There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth some years ago when the Bush administration refused to sell Taiwan some modern, high-tech weapons the Taiwanese wanted. But there is a course of action Taiwan can follow which doesn’t require anyone’s help, could be quickly implemented, would cost only a fraction of the price of an Aegis cruiser and would assure their continued existence and freedom.
All Taiwan needs to do is announce that, since they are a free, self-governing country which trusts its citizens, the government will support its citizens in their right to self-defense.
Taiwan has a population of about 22 million, which means that there are about 7 million adult males. Taiwan has the industrial capacity to quickly equip each and every one of these men with modern infantry equipment, uniforms, handguns, rifles, hand grenades and other anti-personnel weapons. Groups of willing and interested men could be issued light machineguns, mortars, and shoulder-fired missiles for use against aircraft, tanks and ships. (A quick cost estimate for this program is about $4.6 billion dollars. Taiwan’s GDP was estimated at $290.5 billion in 1995, its 2000 defense budget was about $12.8 billion.)
The Taiwanese are an industrious, competitive and committed people. Most of its male citizens could very quickly be trained in weapons use, basic marksmanship and simple military tactics. It would be a simple matter for the government of Taiwan to make shooting a national pastime by sponsoring shooting matches, providing generous prizes and official recognition of the winners.
The Taiwanese would come in for a lot of political criticism if they adopted this program, but what’s the worse that could happen? The UN will be mad? The UN already pretends that Taiwan doesn’t exist. “Highly civilized” countries, like most of Europe, will look down on them? The Europeans won’t even fight to protect Europe, so why would anyone care what they think about another country’s national defense plans.
Critics will argue that this “militia” method has never worked, but there are many successful examples. The first, and best known to Americans, are the Revolutionary War battles of Concord and the “Road” back to Boston. Militiamen, then called Minutemen, harassed and, if not for the opportune arrival of reinforcements, would have destroyed, an armed column of the British Army, the most powerful nation on earth at the time.
It was arguably the “militia” model which won Israel its independence in 1948. And remember that when some Japanese war planners discussed invading the United States, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (the chief planner of the Pearl Harbor attack) spoke warningly of “a rifle behind every blade of grass.” A Soviet defector informed the CIA that the U.S.S.R. never had any plans for occupying the Continental U.S. because the idea of occupying an armed country was too daunting for the commissars..
And also bear in mind the experiences of the French in North Vietnam, the Americans in South Vietnam and the Russians in Afghanistan.
But the very best example of how this method could work for Taiwan is outlined by Stephen P. Halbrook in his book Switzerland And Its Armed Citizenry. Halbrook explains:
“Since the origins of the Swiss Confederation in 1291, it has been the duty of every male Swiss citizen to be armed and to serve in the militia. Today, that arm is an ‘assault rifle,’ which is issued to every Swiss male and which must be kept in the home.”
In the early 1940's, the Swiss were in a situation with many parallels to the one Taiwan faces today. The Nazis controlled most of the European continent with the exception of this tiny country which Hitler had once called “a pimple boil on the face of Europe.”
But before the war, Swiss President Philipp Etter spoke at the Swiss federal shooting festival (still the world’s largest shooting event), stressing that the purpose of their activity was something far more serious than sports. His comments that day demonstrated the connection between national defense and the armed citizen.
Within a days of Hitler’s attack on Poland, Switzerland had about half a million militiamen mobilized (out of a population of just over four million). General Henri Cuisan, commander-in-chief of the Swiss militia, let the Nazis and his fellow countrymen know that the Swiss would fight by issuing Operations Order No. 2:
“At the border, and between the border and army position, the border troops and advance guard are to persistently delay the advance of the enemy. The garrisons at the border, and between the border and the works and positions making up the defensive front, are to continue resistance up to the last cartridge, even if they find themselves completely alone.”
This astonishing order was the opposite of the policies of the other European countries, which either surrendered without a fight or surrendered after brief resistance. Two examples: In April, 1940, Denmark’s king, after a meeting with the Nazis, surrendered, instructing his subjects and armed forces not to resist. Norway resisted, but its armed forces were ineffective and unlike Switzerland, its populace was mostly unarmed.
After these invasions, the Swiss issued “Directions concerning the conduct of the soldiers not under arms in event of attack.” A warning to Germany and an encouragement to Swiss citizens, it was plastered on walls all over the country:
“All soldiers and those with them are to attack with ruthlessness parachutists, airborne infantry and saboteurs. Where no officers and noncommissioned officers are present, each soldier is to act under exertion of all powers of his own initiative.
“Under no condition will any surrender be forthcoming, and any pretense of a surrender must be ignored: If by radio, leaflets or other media any information is transmitted doubting the will of the Federal Council or of the Army High Command to resist an attacker, this information must be regarded as lies of enemy propaganda. Our country will resist aggression with all means in its power and to the death.”
What confidence the political and military leadership had in the ordinary Swiss, commanding the individual to act on his own initiative! Possible, of course, only in a society where every man had his rifle at home.
Switzerland, in other words, had the most democratic system of national defense in Europe. The Nazis were made well aware that invasion meant fighting for every inch of ground (ground made as if God had designed it for defense). It meant meeting resistance in every city, town and village, in every meadow, pasture, forest and mountainside, every one defended by men who grew up there and knew it like the backs of their hands. There would be no hope of an easy, relatively bloodless victory.
And assume that the invasion was ultimately successful. Imagine the difficulty of militarily occupying a country with millions of military weapons in the hands of the populace. Not the sort of situation conducive to a tyrant’s restful sleep.
Within days of attacking France in 1940, Hitler’s Wehrmacht had vanquished the French army. Shortly after the French rout, General Cuisan issued yet another remarkable command to the militia:
“The latest war news demonstrates that the French soldiers could have stopped hostile advances. Instead, defections allowed the enemy to penetrate through gaps, which quickly widened. [If Switzerland is attacked] Everywhere, where the order is to hold, it is the duty of conscience of each fighter, even if he depends on himself alone, to fight at his assigned position. The riflemen, if overtaken or surrounded, are to fight in their position until no more ammunition exists. Then cold steel is next.... The machine gunners, the cannoneers of heavy weapons, the artillerymen, if in the bunker or on the field, are not to abandon or destroy their weapons, or allow the enemy to seize them. The crews are to fight further like riflemen. As long as a man has another cartridge or hand weapons to use, he is not to yield.”
Cold steel. Never surrender if any weapon is available. An assault rifle in every home. This was (and is) the Swiss tradition. Would Europe’s history in the 1940's have been different if all the countries Hitler threatened had such a tradition?
The Nazis never invaded Switzerland.
Now imagine the ChiCom leaders looking across the Formosa Straits and contemplating facing 7 million angry Taiwanese, armed with 5 million assault rifles, 2 million handguns, 7 billion rounds of ammunition, 35 million hand grenades, a half million or so machineguns, mortars and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, another half million anti-tank rockets, a couple of hundred thousand anti-ship missiles. That Strait is going to look mighty wide to them.
(These comments about Taiwan could be equally applied to South Korea.)