Mandatory Military Service Weighs Heavy On Foreign Students
Student views differ on importance of combat
September 28, 2006 7:54 PM
There has not been a draft in the United States since the Vietnam War, yet for many SF State students military service is still a requirement.
For SF State students from countries as far away as China and as near as Mexico, entering the military is not a choice. Of the 94 countries represented by foreign students on campus, 53 have some form of compulsory military service.
The formidable Turkish military weighs in at more than a million troops--second only to the United States among NATO members--and military service often holds an important position in a Turkish man’s life.
“I do not have any worries about going into the military,” said SF State graduate Husam Erciyes, who now works as project coordinator for the SFSU Bookstore. “It is a source of pride. To protect any inch of our land is our pride.”
Even after more than five years in the United States, Erciyes says his heart remains in Turkey.
“My purpose in coming here is to get an education and job opportunities,” Erciyes said, “but after three, five or even 10 years, if anything happens at home--God forbid--I am the eldest. I have to take care of things.”
When a Turkish man goes to his prospective bride’s house for the first time, the first question the parents ask is whether he has completed his military service, Erciyes said.
“It is something like an entrance into manhood,” wrote SF State graduate Ahmet Cebeci, 28, in an e-mail interview. He recently completed his military training in Turkey, where he now resides.
Generally after graduating from high school all Turkish men are required to complete 15 months of service, but both Erciyes and Cebeci postponed their service while attending SF State.
However, for many young Taiwanese males, military service means something very different.
“A waste of time,” said Grant Lo, 27, when asked how he felt about compulsory service.
Lo left Taiwan to study English in Canada at age 17, two years before reaching the age of eligibility for military service--a requirement Lo hopes to avoid.
Most of his friends are Taiwanese and his girlfriend of seven years lives on the island. Although Taiwan is a large part of Lo’s life, its military requirement is not.
“It’s not in my schedule,” Lo said with a smile when asked if he will ever complete his service.
The SF State graduate has not returned home in more than nine years, and will have to stay away from his native country for eight more years to avoid the requirement.
Military service in Taiwan has lost the urgency it held ten years ago. During Taiwan’s first popular elections an outspoken call for independence provoked a massive show of force by mainland China, which does not recognize Taiwan as a country. Instead, the Beijing government considers the island a separated province, said Jean-Marc Blanchard, associate director of the Center for US-China Policy Studies at SF State.
But tensions have cooled since those anxious times.
Many young men cheat on their medical exams or make deals with officials in order to skip out on their service, he said.
In Turkey however, the situation remains hot. A border conflict that ended a year ago between Iraqi Kurds and the Turkish military caused casualties numbering in the thousands.
Upon returning to Turkey after graduation, Cebeci was faced with a choice: either serve in the military for six months with the rank of private, without the freedom to leave the regiment, or serve 12 months with a higher rank, higher salary and greater freedom.
Cebeci chose the first option and served six tough months in Edirne, the most northwestern part of Turkey, near the Greek border.
On top of the punishing weather conditions, Cebeci found military life stifling and frustrating.
“The worst thing is you are like a captive and have very little freedom,” he said. “The discipline is strict and there are harsh penalties. Sometimes they push you so hard that you want to scream and yell, but you cannot.”
The hardships that come with military service in Taiwan may have more to do with loneliness than physical hardship and frustration.
The phrase “bingbian” was coined to describe one of the biggest fears facing young Taiwanese men entering the military. The term translates to “military change,” which refers to the change of heart a girlfriend can have while her boyfriend completes his service.
While John Yu, 40, served in 1984, he and his girlfriend of three years could communicate only through letters. A year into his two years of service (the requirement has since been reduced) she ended their relationship without explanation.
After his discharge, Yu sought out the girl only to learn that another man had led to her change of heart.
“When we go to the military, our competitors multiply,” he said.
However, not all Taiwanese fear “bingbian.”
Hospitality management student Jas Lien, 22, is eager to complete his service, despite his friend’s warning.
“I want to go,” Lien said. “I want to train myself.”
“He doesn’t have to worry about bingbian,” said Margaret Hsieh, 22, Lien’s girlfriend of one year. “When he goes into the military, I will just break up with him,” she joked.
Even though he has already served, Cebeci's concerns are not fully detered since Turkish-born men can be called back for service even after their requirement has been completed.
“I hope I will not need to do it again,” Cebeci said, “because in times of need and war they can still call you back until you get to 40.”
POST A COMMENT
|BACK TO TOP|| |
Copyright © 2008 [X]press | Journalism Department - San Francisco State University