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Taiwan expects that every man will do his duty
June 11, 2011 1:52 AM   Subscribe

Some sixty-five countries have some form of compulsory military service - the Republic of China (Taiwan) is one of them. Haitien, an American-born, college-educated person of Taiwanese decent who recently returned to Taiwan, is writing about his experience fufilling his service on his blog Bala daily 巴樂日報.

His account begins in February 2011 with "Next". *stamp* and continues through:

“保護我們的台北家園” - "Defend our Taipei homes"
九個班: 9 Squads
打飯班: Mess Squad

Taiwan first experienced compulsory conscription in January 1945 while still under Japanese control. Its current system of conscription, which had already been shortened to one year, is scheduled to end around 2014
posted by sudasana (37 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
My friend TC, MeFi's own Poagao, a transplanted American (read: not Asian) and now citizen of the ROC, also wrote a book in Chinese based on his service in the military.

Lucky me got to read the original manuscript in English, as I don't read Chinese very well.
posted by bwg at 2:27 AM on June 11, 2011


Seems to mirror the US military.

Here's an NT$100 phone card, which will give you approximately 2 minutes of talk time to any cell phone in the country!
Glad to know Taiwan is supporting the troops also.
posted by buzzman at 3:57 AM on June 11, 2011


I always thought America should have a compulsory military service.

Being a pacifist US Marine meant absolutely nothing because there were no other pacifists around. I did learn how to kick a lot of ass though...if I ever chose to kick ass.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:19 AM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Small world, bwg. I know TC as well.
posted by rmmcclay at 4:43 AM on June 11, 2011


I used to tutor a lot of Koreans and they had pretty awful stories of their military service. Mandatory military service is like a prison sentence for people who have committed no crimes and now must be order following slaves to the kind of people who choose the military as a career. It is a recipe for abuse.
posted by srboisvert at 5:01 AM on June 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


This author thought that it was going to be pretty brutal, but the way he describes it at least it's not so bad. His degree in aerospace engineering did get him into a branch of the Air Force, though, which sounds like one of the better spots to get a placement.
posted by sudasana at 6:06 AM on June 11, 2011


I have heard that those who served in the Israeli military often opted for special service outfits because that put on resumes helped in getting good civilian jobs. Now, though, this seems no longer true because staying alive trumps difficult assignments.
posted by Postroad at 6:08 AM on June 11, 2011


The Russian game for new recruits; "Chechan Sniper' ;where the recruit runs across a field while being shot at...
posted by buzzman at 6:44 AM on June 11, 2011


I always thought America should have a compulsory military service.

I've wondered this often while spending time with friends from those European countries that have compulsory service. Scandinavian ones, in my case.

It seems to me that when all the nation's current doctors, lawyers and architects have military experience (even a little), you might end up with a wiser populace less willing to support pointless wars and military inanity. You may also benefit from a more diverse "defense-educated" population in other ways, especially when compared to the US "all volunteer" version. This latter seems overwhelmingly composed in recent years of the poorer and more-desperate classes, while very short on future doctors, lawyers and architects.

I have no data here, this is just barstool thinking. If it's at all accurate, though, I reckon it can't be a good thing for your nation to have a "lower class" that does your fighting for wholly detached "upper" classes that have no idea what soldiering is.
posted by rokusan at 7:13 AM on June 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


I used to tutor a lot of Koreans and they had pretty awful stories of their military service. Mandatory military service is like a prison sentence for people who have committed no crimes and now must be order following slaves to the kind of people who choose the military as a career. It is a recipe for abuse.

I was not abused during my compulsory military service and neither were the vast majority of my peers. Unless you consider the service itself abuse, compulsory military training does not automatically lead to abuse. Many professional military forces use abusive training methods as well.
posted by Authorized User at 7:14 AM on June 11, 2011


It seems to me that when all the nation's current doctors, lawyers and architects have military experience (even a little), you might end up with a wiser populace less willing to support pointless wars and military inanity.

I don't think the history really shows it works out this way, at least for the US.

My perception is that the "lower class" presumably making up the military doesn't really view themselves as lower class. If anything, my experience says a good proportion view themselves as a "warrior class" deserving of some special privilege the rest of the rest of us don't merit. I tend to view them as enablers of needless military exploits, dependent on, and ultimately reinforcing the welfare state they often claim to despise. The voluntary nature of the service manes them more efficient and professional.

In many ways, the US military is one of the most successful work/welfare programs in existence. In this way, it's a great help to lower class citizens moving up the ladder. And a detached upper class wasn't all that unusual even during the time of conscription. The more upper class, the more resources for remaining detached from military service.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:52 AM on June 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


The voluntary nature of the service manes them more efficient and professional.

Does this hold up to scrutiny or study? I know it's a talking point, but is it like the 'we have the best health care on the planet' talking point, or is the US Military actually more 'efficient' or 'professional' compared to any other?

Serious question. I have no idea.
posted by rokusan at 8:45 AM on June 11, 2011


The voluntary nature of the service manes them more efficient and professional.
If by "professional" you mean "will follow orders handed-down by higher-ups without question", then, yeah.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:51 AM on June 11, 2011


TIf by "professional" you mean "will follow orders handed-down by higher-ups without question", then, yeah.

I guess you're being sarcastic, but yes. People who want to be in the military make better soldiers than people who are forced to do so. Lets say you need to hire a kid to do delivery for your pizza shop. Who do you think would be preferable? A kid who needs the money, or the son of the boss, who's sick and tired of his kid sitting around watching TV all day long and he's gonna work, goddammit!
posted by 2N2222 at 9:09 AM on June 11, 2011


I think that the point hal_c_on and rokusan are very close to is that perhaps it is now time for the United States to consider compulsory service. Something along the lines of Representative Rangel's Universal National Service Act of 2010 with an allowance for service in Americorps in lieu of military service.
It used to be that two men, (think Mad Men), in their mid-30s might meet and have a social handshake of, 'where did you serve' that allowed them to connect in a manner that transcended their current class or social status. Being conscripted into something that removes young people from their bubble and expose them to people with different values, beliefs and interests can do a lot to round them into better people, better citizens of a nation. Adults who are less entitled and more appreciative of the things they have.
Maybe the idea of, you don't have to serve in the military but you have to serve is one we should further explore.
Or, we can just decry the inhumanity of it while we become further and further divided.
posted by geekyguy at 9:10 AM on June 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Being conscripted into something that removes young people from their bubble and expose them to people with different values, beliefs and interests can do a lot to round them into better people, better citizens of a nation. Adults who are less entitled and more appreciative of the things they have.

It seems to me being forced to do something you don't want to do would just as soon create resentment than appreciation.

Or, we can just decry the inhumanity of it while we become further and further divided.

The time of military conscription was not exactly an era of great unity.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:25 AM on June 11, 2011


I guess you're being sarcastic, but yes. People who want to be in the military make better soldiers than people who are forced to do so.

Nonsense. Plenty of people who are not a good fit for military service want to join. On the other hand the future CEO of a multinational corporation is not going to be stupid or lazy during his service. Nor is the world-class athlete somehow going to be less athletic.
posted by Authorized User at 9:30 AM on June 11, 2011


Nonsense. Plenty of people who are not a good fit for military service want to join. On the other hand the future CEO of a multinational corporation is not going to be stupid or lazy during his service. Nor is the world-class athlete somehow going to be less athletic.

Sure, but I think the point is that as a whole, volunteer armies are composed of better/more willing soldiers than conscripted armies. When you conscript people for your army, you're going to get a lot more random joes than future CEOs and world-class athletes.
posted by aaronbeekay at 9:36 AM on June 11, 2011


Plenty of people who are not a good fit for military service want to join.

The military tends to reject people it deems ill fitting military life. As well it should. This works out better for the military and for the prospective soldier.

On the other hand the future CEO of a multinational corporation is not going to be stupid or lazy during his service. Nor is the world-class athlete somehow going to be less athletic.

I dunno. If we're going to speculate, I'd say someone who would rather be doing something else may in fact be a drag on their compulsory service. A passive aggressive conscript doesn't do the service many favors. Nor does a plain out aggressive conscript.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:40 AM on June 11, 2011


Willingness to serve is not as simple as no or yes. Most people who, given the choice, would not serve in the military actually serve rather well when they have to. They are not prisoners.

I dunno. If we're going to speculate

No need to. Jorma Ollila, chairman and former CEO of Nokia attended reserve officer school and has the rank of reserve captain. And he is not an exception. In countries where
posted by Authorized User at 9:54 AM on June 11, 2011


I believe (infuriatingly, I'm not sure where I read this) the US military is not particularly interested in conscription because conscripts don't make particularly good soldiers, so it's not worthwhile if there's an adequate supply of volunteers. The military has historically had a hell of a time getting conscripts to do things like actually fire their weapons, but training techniques have improved substantially since the second world war in that respect (it's much easier to turn to people into soldiers willing to kill someone else now than it was then).

My pacifist tendencies make me not a fan of compulsory military service, but I could be sold on some sort of compulsory civil service. There is of course the question of what you'd have people do. (For instance, as far as I know, all the jobs that Zivis do in Germany are either, well, jobs people already have or are not government functions in the US. You don't need people to help out the elderly in their homes if you don't help the elderly in the first place.)
posted by hoyland at 9:59 AM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


It seems to me that when all the nation's current doctors, lawyers and architects have military experience (even a little), you might end up with a wiser populace less willing to support pointless wars and military inanity. You may also benefit from a more diverse "defense-educated" population in other ways, especially when compared to the US "all volunteer" version. This latter seems overwhelmingly composed in recent years of the poorer and more-desperate classes, while very short on future doctors, lawyers and architects.
posted by rokusan at 10:13 AM on June 11


Correct me if I'm wrong, of course, but I learned in high school that one of the reasons for this whole 'mandatory military service for a year or so' was to provide a large trained reserve; that is, if you start a war, you not only have your current standing army, but a large pool of men who were very recently in the military who can be called up.

So it's also possible that mandatory military service would result in a much larger available military force, which might not have the effect that you imagine. I recall that this was the Prussian system, and they certainly were in a lot of wars.
posted by Comrade_robot at 11:08 AM on June 11, 2011



Willingness to serve is not as simple as no or yes. Most people who, given the choice, would not serve in the military actually serve rather well when they have to. They are not prisoners.


Yes, most conscripts will not fail at their tasks. But this is a pretty poor justification for the practice. Interestingly, "prisoner" comes closer to the description of an unwilling conscript than not. That is the whole point of conscription. One is compelled to perform service under some kind of penalty for refusal. Personal choice is not much of an option.

No need to. Jorma Ollila, chairman and former CEO of Nokia attended reserve officer school and has the rank of reserve captain.

The success of Ollila isn't a clear indicator of anything. Under a conscription system, clearly many people will go on to success after the stint in the military. That Ollila was amenable to military life is a good outcome for his own sake.

Interestingly, if service to the country is a goal of conscription, as some have indicated here, Finland and Ollila may have been better served by allowing him to spend that time instead pursuing his civilian career path, a path that allowed for greater economic prosperity for his country and beyond.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:13 PM on June 11, 2011


Dear Citizen, please choose your compulsory service branch:

[ ] US Military
[ ] Peace Corps

There. Will that make everyone happy?
posted by rokusan at 12:18 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Correct me if I'm wrong, of course, but I learned in high school that one of the reasons for this whole 'mandatory military service for a year or so' was to provide a large trained reserve; that is, if you start a war, you not only have your current standing army, but a large pool of men who were very recently in the military who can be called up.

Exactly. It wouldn't make much sense for the US to have conscription because you don't need that kind of reserve. Also since the US military often tends to start actual shooting wars where people get killed abroad, conscription would likely be extremely unpopular, unlike in many other countries where the likelihood of actual fighting is very small and more likely to be to defend the country against an actual existential threat.

Interestingly, if service to the country is a goal of conscription, as some have indicated here, Finland and Ollila may have been better served by allowing him to spend that time instead pursuing his civilian career path, a path that allowed for greater economic prosperity for his country and beyond.

Indeed. Conscription is also a rather heavy tax paid with the labor of young men.
posted by Authorized User at 12:35 PM on June 11, 2011


Also since the US military often tends to start actual shooting wars where people get killed abroad, conscription would likely be extremely unpopular, unlike in many other countries where the likelihood of actual fighting is very small and more likely to be to defend the country against an actual existential threat.

I'll echo rokusan here and say that that's likely a feature and not a bug. I think the debates about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars would have gone a lot differently if politicians knew they would have to answer to constituents who either had children or were themselves of an age that could be drafted to fight. As it stands military adventurism seems a lot more palatable when large swathes of the public can rest almost certain that their family won't be called on to serve.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 1:11 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Exactly. It wouldn't make much sense for the US to have conscription because you don't need that kind of reserve.

Well, that's the problem. We would need that kind of reserve, if we didn't have a standing military which is already ridiculously out of proportion (and I say that as a staunch supporter of our armed forces). Given economic and strategic reality at the moment, it would make a great deal of sense to streamline the military where we can. That means concentrating on affordable practices which consistently deliver strong outcomes, rather than outlandishly expensive practices which are meant to deliver the best! possible! 100 million dollar helicopter gunship!

Universal service via the National Guard (or Americorps for those who abstain) fits quite neatly into that model. We already have much of the necessary infrastructure set up. It's much more affordable than maintaining a large standing force of full-time servicepeople -- the vast majority of whom don't plan on staying in for life as a "profession", anyway! -- and it would bring military demographics closer to the mean, minimizing divisions in religion, gender (yes, I think we women should have to sign up, too), race, politics, and class. As a bonus, taking aggressive military action would be more difficult, both politically and logistically.

My pacifist tendencies make me not a fan of compulsory military service, but I could be sold on some sort of compulsory civil service. There is of course the question of what you'd have people do.

Infrastructure alone would keep us busy for decades. The state of schools, bridges, and levees in America would be much improved by a modern version of the WPA... and hey, we can even spread the wealth (and lessen accusations of "socialism") by teaming up with local civilian contractors! Win/win!
posted by vorfeed at 1:57 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I served in the Marine Corps reserve. In training, they make it very clear that you elected to be there, that you voluntarily signed a contract to join. And it was made clear multiple times that an all-volunteer military is more professional and orderly than an organization mostly consisting of conscripts.

Still, I'm strongly in favor of mandatory service (with an exception for something like Americorps, perhaps). I think volunteer service makes for a better military, but conscription makes for a much better country.
posted by heathkit at 4:28 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Still, I'm strongly in favor of mandatory service (with an exception for something like Americorps, perhaps). I think volunteer service makes for a better military, but conscription makes for a much better country.

And I'm of the belief that my state has no right to tell me who (or how) to kill anymore than they have the right to tell me who to fuck, both being really personal choices. I'd no more stand for work in a military brothel than conscription.

There's one period when I wouldn't object to conscription and that's when the situation is so desperate that tanks are rolling through your city street and a wo/man from the government with better logistics control is helping my neighbourhood put up barricades.

Otherwise, you're in the US, so I don't know whether you're afraid of the Mexicans or us Canadians, but you don't really have a need for an indoctrinated population ready for a levee en masse for defence purposes. Thus, if your goal is national unity, if you couldn't do it in 13 years of public school that most people get, why add a year 14?
posted by Phalene at 6:58 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Being conscripted into something that removes young people from their bubble

... and young people will make their own sub-bubbles.

In theory, it's fantastic. This kind of thing is why going to a liberal arts college is great.

I know, I went to one - but how many kids from rich families just found other kids from rich families?
posted by porpoise at 8:09 PM on June 11, 2011


And I'm of the belief that my state has no right to tell me who (or how) to kill anymore than they have the right to tell me who to fuck, both being really personal choices. I'd no more stand for work in a military brothel than conscription.

That's why there'd be a non-military alternative.

Otherwise, you're in the US, so I don't know whether you're afraid of the Mexicans or us Canadians, but you don't really have a need for an indoctrinated population ready for a levee en masse for defence purposes.

Every nation needs defense. Given the current political climate, we can either get it from an expensive standing army which will probably continue being one of the largest and most active in the world... or we can get it from sending most of our people into the National Guard for a year. If you ask me, the Guard is a much better deal.

Thus, if your goal is national unity, if you couldn't do it in 13 years of public school that most people get, why add a year 14?

Because public school and military service are two different things...?
posted by vorfeed at 8:16 PM on June 11, 2011


Every nation needs defense. Given the current political climate, we can either get it from an expensive standing army which will probably continue being one of the largest and most active in the world... or we can get it from sending most of our people into the National Guard for a year. If you ask me, the Guard is a much better deal.

Why do you think this would be cheaper? Seriously, this is the sort of thing Sweden is debating getting rid of precisely because sending people out to play soldier in the woods is way more expensive than maintaining a small volunteer army. You're obviously not going to do away with a career military in either case, so I really don't see the savings.

That's why there'd be a non-military alternative.

Slavery is not a great improvement. I'm quite fond of my home country, but they don't get to decide that I get an extra year as a peon for the state, doing menial work for free/living allowance. They can offer these programs (and they do) to people with that sort of volunteer spirit, but why should they force me? The government is my servant, not my master and my country is my home, not my feudal keep. It's either busywork or exploitation, or its a viable job I should have a choice about.

Furthermore you never answered what you were defending the US from. Is it the Canadians or the Mexicans? Or are you seriously considering that someone is going to fly/sail troops in from elsewhere in the globe without more serious concerns like massive infrastructure shattering bombing? What do you need an army that big for? In the event that you get into some sort of epic punch up with someone who is closer to your equal the issue will be digging enough graves to deal with the mutual carpet bombing or nuking, not making valiant last stands with rifles.

As I said, the state gets thirteen years of (mostly) secular public school to indoctrinate you in good citizenship, so you need to explicitly tell me what is missing. Certainly, I don't share your pro-military values and I don't want my state to try to force them down my throat because you think marching in formation and obeying orders is just peachy. At the moment in history a military is a good thing to have, but I'm not going to be a soldier, I don't want or feel my country would be well served by having me do data entry on their dollar just to keep me busy (or other things I was qualified to do at 18).

Put it this way... You did military service. I did not. Neither of us is a better citizen for our respective experiences, in our respective countries. Neither of us live in a country in immediate peril of a manpower based war within our borders, in fact on the contrariwise, we both live with MAD (mutually assured destruction) as one of the leading defence paradigms of our era.
posted by Phalene at 9:43 PM on June 12, 2011


Singapore has a mandatory national service (NS) of two years, which I have served. It is true that military service does act as a kind of a leveller, particularly in Singapore where students are "streamed" from young into different groups based on their academic abilities. While in NS you generally get to meet people from various walks of life and of very different social/cultural/financial backgrounds. Basic Military Training (BMT, aka boot camp) also breaks down most social barriers recruits might have and helps them bond, something that probably wouldn't happen in any other kind of situation, like in school for example.

However, there definitely still is social stratification to some extent. For example, most students planning to study in university will have to serve their NS first. However, students who perform really well in school are given a chance to get a scholarship which lets them defer their NS and go to college first, and when they come back they are put on a fast-track to be officers. There are also whispers and rumours of so-called "white horse" platoons consisting of kids that come from important or influential families, who are treated differently from everybody else.

NS has been going on in Singapore for quite a while, and there are a few movies about it. The most well known one is Army Daze.
posted by destrius at 9:47 PM on June 12, 2011


Since the weather has gone all End Times on us, people who don't want to carry a gun (or a spatula, for that matter) can carry a shvel: build levees, fill sandbags, help do the clean-up work that makes people's arm hair stand up when they see National Guard troops doing it.

Thomas P.M. Barnett talks about the changing world political environment, and America's place therein. He suggested in "The Pentagon's New Map" that there should be a sort of non-military "system admin" force that America can deploy to improve the lives of people in the "gap" areas. (See section 5 of http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/people5/Barnett/.) For example, rebuilding the political systems in Afghanistan and Iraq used up all the civil affairs people that could be found, when instead of a corps of people with these skills wouldn't have stripped out the Army & ANG units.

I have long said that everyone should do a year of mandatory service as a waiter, retail clerk, or phone operator. It would create empathy for the kind of people who routinely bear the brunt of wrathful screamers....who themselves probably never had to take on order or ring up some even exchange with two coupons and a gift card.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:30 AM on June 13, 2011


Why do you think this would be cheaper? Seriously, this is the sort of thing Sweden is debating getting rid of precisely because sending people out to play soldier in the woods is way more expensive than maintaining a small volunteer army. You're obviously not going to do away with a career military in either case, so I really don't see the savings.

We're not Sweden. Our volunteer army is not small, and also happens to be in the middle of a startlingly expensive war. There's pretty much no way that moving to a defensive posture in which we "send people out to play soldier in the woods" is going to be more expensive than sending a massive standing army to Iraq and Afghanistan -- Iraq cost almost 5.5 billion per month, and Afghanistan costs even more.

Besides, part of the attraction of universal service is that our (unsustainable) current level of per-serviceperson spending would be even less sustainable, encouraging us to switch to equipment and policies with a more reasonable cost-benefit ratio.

Furthermore you never answered what you were defending the US from. Is it the Canadians or the Mexicans? Or are you seriously considering that someone is going to fly/sail troops in from elsewhere in the globe without more serious concerns like massive infrastructure shattering bombing?

This might have seemed like an appropriate question fifteen years ago. Since then, we've had a major attack on US soil, several massive disasters which would have been helped by mobilization, a deep cultural divide leading to unrest and even American terrorism, and serious destabilization along the Mexican border. As it is, it's not difficult to imagine military action on US soil... and I'd rather make it a cooperative effort, if it comes to that.

Put it this way... You did military service. I did not.

I didn't, actually, partly because the prospects for women back then were pretty poor. That's part of the reason why I support universal service. Between skewed demographics, unfair policies, and heated rhetoric on all sides, we've let military service become a divisive social force rather than a uniting one. Unless we take action this will only get worse, as the "enablers of needless military exploits, dependent on, and ultimately reinforcing the welfare state they often claim to despise" / "a 'warrior class' deserving of some special privilege the rest of the rest of us don't merit" dynamic described above gets more and more entrenched on both sides.
posted by vorfeed at 12:08 PM on June 13, 2011


I am way late on this, but just wondering to go back to the original topic (not that all this discussion of American conscription hasn't been interesting!): Haitien's situation is that he was born in the States, ostensibly of Taiwanese parents, but then the family moved back to Taiwan and then he was naturalized as an ROC citizen?

(I'm just trying to piece together why he's serving if he was born in the US, from a legal perspective. I've read the blog posts and it seems to be because he was naturalized as an ROC citizen but I am not sure.)
posted by andrewesque at 7:37 AM on June 18, 2011


From what I recall from the blog, he was born in the US, but to Taiwanese parents, which made him a dual citizen. He chose to serve, and the clerks thought it was kind of strange because he could easily have avoided it by entering on his American passport.
posted by Comrade_robot at 6:18 PM on June 19, 2011


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