Published:  12:00 AM, 16 December 2016

1971: Glimpses from two American philanthropists

Refugees fleeing across the border to India
When we ponder over the word "genocide", the most gruesome instances that we often recall are the holocaust executed by the German Nazi Army during World War II, the carnages that took place in Bosnia and Kosovo during the reign of Slobodan Milosevic, the massacres that occurred in some African countries ravaged by civil wars and so on. However, another appalling and cool-blooded genocide conducted by the Pakistani forces in the towns and countryside of Bangladesh (known as East Pakistan back then)   during 1971 also appears with all its direness on the list. It was an annihilation of three million Bangladeshis in which both the Pakistani troops and their local quislings participated. Thinking from a global point of view, how many people of the world are aware of the indifferent, impassive role played by the United States on this issue during 1971? Gary J. Bass, an American scholar and Professor of Politics and International Affairs of Princeton University, USA strikingly unfolds the painfully true story of the nonchalance that the US government showed during that time in his book The Blood Telegram.

When the pro-independence party Awami League won the polls in 1970, the central Pakistan government denied handing over the ruling power of East Pakistan to the leaders of Awami League. As the war of independence broke out in March 1971, the Pakistani Army occupied different parts of Bangladesh and started killed millions of common, unarmed civilians including a huge number of people belonging to religious minorities over a period of nine months. Bangladesh achieved independence but for the price of three million lives, an unforgettable bloodbath. Gary J. Bass recalls the friendly role played by the Indian Government of that time who sent their troops to East Pakistan to back up the Bangladeshi freedom fighters. Support imparted by the Soviet government of that time is also acknowledged in this book. The book also castigates the collaboration extended by the US President Richard Nixon to Islamabad to defend the territorial integrity of Pakistan and thus to thwart the Liberation War in which the Bangladeshis were fighting valiantly.

According to Gary J. Bass, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger were cooperating with Pakistan during 1971 in order to bridge up the chasm prevailing between the United States and China. As Pakistan has always been an ally to Beijing, the US administration of that time sought to get closer to the Chinese rulers by means of having warm diplomatic ties with Islamabad. Gary J. Bass states in The Blood Telegram that, the importance of halting genocide in East Pakistan was a far greater issue than boosting diplomatic relations with China. But unfortunately the US leaders of that period did nothing effective to restrain the Pakistani government from murdering the general people of Bangladesh. In this connection the author makes frequent references to Archer K. Blood who was a US consul general during 1971 and was stationed in Dhaka. He dispatched an urgent telegram to the US State Department asking for immediate steps to stop the atrocities the Pakistani forces were carrying out throughout East Pakistan. Gary J. Bass expresses his resentment over one of the remarks made by Henry Kissinger during 1971 which meant that an international humanitarian crisis was not all the time something to be addressed by the American policymakers.

The US government that held power during 1971 wanted Pakistan to subdue the spirit of independence that emboldened the Bangladeshis to fight for freedom because the White House was observing with alarm the spread of Soviet-sponsored communist ideologies across South Asia during those years which seemed to be an ominous development threatening the supremacy of the US authorities.

The Blood Telegram is a highly informative and evidential book for all those readers who are interested to explore the principal doctrines that construct the foundation of American foreign policies. Moreover, this book contains a great deal of facts and figures that interpret some enigmatic issues about international relations, global politics and the Cold War era. Wars are still going on in several parts of the world where human rights are being trampled and violated incessantly. Howard Zinn, an American scholar and a former professor of Boston University once said, "There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people." The Blood Telegram is an appeal to the powerful states of the world to guard humanism and to combat injustice at all possible costs.

Inhumanity anywhere is a threat to humanity everywhere. War is the greatest ever threat to humanity on earth. War causes destruction, misery, innumerable deaths, it renders people homeless. If we think about humanity as a body, then war is similar to suicide or an act of self-amputation. A line may be quoted from Winston Churchill, "War is mainly a catalogue of blunders." War is caused by just one or two diplomatic errors but thousands of people have to put their lives at stake to get the errors corrected. Wise rulers prove their supremacy not by fighting wars, rather by making peace prevail without bloodshed.

The title of the book deserves some evaluation. The telegram sent by Archer Blood entreated the United States to come up with strong measures on an emergency basis to stop the killings of common men, women and children of East Pakistan by the Pakistani military forces. It was a telegram that wanted the dreadful bloodshed in East Pakistan to come to an end. At the same time, the word "blood" stands out as a monumental price that millions of Bangladeshi people paid by laying down their lives for the independence of the country.

We remain ever thankful to Archer Blood for raising his humanitarian voice to support the Bangladeshi people during the Liberation War of 1971. At the same time, we gratefully acknowledge the scholarly and philanthropic efforts by Professor Gary J Bass for illustrating the atrocities the people of Bangladesh faced while the war was going on.

The writer is a columnist for The Asian Age

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