Friday, March 23, 2012

Soldiers are not waste dumps

Using soldiers as garbage dumps for agricultural products will only succeed in alienating an important segment of society that is already doing more than its share of sacrifices for the nation

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.

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

1 comment:

Michael Fagan said...

The point on morale is very important - perhaps at least as much as procurement and other problems: defection and/or sabotage lie toward the end of that chain of consequences.

And yes, even as an obvious metaphor, throwing away unwanted food into the military is an insult that echos in tones anyone can understand. And this is important because those unwanted oranges and bananas are not going to go to the senior pilots and top brass are they? It's the flight engineers and all the assorted lower-ranking personnel down the length of the spear whose functions are nevertheless critical to the overall performance at the sharp end. The morale of those people - the people who aren't the superstars in the F-16s - is just as important.

I recently had a really beautiful Taiwanese girl relate to me a story so as to explain why she would never want to date someone in the Airforce. I did what I could to stick up for them, but it's got to be a bad for morale if girls look down on them because they're in the military. In an ideal world they'd be admired because they're in the military, but... facts are facts.

Legislators might, with the power of their combined intellects, be able to figure out how to avoid dumping unwanted food onto the military (hint: they're not exactly scraping cash together to put food on the table are they?), but more generally, if we want military institutions which command genuine respect (which, of course means voluntarily), then we have to get out of the habit of piously squeaking for long-term solutions from politicians operating on short-term electoral cycles.

A similar point can be made with regard to the police.