Chinese rescue teams, seasoned experts with valuable experience
earned at enormous human cost during the 8.3 magnitude Tangshan
quake of 1976, were made available to the ROC within hours of the
initial shockwaves, and kept available for the duration of the crisis.
Taiwan, the three million strong "Buddhist Compassion Relief"
Tzu Chi Association, without any prompting or media fanfare, swiftly
mobilized, dispatching well-organized and highly disciplined teams
of Buddhist nuns with emergency supplies of drinking water and rations
to hard hit disaster sites. TV news crews eager to capture human
interest footage of them in action were asked politely to refrain,
as their presence impeded their rescue efforts to the detriment
of the victims.
nuns weren't the only organization to operate with military precision.
The ROC Army Corp of Engineers also earned the respect and gratitude
of countless quake victims.
Party Chairman Lee Ching-hua and concerned New Party officials chartered
a helicopter on their own initiative, loaded it up with emergency
medical supplies and flew them to a remote fogged-in mountain disaster
site. They distributed the supplies and evacuated a full load of
injured quake victims. New Party Legislator Fung Ting-kuo, whose
district surrounds the epicenter, went days without sleep, working
around the clock addressing one emergency after another.
Mayor Ma Ying-jeou confirmed Taipei voters' wisdom by exercising
considerable wisdom of his own. The father of two sons saved after
being buried under 12 stories of rubble for 130 hours thanked Ma
for his solid judgment. Ma ordered the site sprayed with water so
that anyone trapped beneath could drink and not die from dehydration
before they could be reached by rescue crews.
like an Irwin Allen disaster movie, Taiwan's crisis also revealed
the ineptitude of the political hacks who comprise Lee Teng-hui's
separatist KMT mainstream faction. We will probably never learn
how many unnecessary deaths their lethal combination of incompetence
and indifference inflicted on the people of Taiwan.
experts inform us that the first 72 hours following a disaster,
either natural or man-made, are the most critical. Victims not reached
during this window of opportunity usually don't survive.
experts who rushed to Taiwan from halfway around the world, anxious
to swing into action saving lives, were left cooling their heels
by clueless KMT bureaucrats, even as quake victims remained trapped
under mountains of rubble. Rescue teams from Britain, Spain and
Mexico confided their frustration with the Lee Teng-hui administration's
mind-boggling incompetence. A United Daily News article entitled
"Who's in Charge?" quoted incredulous international rescue
workers who swore "never in their lives had they witnessed
such a chaotic command system."
Party Legislator Hsieh Chi-Ta, cited for outstanding public service
by Taiwan's Press Association, invoked the picturesque metaphor
of dinosaurs. One could smack these lumbering giants on the tail
yet run away before their tiny brains reacted to the pain. Whether
this is paleontologically accurate is beside the point. It was an
apt metaphor for the ruling KMT's torpor in Taiwan's hour of need.
was President Lee Teng-hui doing during this critical 72 hours?
Lee, Vice-president Lien Chan, and Premier Vincent Siew spent the
first 48 hours "visually inspecting" disaster sites by
helicopter. Lee requisitioned one Sikorsky Seahawk for himself plus
three more for his retinue of personal bodyguards and presidential
office staffers. This four helo squadron arrived at each disaster
site empty-handed. No food. No medicine. No rescue equipment.
asked by quake victims at successive disaster sites what Lee intended
to do to help, Lee informed them he would "first complete his
'visual inspections,' then study the matter in greater detail, and
finally set up an emergency rescue center." Seventy-two hours
later, having completed his checklist, Lee Teng-hui was ready to
deal with the emergency.
were KMT party hacks doing about the earthquake?
downed telecommunications links in order to determine which areas
suffered what sort of damage and what type of assistance they would
need? Clearing blocked roadways so rescue personnel and equipment
could get through? Coordinating domestic and foreign rescue efforts
to avoid wasteful duplication of manpower and materiel?
answer is none of the above.
party hacks were holding marathon debates about compensation for
quake victims. How much for each person killed, how much for each
person injured, how much for each person maimed. Rather than trying
to save the living, they were busy figuring out how to mollify surviving
family members by buying them off with public monies.
by a rising tide of public anger, KMT party hacks started showing
up at disaster sites accompanied by TV news crews. Not only did
these callous opportunists fail to provide timely and appropriate
disaster assistance, their "celebrity" appearances at
quake sites for transparently self-serving motives got in the way
of private efforts initiated once the public realized the government
was out to lunch.
quake victim summed up public cynicism when he told reporters "We
want nothing, except food, water, and coffins. Big Shots showing
up here we can do without."
AND THE UGLY MR. DEMOCRACY
Big Shot in particular, Lee Teng-hui, ROC President and KMT Party
Chairman, was not about to pay the slightest attention to what ignorant
quake victims wanted. He would decide what they wanted. His arrogance
would claim a five year old quake victim's life.
MR. DEMOCRACY FLATTENS
QUAKE VICTIMS' TENTS
September 24, President Lee Teng-hui, stung by mounting public criticism
his administration was sitting on its collective rear end, decided
to demonstrate his concern for his constituents by "visually
inspecting" a tent city for quake victims in Nantou, a hard
hit community only a few kilometers from the quake's epicenter.
Lee Teng-hui's personal helicopter hovered before setting down,
its rotor wash blew blinding clouds of dust into the air, sending
earthquake victims scrambling for safety, and demolishing their
elderly woman's frustration turned into fury. Her permanent home
had been reduced to rubble. Her temporary home, a Jerry-rigged tent
cobbled together from cheap plastic tarpaulins, now lay in tatters
as well, courtesy of the Big Shot's helicopter.
elderly woman marched up to Lee and angrily demanded, "You've
just destroyed our tents! Now what are we going to do when it rains?"
news crew Betacams whirred, capturing the escalating confrontation.
Teng-hui, his face contorted with rage, bellowed at the elderly
woman, "You have an attitude problem! I'm here to serve all
of the public! Understand? Not just you!"
turned his back to the elderly woman, made homeless a second time,
this time by her "public servant," and strode away from
her. Lee's Praetorian Guard, smartly attired in intimidating black-on-black
uniforms, held indignant quake victims at arm's length while Lee
reboarded his personal helicopter.
MR. DEMOCRACY CAVES IN A FIVE YEAR OLD QUAKE VICTIM'S SKULL
American historian George Santayana once quipped that "Those
who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them."
Having learned nothing from his fiasco in Nantou, Lee Teng-hui would
repeat his mistake, only this time with fatal consequences.
September 26, Lee Teng-hui's four-helicopter entourage arrived in
Puli, another hard hit community very close to the epicenter. Two
of President Lee's four helicopters set down inside Puli Middle
School's tree-lined exercise yard, not far from a tent city erected
for homeless quake victims.
As the third helicopter circled, searching for a landing spot, its
rotor wash tore a heavy branch off a spreading deciduous tree and
sent it crashing down on five quake victims sitting beneath its
shade. Four of them were injured. The fifth, a five year old girl
named Lai Yi-chun, the only daughter of a couple whose home lay
in ruins and who were huddled in nearby tents, was rushed to Taichung
Veteran's Hospital. She showed no life signs upon arrival, and was
declared legally dead three hours later
some miracle we survived a natural disaster. Yet somehow we couldn't
survive a man-made disaster," the mother of the dead girl told
reporters. "We weren't safe inside our home. We weren't safe outside
in a tent. We don't know where we can go now to feel safe."
What did this man, whom Newsweek magazine anointed "Mr.
Democracy," do next? Did he transport the twice-victimized
five year old girl to the hospital in his personal helicopter? Did
he stay by the side of the grief-stricken parents and offer his
heartfelt sympathies for their tragic loss?
Democracy did none of these things. Mr. Democracy reboarded his
helicopter and flew away, leaving his military attaché to
clean up his mess.
indignant crowd of local quake victims jeered and hooted at him
as he lifted off.
MR. DEMOCRACY SETS THE VALUE OF A HUMAN LIFE
military attaché called an impromptu press conference. First
he explained that "the event was a tragedy, but the tree had already
been weakened by the earthquake and aftershocks, therefore the tragedy
couldn't be blamed entirely on the helicopter." Then he added
"besides, the ground had been softened by the quake, contributing
to the branch breaking off." Finally he claimed that "the
helicopter which killed the girl wasn't even the president's, but
an Army chopper carrying relief supplies."
announced that the parents of the five year old girl killed by the
helicopter would receive NT $300,000 in compensation (US $10,000)
and that the president had instructed the military to "handle
the matter." Later TV news reports informed the public Lee
had upped the compensation to NT $2 million (US$60,000).
medieval Europe if an aristocrat's carriage hurtling toward its
destination happened to run over a grimy little urchin from a peasant
family, the aristocrat was under "noblesse oblige" to
compensate the victim's family. He would toss a few coins in the
dust and drive on, having fulfilled his duty to the bereaved. We
live in inflationary times, so the amount has changed. The attitude
September 29, at a KMT Central Standing Committee meeting, Lee proclaimed:
"Our top concern is to soothe the broken hearts of those who managed
to survive the deadly temblor and to rekindle their confidence in
THE MANDATE OF HEAVEN
Lee Teng-hui won the presidency of the ROC in 1996, eminent western
news organizations published a string of astoundingly naive puff
pieces hyping Lee Teng-hui's "stunning 54% electoral mandate"
at the polls.
KMT candidates during the Two Chiangs' administrations achieved
80 to 90% majorities, regular as clockwork. And why shouldn't they
have? The KMT is a Leninist political machine, the wealthiest political
party in the world , wealthier by far than our own Demopublican
party. One would hardly expect anything less.
fast forward to 1996. Lee inherits this well-oiled party apparatus
intact, including its Hearst-like media empire, and all he can manage
is a crummy 54%?
observers who applied their own political context to the ROC's 1996
elections misled themselves about its significance. Lee's "stunning
landslide" actually indicated an alarming decline in public
July 28, 1976, a record 8.3 magnitude earthquake devastated the
Hebei city of Tangshan on the Chinese mainland. This earthshaking
event was widely interpreted as evidence that the mandate of heaven
had been withdrawn from Mao Zedong's regime and that the Great Helmsman's
days were numbered. Mao died two months later.
September 21, 1999, a record 7.6 magnitude earthquake devastated
the offshore Chinese island of Taiwan. Is this earthshaking event,
whose negative impact has been exacerbated by gross human dereliction,
evidence that the mandate of heaven has been withdrawn from Lee
Teng-hui's regime and that Mr. Democracy's days are numbered? We
live in interesting times. We shall soon see.
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