In Taiwan, as in Ukraine, the United States called to defend democracy against tyranny

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Most memories are garbage. Inexpensive sculptures made all over the world from the place supposed to be commemorated. Decorative spoons. Useless stuff.

So it’s remarkable when you have a souvenir that’s really practical, like the 11-inch cleaver I’m looking at now, produced by Maestro Wu. One piece of metal, lightweight and balanced. Flick your fingernail against the blade and it chimes for a full five seconds. Sharp as a razor.

I got it on the Taiwanese island of Kinman, 2,000 meters from the Chinese coast. I had flown to Taiwan to interview Annette Lu, then vice president, whose journey to what she called “soft power” had taken her through the University of Illinois and Chicago, putting her on the Sun-Times radar. She admired the ease with which people could protest here.

My accommodating Taiwanese hosts asked while I was in the neighborhood if there was any other place in the country I’d like to visit beyond the capital city of Taipei. I rather boldly asked to visit Kinman Island. As a history fan, I knew that part of the Kennedy/Nixon debates centered on whether the United States would go to war with China over the fate of Quemoy and Matsu – “Quemoy” being that which Westerners then called Kinman.

I bring this up because the nation is in the headlines, after United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stopped by for her visit to Asia. When news of the trip broke there was a disappointing outcry that this shouldn’t happen, that we need to be nice to communist China so they don’t bully us even more than they already do. .

A little background, for readers unfamiliar: Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China, is a democratic nation of 23 million people perched in uncomfortable proximity to the People’s Republic of China and its 1.4 billion of inhabitants. The communists are increasingly insisting that they own Taiwan because… well, they want to. As to why China, a nation of 3.7 million square miles, Needs to absorb Taiwan, not half of 1% of the size, well, that’s the same reason Russia needs Ukraine. They don’t. They just feel entitled, the same way any bully feels entitled to your lunch money. Because they think they can handle it.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi meets with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen (right) in Taipei, Taiwan on Wednesday.

Taiwan Presidential Office Photo/Distributed by The Associated Press

This is where America comes in. Putin invaded Ukraine because he thought the West would do nothing. We should have clarified that earlier.

That’s what makes Pelosi’s trip valuable, even if it triggers a new wave of saber slashes and Chinese missile fire. There should be no ambiguity. Without American power, Taiwan will suffer the fate of Hong Kong or Tibet, and 23 million more people around the world will trade freedom for chains.

Would it matter to us?

Given that half of Americans have just had their bodily autonomy taken away, I can understand that we should tend to our own garden. But it’s always the same fight: to oppose oppression here is to oppose it everywhere. Because the bullies are the same: never satisfied with taking today’s lunch money, they’ll want more tomorrow. Just as we see America’s religious fundamentalists aiming for the next victory – a Supreme Court ruling and we’re suddenly a Christian nation – the Chinese, fresh off consuming Taiwan, will move on to their next prey.

Television coverage in Taipei, Taiwan of Communist China conducting a live file drill around the island nation.

Television coverage in Taipei, Taiwan of Communist China conducting a live file drill around the island nation. The People’s Republic of China has started a new series of military exercises following a visit to Taiwan by Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi.

Annabelle Chih/Getty Images

It’s not new. There’s one aspect of my Maestro Wu cleaver that I haven’t mentioned. The knives are forged from steel reclaimed from Chinese seashells. In the fall of 1958, China began to drop shells on Kinman – 400,000 in two weeks.

The Americans kept the Chinese on the mainland by supplying Taiwan with state-of-the-art military equipment – ​​our Sidewinder air-to-air missiles were particularly convincing. The Chinese bombarded Kinman for the next 20 years, but only on odd days.

Maestro Wu’s cutlers collect shells and harvest their steel. You can buy such “bulging steel choppers” on Amazon. Taiwanese are known for this quality: resourcefulness, making the best of a bad situation. In this way, I view Taiwanese as being similar to Jews, forced into ingenuity as a survival strategy in the face of a hostile world. As the great Dr. Samuel Johnson once said, “When a man knows he is going to be hanged in a fortnight, it wonderfully focuses his mind.”

Americans are on the side of Taiwan because we’re both nations that value the ability to focus our minds, to think – many of us, anyway. We both try to keep this freedom.

Two soldiers fold the national flag during the daily flag ceremony at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Freedom Square in Taipei, Taiwan.

On Saturday, two soldiers fold the national flag during the daily flag ceremony at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Freedom Square in Taipei, Taiwan.

Chiang Ying-ying/Associated Press

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