Civic group Citizen 1985 launched a street protest on July 20, demanding that the Ministry of National Defense (MND) reveal the truth about the death of army corporal Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘). According to the organizers, Citizen 1985, 30,000 protesters gathered at the entrance to the ministry all dressed in white T-shirts as requested. The protest was organized online through social media.
This brought to mind the student protests against the national education program in Hong Kong last year. Finally, the Taiwanese have stood up. Of course, some participated in last year’s protests against media monopolization, but the protests were larger this time and included even more young protesters.
Some media outlets called the protest a Taiwanese version of the Jasmine Revolution, a view that I basically agree with. The protest was smaller of course, but if the military does not address its shortcomings and if President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) continues to protect the military, the next round of protests is certain to attract larger numbers.
The telephone number “1985” is the military’s complaint hotline. However, read backward in Chinese, the number “5891” sounds like “I cannot save you” (無法救你). Rumor has it that solders who make complaint calls are put on a blacklist. What a terrifying helpline. Read in order in Chinese, the number could also sound like “Ying-jeou is arrogant and despotic” (英九跋扈). Perhaps Ma is the cause of Taiwan’s current chaos since under his leadership, scandals are beginning to appear even in the military, perhaps the most opaque organization left in Taiwan.
On the morning of the protest, Taiwan Foundation for Democracy and Global Views Monthly had jointly organized the fifth installment of a forum entitled “Witness the Democratic Process of Taiwan” and invited former premier and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) as the speaker.
While the older generation are discussing Taiwan’s democratic development in order to pass on their achievements and move into the future, the democratization of Taiwan has already moved to the next stage. That it was a military scandal that triggered the breakthrough to a new phase is both accidental and unavoidable, since the military is the most closed and conservative group in Taiwan and its commander-in-chief is extremely hypocritical.
If the anti-media monopolization protests were held in the pursuit of universal values, then the demands for the truth about Hung’s death are made in the pursuit not only of universal values, but also for the safety of all young Taiwanese men, who are the brothers, sons or grandsons of Taiwan’s women.
The younger generation often lacks political experience and they need the older generation’s guidance, but cruel facts have forced this politically inexperienced group of Taiwanese civilians to mature.
With their rational, calm, sober, sharp and eloquent performance, and their strong determination, Hung’s uncle and elder sister have been outperforming many Taiwanese politicians. However, one also needs to stay alert, because unscrupulous politicians are trying to benefit from the victim’s family members.
At the candlelight vigil in front of the Legislative Yuan on the day of the street protest, the family members of Tsai Hsueh-liang (蔡學良), who in 2008 also died serving in the military, gave a speech. It was shocking to hear them talk about the past coldness of Taiwanese society. If society had not been that cold and if wrongful deaths in the military’s past had been investigated thoroughly when they occurred, maybe Hung’s death could have been avoided.
Similarly, due to the coldness of their society, Taiwanese are gradually losing their sovereignty and democracy. Nobody seems to be taking these developments seriously. Once the nation really perishes, more than a few people will die.
Ma is a great example of indifference to justice and life. He will sob over the number of people voting in the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairmanship election, as he did at a rally on July 16, and he will shed tears before the portraits of past dictators, but he has no tears left for the destitution of the poor, the victims of natural disasters or soldiers who have died wrongful deaths.
Nevertheless, there is still some hope that change will be effected after Deputy Minister of National Defense Andrew Yang (楊念祖) pledged that the ministry will use the incident for a turning point to change.
The military should replace all incompetent officers, get rid of its outdated ideology and build a new army that will fight for the people of Taiwan. This will determine whether Taiwan flourishes or perishes.
Paul Lin is a political commentator.
Translated by Eddy Chang