There is a worrisome trend toward militarization I observe in Taiwanese society, that I do not think has been commented on.
The trend is broadly supported not only by the Taiwanese public and politicians, but by virtually every foreign commentator, politician and expert on Taiwan affairs. I see a vast militarization taking place in Taiwan, with all the negatives that can come with that.
This can be seen not least in this newspaper, the Taipei Times, in which military acquisitions, preparedness and the acute danger of an imminent full-scale attack by China are splashed across page one and beyond in virtually every single issue.
Militarization is the process by which a society organizes itself wholly for military conflict and violence, not least in terms of policies of required military service (usually for men, but women, too), massive arms purchases, arms races, the consolidation of power by politicians, military industrial complexes, the infusion of military language and imagery into journalism and other forms of communication and a top-down, masculine, patriarchal mindset.
It is a belief that a country must maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to use it to defend or promote national interests, although what those “interests” are may be subject to a variety of interpretations. Militarization can infuse itself into all levels of society, and become a dominant outlook that excludes more humane, benevolent and even civilized attitudes.
The establishment of a dominant military, aggressive, war-oriented purview of all life and existence is far from the best way to conduct an entire, modern society, and excludes the better values noted here.
I see something like this in Taiwan, and hope for something better.
Many holding the opposite, militarized view, are likely to proclaim that I am “anti-Taiwan,” “pro-China” and simply ignoring the pressing reality of the potential warfare that could occur in the Taiwan Strait.
I of course acknowledge that China’s recent rhetoric and military maneuvers around Taiwan have been worrisome in their own right, although in some ways you might say these are not dramatically different from what many other countries do during military procedures.
China’s military excursions, live-fire drills and crossing of the prescribed demarcations that are meant to keep nations at bay are all worrisome to the extreme, and are indications of a militarized nation exhibiting improper adventurism.
They are not to be accepted, and Taiwan must guard against them. This might undermine my claim here, and it might be that militarization and war readiness is simply a reality in modern world affairs.
At the same time, the very negative side of militarization and militarism must be considered. As one online commentator put it, this trend is about the conversion of civilians into soldiers, a new normal, something that has been seen in Taiwan often in the past few years (talk of a “civilian defense force” is common).
These processes can influence societies and cultures overtly and subtly, and are often cloaked in miscommunication, faked data and a belief in the “biological certainty” of war.
Militarization often promotes philosophies of innate violence and the legitimacy and inevitability of military conflict, in an attempt to acclimatize people to militarism and war.
Militarization programs are systems and visions of the state’s “moral universe” — what citizens think, believe and feel — and they shape visions, to turn to the online source Science Direct, “which shape ideas about soldiering, killing, allegiance, human rights, conceptions of justice and law ... political economy, and form the ‘justification’ for the use of military violence.”
I cannot say to what extent Taiwan might demilitarize, much less announce its neutrality, in coming years, but the current, common militarized ideals should not be glibly accepted and promoted in this truly liberal, contemporary, autonomous society.
David Pendery is an associate professor at the National Taipei University of Business.
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