From concentration camps come few dispatches, not even when a whole nation is imprisoned. Silence is as real as barbed wire. For the captors, it is at least as effective.
So, when occasionally I write about the captivity of Tibet, readers sometimes ask why I care so much.
They ask why they should involve themselves. Isn’t so much else more important to American interests?
And since the occupation by the Chinese Communists has been going on so long, almost a half century now, with Beijing making it ever tighter, forcing more and more Tibetans out of their own country, and the world not even taking note, are not Tibetans and foreigners just perpetuating an impossible dream when they insist that Tibet lives?
As the years pass, the questions become ever more important to answer - else the silence will become eternal, and the concentration camp one more national grave.
But before they can be answered, another question must be put: Why is it that Tibet, a nation with a history almost as old as man’s memory, a nation with a culture unique in the world, with a religion that not only binds together its own people but embraces men and women all over the world, why is this nation, almost alone among nations, denied the most elemental rights of nationhood and personal freedom?
When I was a young reporter, The Times assigned me to the bureau it had just set up at the brand new United Nations. The total membership then was 56 and new countries were asking to be admitted. One day a British delegate warned that if the U.N. kept growing, the membership would be as high as 70, maybe 80.
Today the membership stands at 184. Among them are countries that are minute in population and size. Their most important industry is the bureaucracy created to run them.
And there are other members whose boundaries and identities were carved out of the map by the colonial powers of Europe for their own administrative and imperial conveniences.
And yet there they all are, flags waving on First Avenue, their ambassadors treated as they should be, with dignity and attention.
But Tibet - Tibet is not only barred from U.N. membership, its representatives are usually not even allowed in U.N. halls and meeting rooms or in the state departments of the world.
Why? The nations know what has been happening - the massacres, tortures, pillage, the deportation of millions of Tibetans and their replacement by Chinese, the stone-by-stone, temple-by-temple destruction of a great culture.
The truth is that almost all the nations of the world made a deliberate decision to abandon Tibet to its captors. Among these nations were many U.N. members ruled by dictators. At least they had some rationale - the brotherhood of tyranny.
But for the others, including the United States and Europe, the reason was money. Beijing constantly warns that trade with China will be cut off for any nation daring to do all that the Tibetans really ask - speak up for their elemental human and political rights.
Once President Clinton did that. But that was long ago - a year or so. Now Washington talks about sending his wife or the Vice President to visit Beijing, the heart and head office of the Chinese and Tibetan concentration camps.
What do we have in common with Tibetans? I can think of only this: shared criminality.
The same political crimes that bound us to the victims in the Nazi camps, to the dissidents in the Soviet gulag, to the people in the Khmer Rouge death pits and in the torture chambers of the Middle East bind us to the Tibetans.
Every day we commit the crimes for which Tibetans have been made captive, tortured and murdered and for which their nation has been sundered and occupied. We talk, we write, we act, we think, we pray.
Tibet has no ethnic or national constituency in the United States. But in America, as around the world, are thousands of people who do what they can for Tibet - write, talk, act, pray, help the International Campaign for Tibet (202) 785-1515. Among them are intellectuals, business people, members of Congress, working people, Democrats and Republicans.
This constituency is staunch and slowly growing. That is the best reason I can give for hoping for the future of the imprisoned nation in the Himalayas - the international conspiracy of the criminals for freedom.
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