Thursday, November 29, 2007

Martial Law? Don't even think about It!

Martial Law? Don't even think about It!
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
November 29, 2007

Twelve hours ago, our president announced that he was "giving careful consideration to imposing martial law." Twelve hours later, he changed his tune, saying he "absolutely would not declare martial law." This sort of fickle behavior on the part of Chen Shui-bian no longer surprises any of us. But during these 12 hours, what our minister of defense said certainly sent a chill up our spine. While answering questions from lawmakers about martial law, Lee Tien-yu said that if the Legislative Yuan refused to ratify martial law, but the president still considered it necessary, the nation's military would "obey the Command in Chief." He even added that if he were to implement martial law, "The Mayor of Taipei would be replaced by the Commander of the Sixth Regiment."

We were alarmed not because Lee Tien-yu misread the constitution so badly. We were alarmed because the minister of defense of a democratic nation would think that way. When the minister of defense openly proclaims that he would obey orders from the Commander in Chief to impose martial law, even though the Legislature has vetoed it, and even add that "The Mayor of Taipei would be replaced by the Commander of the Sixth Regiment," how can one not be alarmed? Even during the Kuomintang's 40 year long imposition of martial law on Taiwan, it never dispatched a regimental commander to take control of the City of Taipei. How could Lee Tien-yu make such a cavalier statement?

We can dismiss Chen Shui-bian's talk of "martial law" as election rhetoric. But we can hardly dismiss Lee Tien-yu's declaration that "The Mayor of Taipei would be replaced by the Commander of the Sixth Regiment" as election rhetoric. It makes no difference that he said "It probably wouldn't come to that." It makes no difference that he later changed his tune. The fact remains he had advance plans for imposing martial law. He even had backup plans. It makes no difference how "hypothetical" the question might have been. The fact remains that upon being questioned by a lawmaker, he had a ready answer. This tells us his remarks were not off the cuff. He had already gamed the scenario in considerable detail, and this is how the script would play out. Just imagining this scenario is enough to send a chill up one's spine.

What concerns us the most, from beginning to end, is not "whether he mispoke and changed his tune." What concerns us the most is why he was thinking this way from the beginning. Over a 12 hour period, thoughts that should have been unthinkable, were not merely being thought, they were being spoken out loud. They were emerging from the mouths of our president and our minister of defense. Chen Shui-bian later changed his tune. He declared that he "absolutely would not declare martial law" during his term of office. But the question is, why was it necessary to make such an explicit denial at this time and in this place? The fact remains, we all heard Chen Shui-bian declare aloud that he was "giving careful consideration to imposing martial law." It is even more irresponsible to pass the buck for such remarks on to talking heads in the local media. A number of well-known television commentators often speak without thinking. As the nation's highest official, a president cannot ignore the constitution, cannot ignore his own convictions, cannot casually mouth off about "giving careful consideration to imposing martial law" at a political rally. It makes no difference that Chen changed his tune afterwards. That is merely an attempt to change the subject. The fact that Chen made the statement in the first place means he was already thinking about it. There is really no point in him trying to talk his way out of this.

By the same token, before Chen Shui-bian changed his tune, Lee Tien-yu openly declared that even if the legislature opposed a declaration of martial law, he would obey the Commander in Chief's orders. It makes no difference that Lee later changed his tune. The question we must ask is: How could you say something like that in the first place? The constitution makes perfectly clear that any presidential declaration of martial law must be approved and ratified by the legislature. The constitution does not contain a provision saying that if the legislature rejects martial law, the nation's military has the option of backing the "Commander in Chief," right or wrong, to the bitter end. Lee Tien-yu's statement, his "slip of the tongue," is unforgiveable. In any genuinely democratic nation he would already have been relieved of his command.

Do not underestimate the significance of such thoughts that might flash through one's mind. Often the first words to escape one's mouth are the ones that were in one's heart. Do not assume that once one realizes one has misspoken, one can simply change one's tune and say "No harm, no foul." Some words, once spoken, have already caused damage. They are an indelible part of the historical record. Chen Shui-bian, in the absence of any evidence, publicly accused Lien Chan and James Soong of inciting a "Soft Coup." This case is currently under litigation. Is it permissible to dismiss any and all defamatory remarks as "election rhetoric" and get off scot-free?

On the 20th anniversary of the lifting of martial law, Taiwan was unexpectedly threatened with talk of reimposing martial law. The officials who dropped this bombshell were, surprise, surprise, the president and the minister of defense. No matter how hard they may try to deny making such statements, we have been put on alert. A "declaration of martial law" is a plan to which Chen Shui-bian is "giving careful consideration." Nor can we forget that in the event Chen declares martial law, Minister of Defense Lee Tien-yu has openly declared that "The Mayor of Taipei would be replaced by the Commander of the Sixth Regiment." True, they have since changed their tune. But this does not change the facts. They said what they said. Thoughts that should have been unthinkable, were being casually spoken out loud. Is Taiwan's commitment to the universal value of democracy really so tenuous?

中國時報  2007.11.29
有些念頭 連想都不該想








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