The nation’s armed forces, which count hundreds of thousands of people in their ranks, represent a sizable constituency in Taiwan, and as such should be called upon to help the nation in whatever way they can in times of need.
Already, many of the men and women who serve in the military put their lives at risk, whether it is during training, in the wake of natural catastrophes, or — and let us hope it never comes to this — in time of war. Far too often their efforts and dedication are taken for granted or made the object of ridicule.
Facing such odds, soldiers’ morale understandably suffers. What’s more, bad press makes the goal of creating a fully professional military even less attainable, as young people would rather turn to the private sector than join an organization that is constantly under fire. A country need not be martial or fascistic to accord its armed forces the respect they deserve. Just like politicians, business owners, nurses, academics or farmers, soldiers and military officers are an integral part of society.
Which brings us to the habit of using soldiers whenever large quantities of agricultural products need to be disposed of or their prices stabilized. In recent years, hundreds of tonnes of oranges and bananas have been purchased by the military and “force-fed” to soldiers amid efforts to help farmers. More recently, it was proposed that the Ministry of National Defense purchase large quantities of pork to serve a similar objective.
This is grotesque. While there is no doubt that soldiers want to contribute to society like everybody else — and they do, every single day they put on the uniform — it is difficult to imagine that proposals by politicians to bloat soldiers’ stomachs with whatever produce needs stock reduction or price adjustment makes them feel that their sacrifices are fully acknowledged. Quite the opposite, it probably makes them feel used, and we can be assured that this is of no benefit to morale.
As has been the case almost every year, the nation faces surfeits of products or price destabilization. Quick fixes, such as those used for oranges, bananas and now perhaps pork, will always fail to address a problem that is structural rather than seasonal. Rather than proposing to dump unwanted produce on soldiers, legislators and government officials should put their minds together to identify the underlying causes of what are recurring problems and, once those have been understood, come up with long-term solutions to fix them. Doing so would not only be of great service to the nation as a whole, but would also avoid alienating a sector that is already doing more than its share of heavy lifting.
Relations between the military and civilians, especially in democracies, are inherently tense. However, that relationship can be enhanced when proper respect is paid to both sides. Civilians should show respect for the men and women who put their lives on the line to ensure they can continue their way of life; it is just as essential that soldiers and officers regard society with equal justness, while remembering that the powers given them — force of arms — is a great responsibility and must only be wielded at the service of society.
Should that respect be lost, we cannot expect soldiers to fight and lay down their lives for a society that treats them like second-rate citizens. Using them as garbage dumps does just that.
Taiwan is not an orphan nation in need of someone to adopt it. Taiwan is not a foundling nation wandering the streets of the world looking for a home. It is not even a poor waif of a nation unable to take care of itself in that same big, bad world. Finally, Taiwan is certainly not terra nullius, a nationless land that is open and waiting to be explored and possessed by those who dare. Taiwan is a mid-sized, democratic nation that by GDP, profitability, location and even microchip production punches far above its weight in its region and in international commerce.
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