Soldiers are trained to understand a basic fact: that no victory in any war falls from the sky; it has to be earned inch by inch and engagement by engagement. The nation’s military, which has been embroiled in a series of scandals and wondering why no one seems to like it, needs to be reminded of the fact.
Like any other phenomenon, the sentiment was a result of the accumulation of a series of historical events. Given the country’s unique modern history, the Republic of China (ROC) armed forces would have to understand why it has been difficult for the people of Taiwan to have great respect for the nation’s guardians.
Almost every male ROC citizen was required to serve between one and two years, some of them three, in the conscription military system, which was adopted right after the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime retreated to Taiwan following its loss in the Chinese Civil War in 1949, so the troops, who were mostly in their late teens or early 20s and led by Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), could “retake the Chinese mainland.”
Thousands of them died in the military — and many more were injured — like army corporal Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘), whose death on July 4 sparked public outrage and a demonstration by tens of thousands of people on Saturday to protest against the military and the government’s handling of his death.
Historically, the ROC military, as well as the military judiciary under the supervision of the Ministry of National Defense, played a role in the KMT government’s oppression in the lives and freedom of expression of the Taiwanese, with the most notable example of its role being the 228 Incident. For some, the scars, the memory and the hatred that stemmed from the brutal experience remains vivid to this day.
After democratization in Taiwan, the military has had trouble convincing the public that it is loyal to the nation, not the KMT, military factions or the political ideology of unification.
One does not need to look far. Comments made by several retired generals on trips to China, such as that both the ROC military and the People’s Liberation Army are “Chinese military,” were enough to confuse the Taiwanese, in particular when they recalled being taught at school to oppose communism.
Former premier Hau Pei-tsun (郝柏村), also a retired general, notoriously said that Taiwan would not have been democratized if it had not undergone Martial Law rule.
The mistrust of the military could not but have intensified after the defense ministry tried to sweep the Hung case under the carpet, the military prosecutors’ apparent lack of effort in investigating alleged military abuse cases and the infighting between factions that eventually led to the resignation of two defense ministers in one week.
That was why it is unfathomable that military personnel have gone on the offense, claiming that some people are trying to leverage Hung’s death to undermine the military, instead of reviewing what went wrong in how Hung had been treated.
Trying to blame the public, rather than doing whatever it takes to identify and punish the “bad apples” who have damaged the military’s integrity and pride of good soldiers, is not the way to go.
However, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Premier Jiang Yi-huah’s (江宜樺) appeals for the public to respect the military do not mean much, because respect has to be earned, not granted.
If the military and Ma, as commander-in-chief, truly believe the armed forces are facing “the most serious crisis in the ROC’s military history,” they should also realize that it will take years of hard work and reform for the military to rebuild its tarnished image and become an elite force Taiwanese can count on.
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