I want to be a peacenik.
I used to be one, in fact. There's a hippie-dippy inside me who is all about flowers not bombs, non-violent resistance, refusing to keep the cycle of control, war and poverty going. The military industrial complex has no place in my heart.
There's a part of me that is tugged by the very persuasive argument that getting involved in the affairs of other countries the way we do - in Libya, in Syria, in Iraq - does not work and cannot work. We keep trying to get involved, we say it's for the greater good (well, that's the message sold to us), and we keep mucking it up.
I'm a big fan of liberal thought in general, and modern American liberalism is all about avoiding military intervention - peace at all costs. It's all about assuming there is always a diplomatic solution.
And yet, I just can't do it anymore. I live in Taiwan, a nation whose existence is under the very real threat of a growing, aggressive and unfriendly expansionist China, whose values as a nation do not at all match those of Taiwan. I won't go so far as to say "Taiwan can't defend itself", because I don't know Taiwan's true military capability. But, given that we might be able to ward off an initial attack, still it seems unlikely we could win that war alone. We'd need help. We'd need big friends in high places, who understand the value of keeping a successful liberal democracy and ally intact, at that ally's own request. Because if China wins, it is Game Over for Taiwan. We can't let it happen.
This isn't Syria or Afghanistan - we're not trying to bring down a government. It's not Iraq II, where we not only brought down the government, but did so uninvited. This isn't the same as screwing over Latin America time and time again by supporting juntas and regimes friendly to our interests rather than their own people's. It's a friendly, developed, democratic nation asking for assistance should its spoiled neighbor turn its temper tantrums into real action.
To be clear, I don't mean there ought to be military intervention now, and I hope that just the threat of it will keep China's expansionist garbage in check. I don't want a war - nobody does. But the only way for that to be effective is for it to be very clear: if a war is what China wants, the promise of US military intervention is sincere.
So, I have to be pro-military to some degree. I have to be pro-US intervention abroad. I have to be pro-US arms sales (although we can debate about which weapons we need, we do need weapons). I have to accept that war is a possibility - and it is, because the only possible outcomes here are formal independence or war, given that Taiwan is not going to choose to unify peacefully (and it's not - why would it?). I have to be okay with that so we can get on with the business of figuring out how to defend ourselves.
And yes, it has to be the US - nobody else can even come close to being a real check on Chinese expansionism.
Peace at all costs assumes no cost is too high, but the cost of losing Taiwan is not acceptable. Forcing 23 million people to give up the freedom they fought for because the angry dictatorship next door decided it wanted their land is not acceptable. Encouraging Taiwan to move towards unification (or to peacefully accept annexation) because "the alternative is war" is not acceptable. It might result in peace - China would mightily like it for that reason - but it will not result in justice. And peace without justice is cruel.
We have peace now, but it is an unjust peace. It is quite literally asking the victim - the bullied person - to accept being victimized and bullied for the sake of "keeping the peace". It's goes beyond "can't you two just work together", with its stupidly racialized - or ethnicized or whatever - idea that because people in both countries are "Chinese", that this should be easy, we should desire it and joining the two nations is a desired outcome...because why again? I'm not really clear on the underlying assumptions here unless it's the Western liberals who are really shilling ethnic stereoty----oh.
It goes straight to asking a successful, developed, liberal democracy to give all of that up and just accept being oppressed under a brutal authoritarian regime because, oh yeah, doing that would be peaceful and peace is the most important thing, more important than preserving the freedom millions of people already have.
Or, it goes straight to something more cowardly: voicing weak support for Taiwan's cause and affirmation that their values are shared by Western nations, while not actually doing anything to shore up an ally's defenses. It's the ~*~thoughts and prayers~*~ of foreign policy. "Oh, it would be terrible if China invaded, so sorry we can't help but good luck!" (Yeah, you thought "thoughts and prayers" were only things insincere conservatives offered. Nope!)
I can't help but draw a mental connection with asking women and people of color in Western countries to accept an atmosphere of harassment, bullying and discriminatory treatment because to confront the bullies and victimizers disrupts "the peace". Keep quiet and suck it up because "keeping the peace" is more important than doing the right thing. "I'm so sorry Cousin Jack called you the n-word, but if I confront him it would ruin Thanksgiving!"
In fact, I really feel like a lot of the talking points defending this worldview come down to this:
"C'mon Taiwan, can't you just peacefully play China's long game, even though you know what they're up to? We have to keep the peace....
...Justice? What's that?
Oh, you want justice. Oh, aherm...yeah...justice is good...ahem..uh...oh my iPhone 8 is ringing. Excuse me."
And if you push back: "No, I don't support authoritarianism abroad, it's just that we can't always get involved, and it sucks that China's so terrible, so sorry."
I just don't have much respect for a worldview that boils down to "dictatorship is bad, mmmkay? And dictatorships shouldn't take over unwilling smaller nations just because they want to. Unless, like, a really big and strong dictatorship that we do a lot of trade with. It's still bad, but, well...we need to keep the
This worldview either assumes that freedom, democracy and human rights are only things one need to have for oneself (but are not necessary for others), or that only nations with big militaries - or those not under threat - get to be liberal democracies. Everyone else can suck it.
Or, even worse, it assumes that the liberal democracies of Western nations deserve to be defended, but Asians..."well,
Because come on, you know that if, say, Australia's democracy was threatened, we'd be far more likely to step in. There would certainly be more public support from it, among both liberals and conservatives.
(Yeah, maybe you also thought racism was confined to conservative circles. It's not.)
How on Earth can I say I am against US military intervention abroad when I live in a country that wants the help, deserves the help, is friendly to the West and upholds as essential civic values - freedom, democracy, human rights* - everything Western countries say they believe in and want to promote and defend?
I have to support selling arms to Taiwan. I don't want to support selling arms to anyone, but how can I not? We don't want a war, but if war is brought to us we have to be able to defend ourselves.
I have to support the idea of US military intervention abroad, because while I'd like Taiwan to be able to defend itself without help, I'm not at all sure this is realistic (I hear varying reports on this).
I can't be a localist, because doing so will quite literally choke Taiwan to death. I want to be anti-war, but I just can't if I am going to be pro-Taiwan.
This is especially difficult as, of course, most Taiwanese don't want a war either. This makes sense - war wound devastate Taiwan far more than the US regardless of any intervention it launches on our behalf. It's entirely sensible to try to maintain peace at a bearable-enough cost for as long as possible in the hope that something will shift and movement will be possible.
But I can't rule war out - I can't insist there has to be another way - when I know perfectly well that there might not be.
I could cling, unflinching, to my liberal hippie-dippy core and say "if it comes to that, then we go full Gandhi. We non-violently resist. We refuse to cooperate, but also refuse to fight."
I love that idea, and it worked in another context, but not even the British Empire is as bad as China. Forget non-violent resistance, China will quite literally just kill us - millions of us, should it come to that - before the international outcry would even begin to make a difference, if it ever did. By the time we realized we needed to do more than protest...
...look, what I'm saying is they'd just kill us all, millions if they have to, and not even think twice about doing so. Non-violent resistance works when there is a line your opponent would not cross, and I can say honestly the Chinese government has no such line.
Remember, Taiwan may prefer peace, but so does China.
Everyone wants peace. It's just that some people prefer real peace, and others are just fine with a cruel peace, which is no peace at all.
And if that's how it is, I can't be a dove.
Against my instincts, I have to be a hawk.
Frankly I wish I could convince more liberals to join me. I mean not quite to the point of telling them to stop worrying and love that bomb already, but if they believe in the fundamental concepts of freedom and democracy, then it makes sense to support Taiwan. If it makes sense to support Taiwan, then it makes sense to support defending Taiwan. And if it makes sense to support defending Taiwan, then it makes sense to re-consider the advantages of being a bit of a hawk.
*I have to say I grow less sure of this one as I read more stories of the treatment of foreign workers (and Taiwanese workers to a lesser degree), though.