By holding a big ceremony to commission the newly purchased Apache attack helicopters, the military is trying desperately hard to reshape its image. Two days ago the media reported that our armed forces failed to reach the target of annual recruitment. Take the armored corps of the army for instance. It had only forty-one volunteers, barely enough to form an armored platoon, out of its targeted one thousand men. It is very likely that one of President Ma’s campaign checks of 2012, the promotion of all-volunteer military, was not going to cash before the end of his term in 2016.
I must say Ma was too ambitious to write that check. It would take more than high pay, satisfactory working environment, and attractive pension to lure young people to join the military. There are a number of invisible elements behind a young man’s decision-making process. What can he get from joining up for four, five, or ten years? What can he do after he’s discharged at 40? Who’s going to take care of his family if he’s assigned to station off-island? Above all, a soldier is expected to sacrifice his life defending the country. What country? Republic of China? Taiwan? Or opposition fundamentalists’ Taiwan Nation?
When I was being trained at ROTC in early 1978, I was pretty impressed by a speech addressed to us by General Wang Shen (1917-2006), then the head of our military’s political warfare department. The general told us, the future political officers, that it was our sacred duty to make the enlistees understand well why and whom they were fighting and dying for. I felt honored that we had to bear such a burden.
“Duty, Honor, Country”---the three hallowed words that sustained General Douglas MacArthur’s whole life as a professional soldier. The general used these three words in his speech to encourage the Corps of Cadets at West Point in 1962 expecting all those young future officers not ever to forget.
Neither General Wang nor General MacArthur mentioned anything about handsome pay or sustainable pension for being a career soldier. If the president or the Ministry of Defense could not come up with better ideas to push the all-volunteer military service, they should be considering reinstating the compulsory one fast; otherwise, it won’t long for them to find enough people to fly choppers and drive tanks.