If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then the government has finally found an infrastructure project that it can complete on schedule.
When a letter written by an anonymous "group" of military personnel was sent to the Ministry of National Defense (MND) complaining about pan-blue opposition to the arms procurement package, the military responded -- at first -- by saying it was neutral and would not comment on political matters.
This was the correct response. However, later comments made by the MND and the remarks of President Chen Shui-bian (
"I clearly understand the frustration of lower-level soldiers, who cannot agree with the irrational opposition from legislators who have boycotted the arms procurement package 43 times," Chen said.
He is wrong to encourage this partisan display.
Since coming to power in 2000, one of Chen's worthiest accomplishments has been progress in de-politicizing and "nationalizing" the military. Unfortunately for Chen, this is not something that lends itself well to rhetoric. It is difficult to explain to people how a non-partisan military affects their daily lives.
But one does not have to be a political science expert to believe that these efforts have already paid dividends. A politicized military would not have kept its mouth shut during the difficult period after last year's disputed presidential election. But the MND behaved admirably at a time when fanatics on both sides of the political spectrum were trying to drag it into the fray. The military did what it was supposed to do: Stay neutral and let democratic processes take their course.
But as difficulties beset the Chen administration, the pan-green camp stands in real danger of adopting the tactics used by its erstwhile enemies.
As Taiwan struggles to shape a workable democratic system out of the remains of a one-party state, its leaders are often tempted to use the mechanisms of authoritarianism -- vestiges of which remain at the government's disposal.
The problem is that this would be shortsighted and self-defeating. Although the pan-blue camp has gone to unreasonable lengths to block the arms procurement package, that is no reason for the pan-greens to abandon reason as they try to provide for Taiwan's defense.
Military personnel, of course, are also private citizens and are entitled to their political views. But they are under no circumstances entitled to "stand behind their uniforms" when presenting their politics.
The military personnel that sent the letter should be punished, for they have forsaken one of their most sacred duties. They have forgotten that they have sworn an oath not to a political party or a segment of society, but to their country. This country is a democracy; within it are people who embrace a host of differing views. As a member of the armed services, one has an obligation to defend all of them.
On the MND Web site's home page is a statement of the military's policy: "The Ministry of National Defense maintains an unwavering neutral stance in keeping with the policy of nationalization of the military."
But the same statement then continues: "At this time, the MND would like to reiterate its position on the national defense procurement legislation ..."
It is hypocritical to declare one's neutrality while simultaneously outlining a policy stance.
Certainly the government has made a strong case as to why the arms package is necessary. But how can any weapons system be worth the price of undermining civilian control of an impartial military?
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