Monday, October 06, 2008

The Social Army

Taiwan has compulsory military service (for boys, although girls can join the army voluntarily).  They have to serve in the army for a year after they finish their education- after high school or college for most people, although one of Jasmine's brothers is 28 and just finished his PhD and he just started his service.  There are ways around it- I've heard of people making runs to Hong Kong and Macau every six months because that somehow confirms you're not a permanent resident- but it seems like that's not a very popular move.  One weird thing- say a boy was born in Taiwan but moves away as a baby and grows up somewhere else.  If he comes to Taiwan to teach English, he has to either do his service or find some way to avoid it.

Conscientious Objectors (including Jehovah's Witnesses) can instead join what Taiwanese people call the "social army"- basically alternative service that involves social welfare stuff.  For example, there is a brother now in my congregation who drives a van to take old people to doctor's appointments.  One brother I knew worked on a government hotline to give information about something.  Another worked in a school just doing errands.

It's not really fun and games- the Social Army service is 6 mos. longer than the regular army service.  You work a lot of hours, and you can be assigned anywhere (not just near your home and parents) and provided with kinda crappy accomodations.  But it beats jail which is what COs used to get.  Years ago I guess jail was pretty terrible (for anyone who went against the government) and as Taiwan got freer jail got better.  Then they changed the law and even pardoned some previously jailed COs.  It wasn't that long ago, but most boys (OK, men) my age didn't have to go to jail but those a few years older did.

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