Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Buddhist Crusades

Tricycle's online magazine is carrying a TLS-grade review of the new James Palmer book, Bloody White Baron. I think if you read the review, you don't need to read the book.

This is the story of Baron Roman Nikolai Maximilian von Ungern-Sternberg (d. 1921), who were it not for the sub-text, is just another in a long, long line of Kiplingesque figures who ran roughshod to makes themselves kings in Asia. Mayraena, in the central Vietnamese highlands jumps to mind as another example. Maybe you could say the line begins with Alexander, and I am not sure it has ended yet.

What distinguishes the Baron, is that he raised his army and conquered Mongolia in the name of Buddhism! The Buddhist Crusades? Not so far fetched. As the book explains, this was in fact done with the knowledge and even support of the 13th Dalai Lama.

The quality of the review notwithstanding, I suppose this book is still worth a read -- not so much for the Baron's story, but for the insight it lends us on what was thinkable in Central Asian politics at the eve of Tibet's destruction by communism.

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