Apache scan­dal ex­poses a cos­play men­tal­ity in mil­i­tary

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

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.

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