Apache scandal exposes a cosplay mentality in military
The security breach at an Apache helicopter base has definitely exposed a severe lack of discipline in Taiwan’s military forces. But we must ask further why discipline seems to have been ignored as if it was irrelevant to the running of the troops.
The scandal exploded after a TV entertainer, Janet Lee, posted on social media some photos of herself taken at the Army base during a recent visit, which is now being deemed to have been an illegal one.
In one of the photos, a beaming Lee, with an Apache behind her, stands on one leg and kicks up the other sideways to a knee-high position while playfully saluting in front of the camera.
The playfulness looks so natural from the entertainer, who at the time was happily acting out the role of a privileged visitor who was given access to the state-of-the-art gunship, along with more than two-dozen guests of Lt. Col. Lao Nai-cheng, then a deputy commander of an Apache squadron.
For Lee, there may be little difference between an Army base and a studio when it comes to facing the camera, which requires some form of acting.
Perhaps the host, namely Lao, is no less an actor himself, though he may not be aware of it.
Shakespeare might be right when contemplating the meaning of life: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”
Lee may be an actress in the studio, but Lao is an actor in a war game.
Taiwan has not been engaged in any wars over the past several decades. It means none of the active soldiers, officers or generals have fought in real battles.
War games and military drills have been the closest that the troops in Taiwan have been able to come in terms of fighting experiences.
Some critics have noted that the troops in Taiwan no longer know why they are needed. They are told that they are needed to defend the country, but against whom?
China is in theory the prime enemy of Taiwan, whose military deployments are supposed to be primarily made in preparation for invasions by the Chinese Liberation Army.
But the prime enemy only exists in war games, particularly in recent years after tensions eased across the Taiwan Strait. Many retired generals have visited China where they have received warm welcomes. This includes Lao’s father, a retired army general who now runs a business in China.
These generals and officers have been trained to fight against the communists, but many of them do not hesitate to make friends with the communists after retirement. Their military careers are built on an ideological game, and perhaps their careers are just a game.
So it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that the junior Lao is treating the Apache as a toy — for himself and his guests.
He has worn an Apache flight helmet to a Halloween party. For him, the army career may mean little more than a cosplay — only that he is paid fat sums to play out the role, with hundreds of others playing his subordinates on a stage equipped with super-expensive and deadly props.
There may be rules for his game, but as in any other game, the rules are usually not taken too seriously. After all, breaking the rules of a game can’t be deadly: you could be yellow-carded for a bad tackle in a soccer match, or disqualified for jumping the gun at a track event. That won’t kill you.
In Taiwan’s military, breaking the rules — or breaching the disciplinary code — is seldom deadly. Discipline in the military is needed to make sure the troops do what they are told — even though they know they could be killed in action. But discipline is also a double-edged mechanism that troops rely on for survival.
But for Taiwan’s military, discipline is a set of empty codes that is not really needed because there has been no war in decades, and the possibility of a war in the foreseeable future is slim.
Discipline can’t be restored to the military if the duty of defending the country is seen as merely a game, a cosplay.