The classroom is full, there are around 50 students. They listen attentively to the professor who talks about air strikes in Ukraine and how one missile is enough to destroy an entire block. On the projected slide, a huge crater can be seen in the street. A real picture of the battlefield. He continues to talk about the defense materials that Taiwan has of American origin. He points to a rocket launcher, shows fighter planes, submarines and anti-aircraft systems. Then he moves on to another point: the invasion, and projects on the board a map with the “red beaches”, possible landing sites of the People's Liberation Army (PLA, Chinese Army). We continue with a brief review of military intelligence. There are different levels. The one that is accessible to mere mortals is open source, in technical jargon OSINT (open source intelligence). Anyone can help, it can be a “very valuable” resource. It concludes with some comments on morality. “The will to resist is the cornerstone of defense,” it says in a transparency. And so ends the first lesson of the morning at the Kuma Academy, a civil defense school in Taipei designed to prepare Taiwanese for a possible conflict with China.
It's Sunday, election day in Taiwan. Lai Ching-te, the most unpopular candidate in Beijing from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, has emerged victorious in presidential elections on the self-governing island, which the People's Republic claims as an inalienable part of its territory. But here everyone got up early to take part in this Sunday course, which consists of four modules: After this initial introduction to “modern war”, there are two hours on “Disinformation and Cognitive Operations”, followed by some exercises in “First Help and Homeostasis,” in which they learn how to bandage and apply tourniquets, as well as an “evacuation planning” workshop.
Young people predominate among the students, but there is everything. The reasons for attending the course are similar. “I feel like the Chinese Communist Party wants to use violence to unify Taiwan,” explains Anita, 23, a sociology student. Many would rather not be photographed or give their name. It's your case. “I think that [esta reunificación] “It poses a potential threat to my way of life and my family,” he added. “I don’t know when it will happen, but I want to properly prepare for that moment.”
Melissa Lyn, 70 years old, born in Taiwan but living in the United States, returned to the island to vote in the elections and signed up for the course because she is interested in learning about technology and young people to better understand people, those who consider themselves vulnerable to misinformation. Alan, 27, contributes: “I want to learn from professionals how to protect myself and my family.” He completed the four-month Taiwanese military service (which was recently extended to one year), but believes this training is “not enough.” .
Bear with bulletproof vest and rifle
According to the company, around 30,000 people have already gone through the Kuma School, which was founded in 2019. The majority of students are between 30 and 35 years old and there are more women (65%) than men taking part. The logo of the academy – whose name means “black bear” in Mandarin, a species typical of Taiwan – is a bear wearing a bulletproof vest and holding a rifle. One of the slogans is the well-known Latin maxim: “Si vis Pacem, Para Bellum” (If you want peace, prepare for war).
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Subscribe toKang Xue-er, a 66-year-old retiree, is taking the class with her daughter Chen Han-ling, 36, an artist and manga drawing teacher. William April
“The Taiwanese actually don’t care about civil defense. Most people don't believe there will be a war. You can feel that people in Taiwan live very peacefully,” says Puma Shen, 41, one of the academy’s founders. The idea is to ensure that 1% of residents understand the risk and know how to protect themselves and their families. “It would help our nation. Because when a war breaks out, everyone can panic a little. But if you have someone who knows what to do, that would ease the fear.”
Shen, an associate professor of criminology at National Taipei University and a specialist in disinformation, says the easiest way for China to “invade” Taiwan is for Beijing to make 40% of Taiwanese think “it's in.” “Order is” to join the People’s Republic. In the event of a conflict, he continues, a critical mass would be able to “surrender” immediately and “end the war in a week.” The co-founder of the academy takes these things very seriously. He is convinced that a war is already underway. On his backpack he wears a patch with a skull, the emblem of the National Anti-Communist Salvation Army (a now-defunct command that was under the command of Taipei in the fight against the People's Republic), and he also runs the Doublethink Lab. an organization specializing in Chinese “cyber armies.” Misinformation was a battleground during the election campaign, as the Taiwanese government has denounced.
With his hair disheveled as if he had just woken up, Shen says it's been a busy few days. He ran for the PPD in the parliamentary elections (when he gives the interview there are still a few days until the polls open; he will finally be elected). Its appeal to young people is undeniable. And his candidacy shows the academy's solidarity with the ruling party, which has achieved another victory after eight years in power. It is the first time since the first democratic elections in 1996 that a party has won a third consecutive mandate.
In 2022, the school also received the support of Robert Tsao, a wealthy tycoon in the microchip sector, the island's strategic resource. According to the Taipei Times, Tsao assured that he would allocate 1 billion Taiwan dollars (about 29 million euros) to train three million “black bear warriors” in civilian tactics and about 300,000 “shooters” over the next three years. Shortly afterwards, he announced further donations to finance the development of drones for military use.
In Kuma they are only trained in civil matters. They do not conduct any target practice. From time to time they organize outdoor macro exercises with dozens of people, during which they simulate an attack with wounded people who need to be evacuated. There will be an event next Saturday that is expected to have a hundred participants. This consists of “civil defense,” explains Shen, who knows how to save oneself, conduct psychological defense, resist, and protect the community. The founder believes it is necessary to “convey the message that China is indeed a threat.” “Talking about the possibility of war, talking about preparation, is the only way for people to understand our situation.” “The best way to protect our country is to make sure people know that we should not sign a peace agreement with China. That is the main goal of our organization,” he added.
The professor of the modern warfare course believes it is important to teach “the global position” of Taiwan, understand the island's “capabilities,” who are its allies and who are its enemies, and also take into account China's growing power. Years ago, says the military strategy expert, who prefers to keep his identity secret, Beijing's “threats” were “empty slogans.” Today, with the development of the People's Republic, the tide has turned. It is crucial to understand this while understanding the ability of Taiwan's defense to “boost confidence.” “We are a country that loves peace,” he added. “We do it so we can continue to lead a normal life.”
“We want to protect Taiwan's democracy and feel that there is a lot of pressure from China,” said Kang Xue-er, a 66-year-old retiree who worked in a department store and came to the class with her daughter. He believes that the People's Republic is “brainwashing” voters of the nationalist Kuomintang party, which has traditionally been closer to Beijing. Its candidate, Hou Yu-ih, came second in the presidential election, but the KMT won the parliamentary election. His daughter Chen Han-ling, 36, is an artist and manga drawing teacher. He adds that Taiwanese need to be “prepared and aware” of a potential conflict. It is impressive to watch them, ordinary people with ordinary lives, learn moments later on any given Sunday that bleeding “in excessive amounts causes shock” and that when the bleeding is severe, more than 2,000 cubic centimeters, the heart – and breathing frequency decreases, anxiety occurs, loss of consciousness. The teacher shows how to cut it by pressing firmly on the imaginary wound with a bandage. Next, they prepare to apply a tourniquet.
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