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Journal Journal: My Problem With The War

Everybody seems to be talking about the war, so let's start somewhere else.

If you've ever read any report on Taiwanese politics on cnn.com, chances are you'll see a line like "China regards Taiwan as a renegade province". The truth is, of course, a bit more nuanced.

Taiwan was a territory of the Ching (Qing) Dynasty, which lasted for about three centuries ending in the early 1900s. It has not always been considered a part of Ching, and in fact housed remnants of the previous Ming Dynasty for many years. It was an unadministered island occupied by rebels, and later collected into the Ching Dynasty. Still later, after losing a war with Japan, Taiwan was given to Japan.

The Japanese occupation of Taiwan lasted until the end of WWII, when it was given back to the Republic of China, headed by the Nationalist government. In 1949, the Nationalist government finally lost the civil war against the Communists, and retreated to Taiwan.

The Nationalist government has governed Taiwan continuously, since 1949. It has recently democratized a great deal, and now enjoys free elections. The Communists created a new country, called the "People's Republic of China".

So how is Taiwan a "renegade province"? The first concept to understand is that Beijing considers a greater "China" than itself. That is, Beijing feels that it inherited the rights to all of "China", including Taiwan. Any elements of "China" not under its control is, therefore, renegade.

Before I bore you any more, here's the point. The PRC government has never governed Taiwan for a single day. Its claim is based on a greater concept of nation than anybody accepts, because the definition is unlimited. Along the same lines of reasoning, Beijing should be able to claim territories conquered by Genghis Khan, which extends to Vienna or so. Beijing, of course, doesn't actually extend its claim that far, only far enough to include Taiwan.

In other words, Beijing isn't interested in logical argument. It has defined what Taiwan is, and its power ensures that the definition sticks.

How does this relate to the war? After 9/11, the Bush government seized a most important power - the power to define. Who is a "terrorist"? Who is an "enemy combatant"? Who is a "prisoner of war"? Who is part of an "axis of evil"? Who is "evil"?

The old definition of a terrorist is political (or perhaps religious) motive. Somebody who hijacks a plane for money is a kidnapper; somebody who hijacks a plane to broadcast the "plight of his people" or to demand the release of comrades is a terrorist. Today, a terrorist is one who targets civilians. This conveniently ignores the indisputable fact that the United States targeted Japanese civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki with weapons of mass destruction. Does that make the US a terrorist organization?

The nonsense of "enemy combatant" versus "prisoner of war" should be plainly obvious. POWs are people captured in a war. Was the campaign in Afghanistan a war? Were the people captured there?

Which brings us to the most dangerous word: "evil". Evil is something every good person must combat. Evil is something good people must leave no room for. There is no negotiating or compromise with Evil. Never mind that by inference, those who combat Evil are the Good.

Because Saddam Hussein is "evil", he can be judged by what he is "likely" to do in the future with WMDs that he may not yet have. What about all the other nuclear powers? Pakistan has nuclear weapons, and is even a Muslim country. Why are they not "likely", at some undetermined time in the future, to use them against the US?

"Weapons of Mass Destruction" is another clever definition. It collectively refers to nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. It neglects the fact that biological and chemical weapons have never been usable to inflict the kinds of casualties that nuclear weapons can. It's basically impossible to cause death in the millions with B and C weapons, while it's relatively trivial with nuclear weapons. Why are the three lumped together? Well, you'd lump them together too if you had nukes.

I have no problem with war. War is sometimes inevitable, and sometimes just. What I have a problem with is powerful entities using definitions to selectively pursue their own interests. The US wants to invade Iraq because it's "evil"? Fine, define "evil" clearly, and invade everybody who fits that bill. China wants Taiwan "back"? Fine, claim every territory that a "Chinese" government ever held.

When you can be selective with its application, it's not really a principle.

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