HISTORICAL NOTES: A Lesson in Astigmatism

As dawn broke over the Himalayas one chilly morning in 1962, thousands of crack Chinese troops swarmed south through 14,500-foot-high passes along Thag La Ridge, a windswept rim along part of the disputed border between Tibet and northeastern India. At the same time, more Chinese forces sprang into action 900 miles to the west in another disputed area, the sere wasteland known as Aksai Chin, or Desert of White Stone.

In short order, India's shamefully ill-prepared troops were retreating at full tilt on both border fronts, the world's largest working democracy was...

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