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The 1952 Mongol "invasion" of New Jersey
November 8, 2013 2:06 AM   Subscribe

"By figuratively sticking her foot in America’s front door and keeping it wedged there long enough for an anonymous band of war-tossed Mongols to navigate around daunting racial barriers, Countess Tolstoy not only became the architect of the Mongol “invasion” of New Jersey and the country’s first ethnic Mongolian community, she also served as the midwife for the birth of Tibetan Buddhism in America." -- tells the amazing story of how a small band of Kalmyk Mongols (all WWII Wehrmacht veterans) established Tibetan Buddhism in America, as told by David Urubshurow, who was one of them. Featuring Leo Tolstoy's youngest daughter, Cold War CIA and Ivy League intrigues, how the Dalai Lama came to America and why this was only possible under president Carter and more.
posted by MartinWisse (15 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
There was a sizable contingent of Kalmyk musicians and dancers at this year's Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC, including an amazing young guy who bought himself a ukulele while there and went from zero to uke virtuoso in two days. Seems they also played some gigs in New Jersey.
posted by zaelic at 3:48 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Great story.

At the time, 50,000 People’s Liberation Army soldiers and dozens of spotter planes scoured the Tibetan side of the Himalayas trying to thwart his escape—or, as they suggested, to rescue him from kidnappers.

That must have been some panic attack. The picture of Geshe Ngawang Wangyal sitting in posture in a 1950's business suit could be an Apple think different ad image.
posted by bukvich at 4:06 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Luckily, America prudently overlooked their Nazi sympathies in light of their strident anti-communism, which was a huge asset during the height of the cold war.
posted by Renoroc at 4:21 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is like some crazy almost unbelievable novel. The CIA, the Cold war, the Nazis, Tolstoy, the Soviets, Kissinger, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Chinese communists and the Kuomintang.

One should not put too much shine on the Carter apple. Recall that it was Carter to broke diplomatic relations with Taiwan and abrogated the mutual defense treaty as conditions demanded by the PRC for establishing full diplomatic relations with the Chinese communists. He signed the Taiwan Relations Act in 1979 and stopped his State Department from denying the Dali Lama a visa to visit America only as his own face saving measures. (Exacerbating relations with both the PRC and Taiwan who have always considered Tibet an inviolate part of China.)

Tibet, a bit like Poland, has really suffered from the misfortune of its geography and the politics of the 20th century. But whereas Poland has had powerful friends as well as powerful enemies, the Tibetans seem to have only powerful enemies and self-indulgent friends.
posted by three blind mice at 4:25 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm still trying to wrap my brain around the idea of Mongols in the Wehrmacht.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:58 AM on November 8, 2013


I'm still trying to wrap my brain around the idea of Mongols in the Wehrmacht.

There were of course quite a few Soviet minorty peoples who felt the nazis were better than Stalin (most famously the Chechen), but there was also a lot of nazi mysticism fascinated with Tibetan buddhism and remember also that that part of the world is where the Aryan peoples supposedly came from.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:22 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Halloween Jack: "I'm still trying to wrap my brain around the idea of Mongols in the Wehrmacht."

There's a Mongolian ultra-nationalist movement that has a big thing about swastikas.

The Atlantic did a photo story on them a few months back.
posted by Happy Dave at 5:23 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


so, the history of Tibetan Buddhism in the US is tied up with Nazis and the CIA? Paging Lyndon LaRouche.
posted by ennui.bz at 5:31 AM on November 8, 2013


This is why I metafilter.
posted by glaucon at 6:46 AM on November 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


So how did the Dali Lama's brother end up teaching at my wonderful alma mater, Indiana University?

Thubten Norbu wiki

It did mean that we had the second ever Tibetan restaurant in the US, in our little idyllic midwestern county town. A bit of a curveball from that place, among many.
posted by C.A.S. at 6:57 AM on November 8, 2013


So American Buddhism would take a radically different form (if it existed much at all) if the Nazis hadn't adopted a southern strategy in 1942?

History is weird, you guys.
posted by Earthtopus at 9:48 AM on November 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


What a wonderful article. Does make me cringe, though, to think that Obama has essentially re-instated the old policy of ensuring His Holiness' persona non grata status here in the U.S. after all this time.
posted by Mooseli at 9:50 AM on November 8, 2013


So how did the Dali Lama's brother end up teaching at my wonderful alma mater, Indiana University?

One of the most unexpected things that happened to me in the two years I was a grad student at IU was driving around Bloomington and coming across a stupa in the middle of a field like some weird alien time portal had deposited it there. (I see from the linked photo that there is now also a Tibetan Cultural Center there, but at the time there was just the stupa alone in a field)
posted by briank at 12:16 PM on November 8, 2013


I'm still trying to wrap my brain around the idea of Mongols in the Wehrmacht.

Koreans too. "It seems that the Koreans had been conscripted into the Japanese Army but after being captured by the Russians at the Battle of Nomonhan in the Russo-Japanese War (part II, the 1940′s one, not the 1904-05 one). They were pressed into service in the Russian Army. Captured by the Germans in a battle near Moscow, the Koreans were then pressed into service in the Wehrmacht. They were then captured by the Americans whilst they were engaged working on the Atlantic Wall. The Americans (mercifully) did not press them into service but rather held them as prisoners of war."
posted by ActingTheGoat at 4:45 PM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is one of my relatives. He also played a part in bringing Tibetan Buddhism to the U.S.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:34 PM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


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