The accidental launching of a Hsiung Feng III missile exposed the problems that exist in Taiwan’s military. Although an investigation into the incident has not been completed, its outcome would basically adhere to one of two possibilities: Either military discipline is extremely lax, or the incident was the result of political factors, such as officers’ ideology or communist infiltration.
Regardless, the “one China” principle has led to low morale and a lack of aim in the military, and because of the remaining vestiges of the ties between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the military, the military no longer knows who it is fighting for.
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) is not unaware of the situation, which is the reason she visited several military bases — including the Republic of China (ROC) Military Academy that is responsible for training new officers — as well as defense companies and research institutes before her trip to Latin America last month. She did so to reawaken the military spirit and boost morale.
However, as the Chinese saying goes: “Three feet of ice do not form in one cold day,” and before Tsai had time to initiate reform, the navy on July 1 accidentally fired a missile. Fortunately, the missile fell into Taiwanese waters and did not cause severe damage to national security. However, without reform, an incident like that can one day result in disaster.
Although Taiwan has succeeded in nationalizing its troops, the military is still unstable, as there remain vestiges of the ties between the KMT and the military, something that is easily seen in military songs and emblems.
Furthermore, former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) government has been tolerant of retired officers expressing support for China, which resulted in a muddled national identity and the loss of universal values, and made soldiers question who and what they are fighting for.
As former National Security Bureau official Lee Tien-tuo (李天鐸) asked: “How could there be a military spirit without national identity?”
Taiwanese troops must understand clearly that they are fighting for the nation and its people.
The situation in the South and East China seas is tense. As China intimidates Taiwan, Taiwanese troops must have an understanding of what it means to protect their homes and safeguard their nation, and they must be ready to make sacrifices. More importantly, military leaders should not pursue personal gain or neglect defense preparations and training, or their troops might lose their combat capabilities.
Earlier this month, 36 freshmen left the ROC Naval Academy due to concerns about the military’s poor image. It was the wrong thing to do.
If the military’s image is bad, the younger generation should actively change and rebuild it. Young people who participated in the Sunflower movement and protested against curriculum guideline changes should enroll in military academies. They should actively support the voluntary military service system and participate in the reconstruction of the military so they can save their nation. That would be a lifetime honor.
The missile incident also inadvertently exposed Taiwan’s advanced defense technology. Without Ma’s obstruction, Taiwan could have developed missiles with a range of 2,000km. With greater deterrence capabilities, Taiwan could be better protected.
However, without well-trained troops, Taiwanese could still come to harm, regardless of how advanced the military’s weapons are.
Taiwan’s military is aging. Apart from the problem of old thinking, its training runs into one problem after another, perhaps due to the long absence of practical combat experience. Perhaps it should invite a US military assistance advisory group to help rectify the situation and train Taiwanese troops, so that they can keep up with the times and improve their combat capabilities, a method that was adopted during World War II.
However, at the time, US general Joseph Stilwell — the then-commander of the China-Burma-India Theater and unfamiliar with the KMT — repeatedly clashed with Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), but if the military invites an advisory group now, it would likely help deter a communist invasion.
Paul Lin is a political commentator.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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