Evolution of war has made it far less obvious

By Tse Suet-ho 謝雪浩  / 

Sat, Nov 24, 2018 - Page 8

Nov. 11 was not only the commercially hyped Singles’ Day, it was also Remembrance Day, which this year marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

Thirty million people died during World War I. However, very few people pay any attention to Remembrance Day, because it is is too distant from Taiwan. After all, what is wrong with shopping on Singles’ Day? Why should people be concerned with something that has nothing do with them?

It is a bit like people ignoring the elections, because they do not see why they should be concerned with the political views and character of the Taipei mayoral candidates.

However, it is just as people say: “If you do not pay attention to politics, politics will pay attention to you,” and “if you do not care about politics, you will be ruled by a bad person.”

A few years ago The Dictator’s Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy by William Dobson was very popular. Yes, dictators also evolve, and they learn how to make the public like them more. In the same way, war adapts and learns to leave no trace.

Wars of invasion that leave traces are tangible: Weapons, guns and missiles are frightening. However, war has evolved and people often do not notice compradors, divisive tactics, fake news and fifth columns.

In the run-up to Taiwan’s first direct presidential election in 1996, China held two big missile-firing exercises and armed invasion drills in 1995 and 1996. As two US aircraft carrier battle groups moved closer to the Taiwan Strait, there was a feeling that war could break out at any moment, and there were even rumors that the US and Japan were preparing evacuations.

Make no mistake, war evolves. In the run-up to the local elections this year, there have been no missile-firing exercises and no armed invasion drills. China has remained quite calm. It is spending money on compradors, divisive tactics, fake news and fifth columns. Aiming for the enemy’s heart is more effective and more “civilized.”

Taiwanese do not pay much attention to World War I. Walking around the city, there were no people wearing a remembrance poppy in commemoration of those who died in the war.

During World War I, Canadian lieutenant colonel John McCrae saw his friend, 22-year-old lieutenant Alexis Helmer, die. The next day, on May 3, 1915, he wrote the poem In Flanders Fields. In the poem, he mentions the poppies that grew in great numbers in the field several times.

According to the Chinese version of Wikipedia: “Flanders was the fiercest of the World War I battlefields, and the poppy grew in great numbers there. It was because of this poem that the poppy became the memorial flower that symbolizes Remembrance Day.”

To digress, the poppy has existed in China since antiquity. In 202 BC, when Chu warlord Xiang Yu (項羽) was surrounded by Han forces, his concubine Yu Ji (虞姬), also known Yu Meiren (虞美人), committed suicide. According to legend, the ground where she died was soon filled with blood-red flowers. They were given the name Yu Meiren flower (虞美人花) and that is how the common poppy got its Chinese name.

Tse Suet-ho is a poet.

Translated by Perry Svensson