the sky, listening to clattering machine guns and thumping tank guns. There were fires across the ramshackle city. He knew the people in the deathly darkness below. He liked them. Many of the civilians facing the bullets were professional colleagues; some were his friends.
It was, Blood and his staffers thought, their job to relay as much of this as they possibly could back to Washington. Witnessing one of the worst atrocities of the Cold War, Blood's consulate documented in horrific detail the slaughter of Bengali civilians: an area the size of two dozen city blocks that had been razed by gunfire; two newspaper office buildings in ruins; thatch-roofed villages in flames; specific targeting of the Bengalis' Hindu minority.
The U.S. consulate gave detailed accounts of the killings at Dacca University, ordinarily a leafy, handsome enclave. At the wrecked campus, professors had been hauled from their homes to be gunned down. The provost of the Hindu dormitory, a respected scholar of English, was dragged out of his residence and shot in the neck. Blood listed six other faculty members "reliably reported killed by troops," with several more possibly dead. One American who had visited the campus said that students had been "mowed down" in their rooms or as they fled, with a residence hall in flames and youths being machine-gunned.
"At least two mass graves on campus," Blood cabled. "Stench terrible." There were 148 corpses in one of these mass graves, according to the workmen forced to dig them. An official in the Dacca consulate estimated that at least five hundred students had been killed in the first two days of the crackdown, almost none of them fighting back. Blood reckoned that the rumored toll of a thousand dead at the university was "exaggerated, although nothing these days is inconceivable." After the massacre, he reported that an American eyewitness had seen an empty army truck arriving to get rid of a "tightly packed pile of approximately twenty five corpses," the last of many such batches of human remains.
This was, Blood knew, the last thing his superiors in Washington wanted to hear. Pakistan was an ally—a military dictatorship, but fiercely anticommunist. Blood detailed how Pakistan was using U.S. weapons—tanks, jet fighters, gigantic troop transport airplanes, jeeps, guns, ammunition—to crush the Bengalis. In one of the awkward alignments of the Cold War, President Richard Nixon had lined up the democratic United States with this authoritarian government, while the despots in the Soviet Union found themselves standing behind democratic India.
Nixon and Henry Kissinger, the brilliant White House national security advisor, were driven not just by such Cold War calculations, but a starkly personal and emotional dislike of India and Indians. Nixon enjoyed his friendship with Pakistan's military dictator, General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan, known as Yahya, who was helping to set up the top secret opening to China. The White House did not want to be seen as doing anything that might hint at the breakup of Pakistan—no matter what was happening to civilians in the east wing of Pakistan.
The onslaught would continue for months. The Dacca consulate stubbornly kept up its reporting. But, Blood later recalled, his cables were met with "a deafening silence." He was not allowed to protest to the Pakistani authorities. He ratcheted up his dispatches, sending in a blistering cable tagged "Selective Genocide," urging his bosses to speak out against the atrocities being committed by the Pakistani military. The White House staff passed this up to Kissinger, who paid no heed. Then on April 6, two weeks into the slaughter, Blood and almost his entire consulate sent in a telegram formally declaring their "strong dissent"—a total repudiation of the policy that they were there to carry out. That cable—perhaps the most radical rejection of U.S. policy ever sent by its diplomats—blasted the United States for silence in the face of atrocities, for not denouncing the quashing of democracy, for showing "moral bankruptcy" in the face of what they bluntly called genocide.
This book is about how two of the world's great democracies—the United States and India—faced up to one of the most terrible humanitarian crises of the twentieth century. The slaughter in what is now Bangladesh stands as one of the cardinal moral challenges of recent history, although today it is far more familiar to South Asians than to Americans. It had a monumental impact on India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh—almost a sixth of humanity in 1971. In the dark annals of modern cruelty, it ranks as bloodier than Bosnia and by some accounts in the same rough league as Rwanda. It was a defining moment for both the United States and India, where their humane principles were put to the test.
For the United States, as Archer Blood understood, a small number of atrocities are so awful that they stand outside of the normal day-to-day flow of diplomacy: the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda. When we think of U.S. leaders failing the test of decency in such moments, we usually think of uncaring disengagement: Franklin Roosevelt fighting World War II without taking serious steps to try to rescue Jews from the Nazi dragnet, or Bill Clinton standing idly by during the Rwandan genocide.
But Pakistan's slaughter of its Bengalis in 1971 is starkly different. Here the United States was allied with the killers. The White House was actively and knowingly supporting a murderous regime at many of the most crucial moments. There was no question about whether the United States should intervene; it was already intervening on behalf of a military dictatorship decimating its own people.
This stands as one of the worst moments of moral blindness in U.S. foreign policy. Pakistan's crackdown on the Bengalis was not routine or small-scale killing, not something that could be dismissed as business as usual, but a colossal and systematic onslaught. Midway through the bloodshed, both the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department conservatively estimated that about two hundred thousand people had lost their lives. Many more would perish, cut down by Pakistani forces or dying in droves in miserable refugee camps. "The story of East Bengal will surely be written as one of the greatest nightmares of modern times," declared Edward Kennedy, who led the outcry in the Senate. But in the depths of the Cold War, Nixon and Kissinger were unyielding in their support for Pakistan, making possible horrific crimes against humanity—plausibly even a genocide—in that country's eastern wing.
The ongoing Bengali slaughter led within a few months to a major war between Pakistan and India. In that time, the White House had every opportunity to grasp how bad these atrocities were. There were sober misgivings voiced in the White House, and thunderous protests from the State Department and its emissaries in Delhi and Dacca, with Archer Blood the loudest voice of all. But throughout it all, from the outbreak of civil war to the Bengali massacres to Pakistan's crushing defeat by the Indian military, Nixon and Kissinger, unfazed by detailed knowledge of the massacres, stood stoutly behind Pakistan.
As its most important international backer, the United States had great influence over Pakistan. But at almost every turning point in the crisis, Nixon and Kissinger failed to use that leverage to avert disaster. Before the shooting started, they consciously decided not to warn Pakistan's military chiefs against using violence on their own population. They did not urge caution or impose conditions that might have discouraged the Pakistani military government from butchering its own citizenry. They did not threaten the loss of U.S. support or even sanctions if Pakistan took the wrong course. They allowed the army to sweep aside the results of Pakistan's first truly free and fair democratic election, without even suggesting that the military strongmen try to work out a power- sharing deal with the Bengali leadership that had won the vote. They did not ask that Pakistan refrain from using U.S. weaponry to slaughter civilians, even though that could have impeded the military's rampage, and might have deterred the army. There was no public condemnation—nor even a private threat of it—from the president, the secretary of state, or other senior officials. The administration almost entirely contented itself with making gentle, token suggestions behind closed doors that Pakistan might lessen its brutality—and even that only after, months into the violence, it became clear that India was on the brink of attacking Pakistan.
This might give the impression of passivity, of a foreign policy on autopilot. Not so. Nixon and Kissinger actually drove their South Asia policies with gusto and impressive creativity—but only when silencing dissenters in the ranks, like Blood, or pursuing their hostility toward India. They found no appeal in India, neither out of ideological admiration for India's flawed but functioning democracy, nor from a geopolitical appreciation of the sheer size and importance of the Indian colossus. Instead, they denounced Indians individually and collectively, with an astonishingly personal and crude stream of vitriol. Alone in the Oval Office, these famous practitioners of dispassionate realpolitik were all too often propelled by emotion. The slaughter happened at the same time that Nixon and Kissinger were planning their opening to China—a famous historic achievement that has a forgotten cost. Everyone remembers Nixon and Kissinger's months of clandestine Chinese diplomacy, followed by the amazing spectacle of the presidential visit to Mao Zedong. But what has been lost is the human toll exacted for it in Bangladesh and India. Nixon and Kissinger needed a secret channel to China, which they found in the good offices of Yahya—an impeccably discreet tyrant on warm terms with both the United States and China. While the Pakistani government was crushing the Bengalis, it was also carrying covert messages back and forth from Washington to Beijing. Archer Blood sent off his dissent telegram just three months before Kissinger took his first secret trip to Beijing, flying direct from Pakistan, which sped him on his way with hospitality, an airplane, and a cloak-and-dagger cover story. Nixon and Kissinger, always sympathetic to the Pakistani junta, were not about to condemn it while it was making itself so useful. So the Bengalis became collateral damage for realigning the global balance of power. In the bargain, Nixon and Kissinger also turned their backs on India: the strategic opening to one Asian titan meant a closing to another. Indeed, one of the very first things that the United States did with its new relationship with Mao's China was to secretly ask it to mobilize troops to threaten democratic India, in defense of Pakistan. It is absolutely right that the normalization of the American relationship with China stands as an epochal event, but those who justifiably want to celebrate it should not overlook what it meant for the Bengalis and Indians.
Kissinger and his defenders often try to shift the blame to Nixon. But the record here proves that Kissinger was almost as culpable as the president. When dealing with the White House and State Department staff, Kissinger would entertain a variety of viewpoints, showing his trademark subtlety, although pressing an anti-Indian line. But when it was just him and Nixon alone, he cannily stoked the president's fury. All the sophistication vanished, replaced with a relentless drumbeat against India. Although Kissinger billed himself around Washington as a vital restraint on Nixon's dangerous moods, here it was Kissinger who spun out of control. In the most heated moments of the crisis, when Nixon lost his nerve for a superpower confrontation with the Soviet Union that at worst could have led toward nuclear war, Kissinger goaded him on.
Nixon and Kissinger bear responsibility for a significant complicity in the slaughter of the Bengalis. This overlooked episode deserves to be a defining part of their historical reputations. But although Nixon and Kissinger have hardly been neglected by history, this major incident has largely been whitewashed out of their legacy—and not by accident. Kissinger began telling demonstrable falsehoods about the administration's record just two weeks into the crisis, and has not stopped distorting since. Nixon and Kissinger, in their vigorous efforts after Watergate to rehabilitate their own respectability as foreign policy wizards, have left us a farrago of distortions, half-truths, and outright lies about their policy toward the Bengali atrocities.
To this day, four decades after the massacres, the dead hand of Nixonian cover-up still prevents Americans from knowing the full record. The White House staff routinely sanitized their records of conversations, sometimes at Kissinger's specific urging. Even now, mildewed and bogus claims of national security remain in place to bleep out particularly embarrassing portions of the White House tapes. Kissinger struck a deal with the Library of Congress that, until five years after his death, blocks researchers from seeing his papers there unless they have his written permission. Even if you could get in, according to the Library of Congress, many of Kissinger's most important papers are still hidden from daylight by a thicket of high-level classifications, security clearances, and need-to-know permissions. Kissinger did not reply to two polite requests for an interview, and then, four months later, refused outright. But against Nixon and Kissinger's own misrepresentations and immortal stonewalling, there is a different story to be found in thousands of pages of recently declassified U.S. papers, in dusty Indian archives, and on unheard hours of the White House tapes—offering a more accurate, documented account of Nixon and Kissinger's secret role in backing the perpetrators of one of the worst crimes of the twentieth century.
It was left to India, which did not have the option of ignoring the slaughter of the Bengalis, to stop it. The gargantuan democracy was entwined with the tragedy next door in countless ways, from its own shocked Bengali population to its bitter confrontation with Pakistan. Indira Gandhi's government was motivated by a mix of lofty principle and brutal realpolitik: demanding an end to the slaughter of a civilian population and upholding the popular will of voters in a democratic election, but also seizing a prime opportunity to humiliate and rip apart India's hated enemy.
Indira Gandhi, India's prime minister and the great Jawaharlal Nehru's daughter, would later claim she acted "first of all, for purely humanitarian reasons." India's ambassador at the United Nations declared that his country had "absolutely nothing but the purest of motives and the purest of intentions: to rescue the people of East Bengal." But there was nothing pure about the protection of human rights. Some eminent political theorists and international lawyers have pointed to India's intervention as a singular and important case of an Asian postcolonial country launching a humanitarian intervention—a kind of war more commonly associated with Western military campaigns in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Libya. But there has been no proper chronicle of India's real motives.
Excerpted from The Blood Telegram by Gary J. Bass. Copyright © 2013 Gary J. Bass. Excerpted by permission of Random House LLC, a division of Random House, Inc.
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