The Panchan Lama had decided to break all historic precedent by appointing a Foreign Devil to the Upper (smaller) House of the Tibetan National Assembly.
The Incarnation, it seemed, had ordered his cabinet ministers to seek a foreigner to serve as technical adviser. Such a foreigner, the man-god specified, must know flying and airplanes, he must be an American, and he must know something of Tibet, if possible.
Why an American? Because His Serenity was mindful of the Tibetan proverb, epitome of Asia’s bitter experience: wherever a white man goes, an army follows. The Panchan Lama felt that this would not be true of an American.
So… who was Gordon B. Enders?
The American ‘Kim’
According to his autobiography Foreign Devil1, he was the son of a Presbyterian missionary, Allen Enders, who had moved from Pennsylvania to Hindustan.
Born and raised in India, Enders makes a big deal of his being “an American Kim”, and it is hard to decide how much of his life history is indeed just made up to fit the Kiplingesque role in which Enders liked to cast himself.
An aviation consultant to Chiang Kai Shek in the 1920s and early 1930s2, Enders is more interested in promoting his own personal mistique than in describing the workings of Western commercial presence in China. In the book, we are treated with his explorations, his adventures as a kid, his spiritual initiations, and finally his coming to Tibet, and the discovery of the Tibetan gold hoards…
Going down the staircase again, I whispered to Chanti, “Where did he get the gold dust?”
Chanti laughed and turned to Kahna. “Tell Gordon Sahib where Fanni gets his gold.”
Kahna patted his girdle where the precious dust lay in a heavy cotton bag. “If you went down these steps as far as you could go, you would see bags and sacks and baskets full of gold dust. They wash it out of the stones and the river sands.” He burst into a great guffaw. “I am no such slave. I come along with my noise-making machines—and the gold which other men gather is placed in my hands.”
Later, Gordon Enders becomes a trusted aide to the exiled Panchen Lama, and he is charged with the modernization of Tibet.
Turning gold into hi-tech gear and facilities.
And to learn more about this, we need to turn our attention to Modern Mechanix, a tech magazine that in November 1936 ran an article about the airlift of the Tibetan gold arranged by Enders3.
The high altitudes, blizzards, and winds prevailing during most of the year will prevent Enders from flying in all but three summer months. He plans to fly out about $3,000,000 worth of gold dust during the first season of operations. At the rate of even $3,000,000 per flying season, Enders will have his hands full for some years to come.
And then… nothing.
The Panchen Lama died in November 1937, while the political situation in China escalated towards the hostilities of the Battle of Shanghai.
Gordon B. Enders resurfaced in a role that was congenial and in tune with his Kim mythology – as a spymaster in the Chinese-Tibetan sector, in the guise of American Military Attache in Kabul.
Not that his work was much appreciated. According to a memo sent to OSS head Colonel Donovan…
Major Gordon Enders, the Military Attache at Kabul and the sole U.S. intelligence representative, is a bag of wind. He is well known in China for that. He thinks or tries to make one think, that he has everything in control; everyone eating from his hand. As a matter of fact, I think everyone from the British to the Japs are fooling him.
So, what was the truth?
Was Enders a self-deluded fool, a cunning self-promoting adventurer, a scam artist, or was he really in to some great plan that could have changed the face of Asia, and that never came to fruition?
The sources are so limited and so biased that it is impossible to come to a definitive conclusion.
One question remains – whatever happened of all the gold in Tibet?