I was somewhat divided on Saturday morning as I headed over to the Ministry of National Defense headquarters in Taipei to attend a mass rally calling for justice in the recent death of 23-year-old corporal Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘) and other mysterious deaths over the years.
Having spent several years covering the Taiwanese military for a local newspaper and specialized publications such as Jane’s Defence Weekly, I have struck many friendships in the armed forces, and have great admiration for several members of the force. Conversely, I also believe that MND owes it to its soldiers to address systemic issues of corruption and cover-ups in its ranks, especially at a time when the military is struggling to attract enough recruits to implement an all-volunteer service by 2015. As a strong proponent of Taiwan’s right to self-defense, I contend that it is essential that cases of criminal neglect and corruption be brought to light and dealt with accordingly to avoid such incidents breaking troop morale, and with that, the armed forces’ back.
|Protesters call for justice|
|Tsai and his father|
Several protesters, young men who obviously had already undergone their military service, participated in a number of skits during the protest, parading to army songs with slightly altered lyrics and being “forced” to do push-ups while being abused by mock superiors. In the morning heat, the sun blazing on our heads, they repeatedly made it a point to sing the traditional song reminding soldiers to drink water, and then hydrated themselves — a powerful symbol, given that Hung had died not of “heat stroke,” as the media have referred to it, but rather of disseminated intra-vascular coagulation, or DIC, a much more serious condition.
|Remember to drink!|
Throughout the event, organizers kept reminding the protesters to remain peaceful, and that call, despite the palpable anger among young men, women, and parents present, was respected. Otherwise, given the size of the crowd, the protesters would have made short shrift of the police and MP deployed around the MND building.
What soon became evident, both from the speeches and the behavior of the crowd, was that the protest wasn’t against the military, a very important distinction. It was, instead, a loud call for justice and the fair treatment of soldiers in the military, and for MND to fix the problems that had led to Hung’s death and that of others before him. The mood in fact clearly underscored the participants’ commitment to defending the nation. The composition of the crowd, moreover, left no doubt that this country has several young men and women who are willing to fight, and die, defending their country, despite what critics of the armed forces, and of Taiwan’s youth, often claim. It was impossible not to be moved when several thousands of Taiwanese started chanting guo fang bu jia you! (國防部加油!), or, “Go! Go! Ministry of National Defense!”
|Andrew Yang addresses the crowd|
Yang did — and probably meant — well, though there are doubts as to his ability to force change within the armed forces. Despite his appointment, which was supported by former National Security Council secretary-general Su Chi (蘇起), a trusted Ma aide, Yang remains a policy man and has often been sidelined within his own ministry.
|Parents seeking justice|
|An old hero turns up|