What Does the Taiwanese Military Want From Its Soldiers?

What Does the Taiwanese Military Want From Its Soldiers?
國軍示意圖,與文中所涉人事物無關。Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像

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Two pieces of sad news came out of the military recently. In October, a junior soldier fainted from aggressive drills ordered by seniors. The following month, a fresh soldier died from the flu because of delayed treatment. As a person who still remembers the military life like it was yesterday, I feel especially sad.

Elders always say that joining the army is a good experience, some even say, “You are not a real man if you haven’t been in the army (in their stereotype).” On the contrary, young people think it’s a waste of life, a kind of persecution and humiliation. Whenever there is news from the military, most “seniors” love to talk about how tough they were and how lucky and easy the young people have it now. They think the people who had accidents must be too immature and disobedient. They eagerly defend their “excellent traditions” with jealously of the new “humane” treatment. It’s as if they suffered a loss and expect juniors to have a tough military life like they did.

Why does the same training lead to two extremely different results?

The democratic development, culture and value have been rapidly changing these years in Taiwan, but the army is still living in the past. Even minor changes will create conflicts.

The radical capitalism and authority promotion in the past formed the virtues of “obedient (not cooperation), patriotic, industriousness and stamina” in the society, which are also very prevalent in the army and has kept being reinforced. This makes seniors feel less contradictory in the military and they think the experience can train and polish themselves, and further to make a contribution to this country. It is said, “All men have to go through this. It’s shameful to fight for human rights.”

My father got his master degree 40 years ago, which was a pretty high educational level at the time. But he still thinks that not having the experience of serving in the military is something to be ashamed of.

The educational level is getting higher among most young people now. They pay more attention to democracy, critical thinking abilities and awareness of rule of law. Moreover, the society is starting to put emphasis on human rights and popularize the value of mutual respect. These values and abilities are what the current education mostly hopes to offer the students and are also emphasized in teacher training.

However, these values and abilities are not allowed in the military. Human rights don’t exist (using the toilet is sometimes not allowed either) and can’t be questioned. There isn’t respect or humanity. Someone once wrote in his military journal, “Thanks to the country, we have learned the most important skill you need to have when facing the authority and higher-ups in the society is turning yourself into nothing. You don’t need to think whether the authorities are right or wrong. Just be good and behave!”

There is a huge gap between general concepts and the values education emphasize on. So how can there possibly not be any conflict?

Criticism and fear

The military loves to manipulate its troops with criticism and fear. Rewards and punishment is only a ploy. Whether or not the soldiers will be rewarded for doing the right thing depends on the mood of their supervisors. But if they do something wrong, it can be magnified to no extent, and the standard also depends on the supervisors.

No one can say anything when supervisors make mistakes. If you do, you will get scolded for doing so and for anything it gives rise to. The commanding words are unclear, but you are still asked to do everything perfectly the first time. Higher-ups start scolding whenever they feel a little bit unsatisfied. They don’t tell you what you actually did wrong and force you to redo it again. They won’t stop scolding if they think you are still wrong. Sometimes they use awful words, which might even already be defamation. I have heard insults regarding IQ levels and even hometowns.

The most inconceivable thing is that after the scolding, the commanding officers will say what the soldiers did wrong was they disrespected them. The interaction between people is mutual. If they maintain this kind of attitude, then they shouldn’t blame the officers for disrespecting them. But how is scolding people as if they aren’t humans convincing?

Besides, under fear and pressure, our thinking process, concentration and memory reduce, which can increase chances of making mistakes. Doing something wrong leads to getting scolded, which then generates fear. This is an unbreakable cycle that creates a behavior pattern of easily making mistakes and inefficiency. The immune system and physical condition decline when under a lot of stress. Some senior officers like to say, “Don’t play dead. You’re really going to be dead if I find out you’re faking it!“ Due to this kind of threats, most people hold back until their bodies break down and it’s too late for medical treatment.

Because of fear, soldiers usually have hatred for officers and the country, which cutback identification to the military and country. Usually, the soldiers are forced to obey commands, but if something wrong happened, we can’t guarantee that most people may muddle through their work and refuse to do their best for their supervisors and the army.

The thing about “caring too much about trivial matters”

A government official once said to us in a lecture, “Soldiers are making more and more complaints and appeals lately. They really like haggling.” This made me happy and angry at the same time.

What makes me happy is that I noticed this young generation has learned how to reflect and pay attention to their rights. They aren’t staying quiet anymore and obeying authorities in silence. Those words made me realize the new generation is becoming aware of human rights. However, what makes me angry is the officer would say something like that. It seems like they have never thought that the complaints were made because there are serious problems within military authorities.

Furthermore, those who do complain are still the minority. The majority tolerates everything silently, from which we can see how often cases of exceeding power and violating rules occur. The personal insults and illegal punishments I have seen can already be appealed dozens of times.

Photo Credit: 中岑 范姜 @ Flickr CC BY SA 2.0

Photo Credit: 中岑 范姜 @ Flickr CC BY SA 2.0

What abilities does the country want soldiers to have?

There are still many cultures and regulations that need to be changed, such as passing on patriarchy concepts, but this article can only cover a small part.

I think joining the army if for learning how to protect the country or supporting back-up missions. If there’s a need, we can and also want to help. But after the training of the national army force, I learned nothing. What I learned was mostly how to obey and act like nothing happened in front of authorities, how to dawdle while still getting things done and how to stab the officers behind their backs.

Leading the soldiers and their hearts? Joining the army is an honor? Loyalty and patriotism? We are already treated like slaves, let alone mention honor. Many people lose the last bits of patriotism left inside them after leaving the army. Our men owe the country nothing. They don’t need to be humiliated.

What’s wrong should be fixed, not finding excuses for them to exist. Don’t use words like, “You guys are having it the easy way. We used to…” to defend what needs to be changed. The society and people are changing and progressing, and so every organization needs to do so as well. Old methods and rules may suit the elders, but not the soldiers now.

If you want young soldiers to take joining the military as an honor and a patriotic act, and make them offer their talents, you have to observe their concepts and cultural features. Find out how you can bring out their talents. Don’t just say, “If we could do all this, then what are you complaining about?”

Translated by Zoey Lo
Edited by Olivia Yang