Sat, Aug 04, 2018 - Page 8

Shoring up sovereignty

It must have been hours after the last all-clear siren had sounded before the young boy was escorted home to witness the carnage American bombers had wrought in his corner of the world: The two-story landmark theater building across the street was reduced to smoldering black skeletons; the next-door neighbor’s house disappeared; there was an unexploded ordinance embedded in the dirt floor at the kitchen of his family house.

He overheard grown-ups’ grim recount of death. The year was 1944. The place was a small agricultural town in the middle-western part of Taiwan, where trains running on what at the time was the singular major railroad routinely made stops and the Japanese Imperial Army maintained an airfield about 16km away.

Fast forward to 2012, he held a lengthy conversation in New York with an 89-year-old World War II veteran navigator who was attached to a bomber wing of the US Far-Eastern Expedition Force and who admitted taking part in several bombing missions of the sort.

When questioned of any regret in his wartime role that inflicted Taiwanese civilian deaths, the octogenarian’s response was: “Oops.”

However, this anecdote could serve as a microcosm of the history of Taiwanese: They could be placed in harm’s way at any moment through no fault of their own and with little prospect for redress — a phenomenon emblematic of a people of no nation.

The last point was quickly evinced by Washington’s dispatch of Chiang Kai-shek‘s (蔣介石) rag-tag army to take over the occupation of Taiwan at the end of the war. Within two years, Taiwanese suffered the calamity of the 228 Incident, in which thousands perished at the hands of Chiang’s Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). The brutality was expanded by the imposition of martial law, which lasted 38 years.

It was not until 2016 that Taiwanese disposed of the KMT and took over the reins of the central government. Coming on the heels of this milestone of Taiwan’s sovereignty struggle, Beijing greatly escalated its threats and tightened its screws, lest Taiwanese assimilate their gain.

Throughout, Washington maintains its support of Taiwan’s security, albeit at times more steadfastly than others. Lately, it has been trending upward, seemingly in lockstep with Washington’s solidifying belief that Beijing had been waging a unilateral cold war against the US for years.

A cold war between the two nations, if materialized, promises to bring about a profound impact in the Pacific region. Tossed around freely has been the possibility of regional non-nuclear military confrontations. So far, both sides are posturing in the contested areas as if delineating an arena of battle.

With clashes brewing between the two titans and with a virtual certainty that they would involve Taiwan, it is never too early for Taiwan to lay the groundwork to ensure its survival. It would be a monumental dereliction of duty to do otherwise.

What is inevitable is a sea change in mindset: The assertion that “the status of Taiwan is to be decided by future generations” might fast become mere wishful thinking, because the future could soon be upon us.

In its stead, Taiwanese should resolve to make a formal sovereign democracy the only goal they are striving for. They should also make clear to both foes and friends alike that, toward said end, they are determined to endure all necessary hardship.

Only through an unequivocal commitment can they reassure loyalty and dissuade hostility at the same time. Any half-baked — especially in the face of a war — belief such as “maintaining the status quo” will only elicit the opposite reaction and abate the chance that Taiwan’s sovereignty could emerge with a firmer footing.

Huang Jei-hsuan

Los Angeles, California