What Could Kill Taiwan
The U.S.'s latest arms sale to Taiwan, announced on July 15, is the fourth one this year. In contrast, there was only one sale in 2021. As Taiwan faces growing pressure from China's diplomatic, economic, and military coercion, the accelerated U.S. arms sale manifests the U.S.'s commitment to Taiwan's defense against China, consistent with the passing in the U.S. Congress of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023, which includes provisions aimed at strengthening Taiwan's defense capability, and President Biden's repeated pledge to defending Taiwan (militarily if necessary).
Taiwan, meanwhile, is readying itself for a full-scale China invasion through various measures: showcasing missile strike ability, deploying asymmetric weaponries, performing drills reminiscent of the Blitz (the bombing of London by Nazi Germany), etc.
These measures are essential to deter and counter China's attacks, but they are not sufficient to defeat China. Taiwan, and the U.S. as well, must psychologically be ready to encounter battlefield casualties at a scale that no one else but the army of Communist China would be willing to inflict without hesitance.
History still holds its value for today's high tech–savvy and humanitarian-nurtured citizens of Taiwan. The proceedings and endings of the Korean War are the seminal textbook that Taiwan can learn from.
The Korean War started when the communist North Korea burst through the N. 38th Parallel with the ambition of putting the entire Korean Peninsula under communist control, an intention similar to what China has for Taiwan today.
Although North Korea failed to achieve its political goal, its de facto backer China succeeded in preventing the U.S.-led U.N. Command from achieving its objectives, under U.N. approval, of unifying Korea and eradicating communism from the peninsula.
China, with inferiorly equipped armies, achieved its strategic and political goal through tactics that inflicted massive casualties not only on the opponents, but mostly on its own. This is a trap Taiwan should be very cautious to not fall into when the time comes to fight for its survival.
From the beginning of the Korean War, China understood that American society, recovering from World War II, did not want to engage in another bloody war, and the U.S. politicians' mandates were given by the people. Throughout the entire Korean War, China carried out a military strategy to exhaust U.S. public support, effectively chipping away its military strength through massive, often suicidal, "human wave attacks."
Take the Battle of Chosin Reservoir (27 November–13 December 1950) as an example. In this first major engagement between the U.S. and China in the Korean War, China lost 25,000 soldiers in exchange for the lives of 718 U.S. soldiers in a failed encirclement attempt.
Although this battle has been dubbed as one of the U.S. Marines' greatest accomplishments, China's political calculation about the U.S.'s resolve proved correct. The U.S. public initially cheered for the bitter, happy conclusion of the battle, but anti-war sentiment was also sown, partially by the massive deaths of Chinese soldiers in battles.
The U.N. forces retreated to the south of the 38th Parallel after the Battle of Chosin Reservoir and abandoned its initial objectives.
When the war was reaching the final months of its second year in 1952, the U.S.-led U.N. forces could hardly sustain the mounting losses inflicted by the Chinese tactics of gradual but constant attrition. Back in the U.S., the overall public sentiment had turned from support to resentment, and "End the War" became the loudest campaign slogan during the presidential election in that year.
The then-president-elect, Eisenhower, subsequently chose an armistice with the communists over liberating the peninsula from them, even though he had been strongly opposing his predecessor Truman's policy of containment toward Communist China.
It would be an overstatement to attribute the shelving of the U.N.'s political plan entirely to the anti-war pressure. The decision nevertheless was the first sign that the Korean War would not end favorably for the defending side.
Would Taiwan (and the U.S.) be able to steer clear of this kind of retreat from its military and political stance in the event of an invasion of Taiwan by China?
The Korean War concluded with the establishment of China's hold on the peninsula through North Korea, a more solidified and aggressive communist state than it was before the war. The U.S. swallowed its humiliation.
During the Korean War, the determinant difference between the U.S.-led U.N. command and Communist China's forces was not military strength, but the value of life. The U.S. and its allies treated life as one of the most sacred presents a human being could receive, whereas in the eye of Communist China, life was (and still is) the most worthless disposable.
This fundamental difference dictated the contrasting difference in response to the loss of lives in the Korean War. The U.S. was disarmed psychologically and morally after losing nearly 36,500 of its own soldiers in the war, let alone the loss of another 197,500 on the communist China side (as estimated by Chinese sources; the true number could be several times higher). China, in contrast, was ready to lose 200,000 more lives if necessary to achieve its above-mentioned strategic and political goals.
In a war fought between these two ideological camps, leaders of democratic nations face far greater obstacles than their counterparts, having to achieve seemingly paradoxical missions to win the war: subdue the bloodthirsty opponents through decisive destruction, and submit to humanitarian pressure by minimizing battleground casualties. When these opposing goals cannot be reconciled, the latter often prevails.
The U.S. chose an armistice instead of a decisive victory to end the Korean War. Whether the subsequent suffering of tens of millions of North Koreans and hundreds of millions of Chinese under communist repression justifies that armistice-for-peace approach warrants a conscientious answer from all who genuinely advocate peace.
Today, China would to apply the same suicidal tactics if it chose to invade Taiwan, only at a much larger scale, after successfully propagating nationalist ideas among the Chinese people for 70 years.
At a certain point, Taiwan would have to face the same tough choice as the US did seven decades ago: Accept a humiliating armistice with China after blood has already been shed, or pursue a harder but complete victory to ensure a long-lasting and true peace.
Image via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.