Fri, Aug 03, 2018 - Page 8 News List

All-volunteer military can succeed

By David Pendery 潘大為

Taiwan has made plans for an all-volunteer military, but hopes for the plans appear to be hanging in the balance. To be sure, there is something good to be said about a voluntary military: It is an approach that has worked incredibly well in the US.

The US military has the best-trained armed forces in the world and probably those with the best morale. The idea of choosing to join the military services of one’s own volition seems to introduce a truly devoted and resourceful approach to service.

However, this has not come easily for Taiwan, and a recent feature article by Philip Tsien in the Taipei Times (“Begrudging service,” July 19, page 13) said that students entering required military service are “apathetic toward the military and averse to service.”

Even worse, it said: “Young Taiwanese question the idea of national defense as duty.”

This introduces a troublesome reality into Taiwanese life and culture.

According to Tsien, four months of military service are mandatory for young men in Taiwan. This in itself introduces difficulties, as four months is hardly enough time to genuinely incorporate oneself into military life and, worse than that, it is nowhere near enough to develop useful skills that could be used later in life.

“What are we supposed to learn in four months?” Lin Chi-yi (林其億) asks in the piece, while a soldier surnamed Chen (陳) asks: “Why should we give these young men the newest technology or in-depth training when they will leave so soon?”

These statements are certainly true.

One of the excellent things about US military service extending over a few years or more is opportunities for personal growth and skills development.

Talk to almost any soldier who has functioned in the US military and they will tell you that they received just this during their service: expertise in electronic hardware and software, proficiency in communication and other “soft skills,” such as self-confidence, teamwork ability, working in disciplined environments, strategic planning skills and skills with many orders of military equipment.

As soldiers are promoted, which is inevitable over several years of service as opposed to a simple four-month system, they acquire leadership proficiency and further aptitude.

Furthermore, the Taipei Times article looked at “antiquated equipment and unrealistic training,” in the Taiwanese military.

“My time in the army was a complete waste,” said one veteran, remembering the rudimentary, banal tasks — sweeping floors, washing toilets — that he was asked to perform.

Connected to this, the “impractical training and lack of resources” encountered while serving were criticized.

Needless to say, such failings and disdain for national defense must be addressed and they will certainly pose a challenge to recruiting volunteers who possess duty-boundedness and hoped-for professionalism.

In spite of this, we must not view military service as a “fruitless endeavor.” As we have seen, there is much good that can come from military life.

Soldiers, whether volunteer or mandatory, of course give up their freedom to serve. This might be a bit bothersome, but to slide into a belief that for that reason it is all a waste of time and the benefits to society are not worth such a cost is another troubling datum.

Not that different from any other commitment within society — whether more “free” or not — a military commitment is a pledge, a responsibility, a guarantor of freedom in this great liberal democracy. That alone should be enough to attract volunteers and to commit those who enter the military under mandatory conscription.

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