Murphy's Law: India Forced To Confront The Truth

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April 10, 2014: In India a 51 year old classified government study (Henderson Brooks report) of the 1962 war with China (which India lost, badly) was recently made public by an Australian journalist who had obtained a copy of the first volume of the two volume report. That volume was the report itself while the second volume contained supporting documents. India continues to consider the report a state secret and will not declassify it. This was put on the web and there was nothing India could do to stop it.

Once reading the report it was clear why the report was still classified. Using official documents and interviews of key participants the report revealed that the Indian Army accidentally built a new border post on the Chinese side of the McMahon line in late 1962. While both nations disputed the exact location of this line both, at the time, agreed to honor the line until negotiations could settle the issue. Then the Indian Army crossed it, apparently by accident, built a border post and refused to withdraw when informed that by any calculation they were on the wrong side of the line. The Indian generals, who knew their troops were in Chinese territory, advised the Indian government to authorize the use of more force to maintain the new border post. The army officially insisted at the time that the new post was on Indian territory.

The Indian political leaders authorized the army to reinforce the surrounded border post on Chinese territory and the Chinese responded by moving more forces forward. Despite knowledge that the Chinese had moved superior (to Indian numbers) forces to this mountainous and freezing area, the Indian Army went along when their politicians ordered the Chinese to be pushed back. An Indian brigade was moved into position, but the troops had little ammo, cold weather clothing or medical supplies. At that point India had 12,000 troops in the area while China had brought forward 80,000. In a month of fighting (starting on 20 October) India lost 7,000 troops (57 percent prisoners, the rest dead or missing) compared to 722 dead Chinese. China declared a ceasefire that India accepted. China actually advanced in two areas, a thousand kilometers apart and ended up taking 43,000 square kilometers of Indian territory.

The source of the 1962 war and current border tension goes back a century and heated up when China resumed its control over Tibet in the 1950s. From the end of the Chinese empire in 1912 up until 1949 Tibet had been independent. But when the communists took over China in 1949, they sought to reassert control over their "lost province" of Tibet. This began slowly, but once all of Tibet was under Chinese control in 1959, China once again had a border with India and there was immediately a disagreement about exactly where the border should be. That’s because, in 1914, the newly independent government of Tibet worked out a border (the McMahon line) with the British (who controlled India). China considers this border agreement illegal and wants 90,000 square kilometers back. India refused, especially since this would mean losing much of the state of Arunachal Pradesh in northeastern India and some bits elsewhere in the area.

China and India have still not resolved the border dispute and there continue to be skirmishes. The information found in the Henderson Brooks report were not unknown. Several historians and analysts had put together the basic facts by the 1970s. But the Indian government continued to refuse acknowledging that Indian errors were largely responsible for the war and the Indian defeat. With the Henderson Brooks report now public, it’s difficult for India to cling to these self-serving myths. Already government officials are starting to discredit the Henderson Brooks report, which just goes to show how history does indeed try to repeat itself.

 

 


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