Hung controversy draws focus from military's real importance
The China Post news staffThe Taiwanese military is in a period of soul searching (and some suggest internal conflict) amid the controversial death of Army Corporal Hung Chung-chiu, which drew 200,000 protesters to the streets last week and brought down a defense minister. The resignation of the replacement, Andrew Yang, an academic appointed to bring a fresh face and reformative force to the Defense Ministry at a time of crisis, only six days after taking office due to plagiarism accusations, is yet another blow.
August 13, 2013, 12:05 am TWN
The death of the corporal resonated in the nation not because it is unique but rather because it symbolizes the widely viewed systematic sleaziness of the armed forces. The scandal grew into a national crisis in no small part thanks to the numerous tipoffs and exposes by current and former servicemen. Everyone seems to have a tale about their “dark days in the army” to tell.
The controversy, however, underlines a more profound danger for Taiwan. Military forces around the world have not been known for their respect of human rights, nor their transparency. As organizations dedicated to the art and science of efficient eradication (or at least the incapacitation) of human beings designated as enemy, the armed forces can find themselves psychologically far-removed from the norms and rules of the civilian society they defend. Brigadier General John B. Murphy, a commanding general of Division Artillery of the U.S.' 100th Infantry Division during World War II, dismissed the idea of a democratic army as absurd, saying such a force would be an “undisciplined mob.” Many U.S. servicemen and women are probably still reminded of a similar philosophy by their boot camp sergeants: “You are here to defend democracy, not to practice it.”
The significance of Taiwan's spectacular response to Hung's death is therefore twofold. First, it highlights the Taiwanese people's extraordinarily high regard for human rights. The 200,000 protesters amassing outside the Presidential Office for Hung showed the world the proudly humanistic spirit of Taiwan.
It, however, also reveals the predicament of the nation's armed forces, which seem to have lost their purpose.
The Taiwanese military should have built a reputation as one of the forces in the world most needed by its nation. It defends Taiwan from the world's most populous and armed (in terms of military size) nation, one which is also a major nuclear power. The mainland's People Liberation Army (PLA) has been advancing rapidly in recent years. Decades of military standoff and Taiwan's recent detente with the mainland seem to have stripped the military of its purpose and a substantial amount of respect.