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A riveting history—the first full account—of the involvement of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger in the 1971 atrocities in Bangladesh that led to war between India and Pakistan, shaped the fate of Asia, and left in their wake a host of major strategic consequences for the world today.
Giving an astonishing inside view of how the White House really works in a crisis, The Blood Telegram is an unprecedented chronicle of a pivotal but little-known chapter of the Cold War. Gary J. Bass shows how Nixon and Kissinger supported Pakistan’s military dictatorship as it brutally quashed the results of a historic free election. The Pakistani army launched a crackdown on what was then East Pakistan (today an independent Bangladesh), killing hundreds of thousands of people and sending ten million refugees fleeing to India—one of the worst humanitarian crises of the twentieth century.
Nixon and Kissinger, unswayed by detailed warnings of genocide from American diplomats witnessing the bloodshed, stood behind Pakistan’s military rulers. Driven not just by Cold War realpolitik but by a bitter personal dislike of India and its leader Indira Gandhi, Nixon and Kissinger actively helped the Pakistani government even as it careened toward a devastating war against India. They silenced American officials who dared to speak up, secretly encouraged China to mass troops on the Indian border, and illegally supplied weapons to the Pakistani military—an overlooked scandal that presages Watergate.
Drawing on previously unheard White House tapes, recently declassified documents, and extensive interviews with White House staffers and Indian military leaders, The Blood Telegram tells this thrilling, shadowy story in full. Bringing us into the drama of a crisis exploding into war, Bass follows reporters, consuls, and guerrilla warriors on the ground—from the desperate refugee camps to the most secretive conversations in the Oval Office.
Bass makes clear how the United States’ embrace of the military dictatorship in Islamabad would mold Asia’s destiny for decades, and confronts for the first time Nixon and Kissinger’s hidden role in a tragedy that was far bloodier than Bosnia. This is a revelatory, compulsively readable work of politics, personalities, military confrontation, and Cold War brinksmanship.
“This is a dark and amazing tale, an essential reminder. . . . Devastating. . . . Nixon and Kissinger spent the decades after leaving office burnishing their images as great statesmen. This book goes a long way in showing just how undeserved those reputations are.” —Dexter Filkins, The New York Times Book Review
“Absorbing . . . Bass draws up a severe indictment of Nixon and Kissinger.” —Pankaj Mishra, The New Yorker
“[A] gripping and well-researched book. . . . Sheds fresh light on a shameful moment in American foreign policy. . . . Admirable clarity.” —The Economist
"[T]remendously lucid . . . Bass holds these leaders to a much-needed reckoning. A deeply incisive lesson for today’s leaders and electorate." —Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“With urgent, cinematic immediacy, Gary Bass reconstructs a critical—and, to this day, profoundly consequential—chapter of Cold War history defined by appalling American complicity in genocidal atrocity, and terrifyingly high-stakes superpower brinksmanship. It is a story of immense scope, vividly populated by figures of enduring fascination, and ripe with implications for the ongoing struggle to strike a more honorable balance between wartime realpolitik and our ideals of common humanity.” —Philip Gourevitch, author of We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families
“Gary Bass has excavated a great tragedy, one that’s been forgotten by Americans but is seared into the memory of South Asians. His talents as a scholar, writer, and foreign-policy analyst are on full display in this brilliant work of narrative history. Nixon and Kissinger come damningly alive on the pages of a book that shows, like nothing else I've read, the folly that goes by the name of ‘realism.’” —George Packer, author of The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America
“Gary Bass has done it again, uncovering a dark chapter in the historical record and bringing it vividly to light, forcing us to confront who we were then and who we are now. The Blood Telegram is a richly textured story with many fascinating layers, from the moral bankruptcy of U.S. leaders in the face of genocide to the multi-faceted politics of South Asia and the lasting geopolitical legacy of these events. It’s also simply hard to put down!” —Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of A New World Order
“Gary Bass is unique: an investigative historian who explores the past in a masterly way that combines the best of journalism and scholarship. His latest book reads like an urgent dispatch from the frontline of genocide, a lucid and poignant description of a moral collapse in American foreign policy. Bass has painstakingly written a vital history—and a story, in the best sense of the word—that we must come to grips with.”
—Peter Maass, author of Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War