The ROC Army Meets Its Waterloo in the Battle of Chung-chiu
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 24, 2013
Summary: The controversy over the death of ROC Army Corporal Hung Chung-chi has been raging for two weeks. The Ministry of Defense has become the object of hatred. So far it has not been able to stop the hemmoraging. Higher and higher ranking officials have offered apologies. The list of officials being punished and detained is growing longer. But the public remains unmoved. In this "Battle of Hung Chung-chiu," the army has suffered a crushing defeat. Its public image has suffered. Its internal morale has suffered as well.
Full text below:
The controversy over the death of ROC Army Corporal Hung Chung-chi has been raging for two weeks. The Ministry of Defense has become the object of hatred. So far it has not been able to stop the hemmoraging. Higher and higher ranking officials have offered apologies. The list of officials being punished and detained is growing longer. But the public remains unmoved. In this "Battle of Hung Chung-chiu," the army has suffered a crushing defeat. Its public image has suffered. Its internal morale has suffered as well.
From a military perspective, the debacle was the result of faulty internal management routines, of laxness in layer upon layer of control mechanisms. It was also the result of serious errors of judgment in the face of crisis. Opportunities were lost, again and again. Eventually the situation got completely out of hand. Internally, the army was guilty of three fatal shortcomings. The first was a distorted concept of discipline. The second was poor quality NCOs. The third was poor crisis management abilities.
Take the distorted concept of discipline. When an army is at war, it must stress obedience, discipline, and authority. It must cultivate this spirit during peacetime training. But harsh discipline is merely a means to victory. The underlying purpose of the military is for officers and soldiers to carry out battlefield tasks that may cost them their lives. This requires more exalted motives, including patriotism, pride, and esprit de corps. In other words, discipline requires incentives and penalties. It must lead by example. Discipline must be rooted in loyalty. Only this can instill a sense of shared misson among its members. The Hung Chung-chiu incident shows that the army has a surfeit of discipline, but a dearth of compassion. It lacks officers who truly understand leadership.
Take the uneven quality of NCOs. The role of non-commissioned officers is to execute orders from above, and to lead those below into battle. Commissioned officers are rotated frequently. NCOs, by contrast, serve long term, and are the backbone of the military. Superior NCOs facilitate smooth operations. Inferior NCOs may easily become closet bullies. The Hung Chung-chiu case apparently involved illegal confinement and fatal exertions, all imposed by non-commissioned officers. In particular, Sergeant Fan Cho-hsien was guilty of repeated misconduct and abuse of authority. He abused his authority, and revealed serious deficiencies in his character. His superiors are also to blame for failing to see what he was.
At the heart of the NCO ranks is "reserve NCO" graduates from NCO training programs. But for some time, NCO training programs have devolved into a final destination for slackers. As a result, the quality of non-commissioned officers has been unsatisfactory. This can easily result in hidden clashes with highly-educated conscripts. In recent years the NCO training programs have been upgraded. They are not at the level of secondary vocational schools. Candidates are volunteers, and are promoted on the basis of merit. This has improved the quality of non-commissioned officers. But a ten year illness cannot be eradicated by a three year cure. The Ministry of Defense faces an imminent problem. It must exercise discretion. It must eliminate the unfit while retaining the fit. It must avoid holding on to the dregs.
Finally, take the military's crisis management abilities. From the very beginning, the Ministry of Defense was slow to respond. It underestimated the seriousness of the case. It called for perfunctory administrative sanctions on personnel within the chain of command. But public resentment boiled over. It was compelled to hand down demerits to corps commanders and commanders of the army. It was even compelled to announce the abolition of the closed system. It assumed that such a major move would end the matter. But such moves merely revealed how little concern the military felt for the Hung family or the public, or for uncovering the cause of Hung Chung-chiu's death. Hung's higher ranking military leaders were not even included among those receiving demerits and reprimands. Hung's family members criticized their release from detention as "everyone fasting because one person choked on his food." The public concluded that the military was utterly insincere about soul searching. It was merely putting on a show. These bungled opportunities led to public demands for remedial investigations. The military never regained the podium.
The military was inexperienced in investigating major cases. The public lacked trust. The introduction of regular prosecutors may be the only way to salvage the investigation. Active duty military offenses still need to be handled by the military. But this case involves an ordinary criminal offenses -- destroying evidence. Therefore one viable solution is joint prosecution by an ad hoc military-civilian group. To everyones' surprise, Deputy Defense Minister Andrew Yang appeared before protestors and made them a promise, signed by the Ministry of Defence. Those present cheered it on. To everyones' equal surprise, President Ma, concerned about its legality, immediately vetoed it.
Actually, the destruction of evidence in the Hung case is already being investigated by the Taoyuan Prosecutors Office. The Taoyuan Prosecutors Office and military investigators must share information. This will ensure that the joint investigation is true to its name. Unfortunately, the authorities have not recognized an opportunity to rehabilitate their image. Instead they have dragged their feet, provoking even greater resentment. This has hurt the image of the Ministry of Defense, which "behaved capriciously," as well as President Ma, who "slapped his subordinates in the face."
A string of blunders and mistakes have turned the Hung case into a landslide undermining the image of the military. The task of recruiting is extremely difficult to begin with. It is bound to be made even more difficult by the Hung case. For the Ministry of Defense, the case was an example of major whistleblowing. Large-scale self-examination must lead to reform and innovation. The unfit must be removed. Only then will Hung Chung-chiu's death not be in vain.
2013.07.24 02:32 am