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By Bill Hoagland
Over the past few weeks, the “Formosa” war drums have certainly been beating. China has threatened to invade “Formosa,” now known as “Taiwan,” and in response, President Biden and Speaker Pelosi have suggested that we will do whatever is necessary to defend this island of 23 million souls crammed together on an island located just 100 miles from mainland China. I am using the name “Formosa” here to emphasize that things have changed radically since the 1950s, back when we could easily declare our willingness to defend “Formosa”, no matter the costs.
So what has changed besides the name? Well, for one thing, back in the 1950s, we had nuclear weapons and China didn’t. We also had the most powerful navy and air force in the world; now, maybe we don’t. China also now has the capacity to conduct a biological war on that crammed island that could wipe out the population in days. And did I mention that over the past few years, China has been frantically creating new islands in the South China Sea and that’s not because they will be putting casinos on them?
But the relative military strengths of China and the US is not the only thing that has radically changed since the Formosa days. Did you know that since 1979, the US has not had official diplomatic relations with Taiwan? That’s right: no US embassy there and no Taiwanese embassy here. Instead, the only Chinese country we have officially recognized in the past 40 years has been what we used to refer to as “Red China.” Nor do we have a treaty with Taiwan that would legally obligate us to defend them at all costs. What we really have is a moral obligation to defend Taiwan that had its origin in the 1950s. Do you know if Taiwan is truly a “democracy?” I assume that it is, but I actually have no clue—just as I was surprised to learn yesterday that we have had no diplomatic relationship with Taiwan for years. In short, many of us know very little about Taiwan.
I am no military expert but I don’t see how we could possibly “defend” Taiwan without eventually resorting to nuclear weapons and an all-out war with China. Sending a fleet of drones from Okinawa won’t get it done. Are we willing to subject ourselves to an all-out war with China because we perceive that we have a moral obligation to defend Taiwan? Or is it really about preserving the semiconductor business and not the 23 millions souls that live there? In other words, if Taiwan did not have a monopoly on the semiconductor business world-wide, would there still be a political push to defend Taiwan “at all costs?”
In the early 1960s, shortly after Kennedy became President, we started hearing about a relatively new republic situated in what used to be known as French Indochina. Most of us could not even locate the Republic of South Viet Nam on a map. Soon, we were sending military advisors there to help keep South Viet Nam “free” and we know what happened next, all without any significant discussion in this country as to what might be involved. If there had been a serious discussion about the pros and cons of defending South Viet Nam before we took those irreversible steps in the early 1960s, maybe the Viet Nam War as we know it would never have happened.
This may seem unpatriotic to raise the issue, but don’t we owe it to ourselves and our children to have a frank discussion about what it really means to defend Taiwan in this day and age? Taiwan is no longer “Formosa.”
■ Bill Hoagland has practiced law in Alton for more than 50 years, but he has spent more than 70 years hunting, fishing and generally being in the great outdoors. His wife, Annie, shares his love of the outdoor life. Much of their spare time is spent on their farm in Calhoun County. Bill can be reached at email@example.com.