The Invisible Armada

"The Trojan War Will Not Take Place"—Anti-war debates in Taiwan 

Weisyun Chen




“CASSANDRA: Hector has come home in triumph to the wife he adores. The tiger begins to rouse, and opens one eye. The incurables lie out on their benches in the sun and feel immortal. The tiger stretches himself. Today is the chance for peace to enthrone herself over all the world. The tiger licks his lips. And Andromache is going to have a son! And the horsemen have started leaning from their saddles to stroke tom-cats on the battlements! The tiger starts to prowl.”

-La Guerre de Troie n’aura Pas Lieu. Acte I, Scène I


"La Guerre de Troie n'aura pas lieu" (translated as "Tiger at the Gates" or "The Trojan War Will Not Take Place") is a play written by the French playwright and diplomat Jean Giraudoux. It was first published in 1935 and premiered on March 22, 1937, at the Théâtre de l'Athénée in Paris.

To understand the historical background of the play, it's essential to look at the broader context in which it was written. During the 1930s, Europe was facing increasing political tensions that would eventually lead to World War II. Jean Giraudoux, like many intellectuals and artists of his time, was deeply concerned about the rising threat of war and its devastating consequences.

The play "La Guerre de Troie n'aura pas lieu" draws inspiration from the legendary events of the Trojan War, a mythological conflict as depicted in Homer's epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey. The story centers around the Greek warrior Achilles and the Trojan prince Hector, whose fierce battles and personal confrontations become emblematic of the destructive nature of war.

However, Giraudoux uses this ancient myth to comment on the contemporary political situation. The play serves as an allegory for the tense international relations of the 1930s, with the growing danger of another global conflict looming over Europe. Through the characters and their dilemmas, Giraudoux questions the inevitability of war and explores themes of diplomacy, peace, and the tragic consequences of human pride and folly.


The story is set in ancient Troy, a rich and geopolitically critical city ruled by the aged king Priam. Troy is covered by the war cloud, since the Trojan Prince, Paris, lured and seized Helen, the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta. The Greek ambassadors are thus on their way to declare war on Troy for reclaiming Helen. And Hector, just returning from another war, learns the stupidity of his brother and attempts to avoid disaster, in vain: his compatriots are indulged in their own power and trophy, Helen’s stunning beauty. As a consequence, the war is inevitable for the Trojans: it is a war for either honor or Beauty.

It is interesting that in the first scene we, the audience, are already told the end of the story. The play starts with a quarrel between Andromache, Hector’s wife, and Cassandra, the Trojan princess and prophetess. “The Trojan War will not take place” argued Andromache, for she believes that her triumphant husband is on his way home and will even assure the prosperity of the country. However, for Cassandra, it is the cocksure statements of the Trojans that play a critical role in destiny, the destructive Trojan War. Cassandra depicts the disastrous fate as a sleeping tiger——it is always there, waiting for a chance, permission to hunt. And the naivety and arrogance of the Trojans will eventually wake up the tiger and lead them all the way to the fatal end of destiny. Cassandra sees clearly that the war would not be caused by the mere incident of a Trojan prince stealing a Spartan queen. It is the Dardanelles strait, the control of marine affairs between Asia and Europe, which has brought enormous fortune to Troy, that is at stake. The only chance for the Trojans to change their destiny is to reconsider their situation, recognize their geopolitical position, and thus wake up from their megalomanic dream.

Therefore, the return of Hector, the voice of ration and diplomacy, cannot change the path of fate. However he pleads with his fellow Trojans to consider the consequence of war and to seek a peaceful resolution to the conflict, Hector, the triumphant warrior and prince, only stirs the passion of his people. Hector has never changed his pacifist position: he persuades Paris to return Helen, he slaps the belligerent Trojan poet, Demokos, and he overcomes the insults and negotiates with the Greek ambassador, Ulysses, reaching finally a peaceful consensus. As the story goes on, Hector almost sorts all the challenges, except the last one: to prevent the Trojan poet from singing out the war song. In the last scene of the play, Hector can no longer tolerate and kills the poet with his javelin and the bellicosity provoked by Ulysses. Nonetheless, before dying, the poet screams that it was Ajax, the Greek fighter, who killed him, and war is then declared. The Trojan War therefore takes place.

It is hard to say that Hector gives up pacifism in the end. Nonetheless, we could argue that, as the prophet given by Cassandra at the beginning, Hector plays a significant role in waking up the sleeping tiger——the catastrophic destiny of Troy. As Helen told Hector implies: “If you break the mirror, will what is reflected in it cease to exist?”, his efforts of pleading change nothing important in terms of the geopolitics, the enchantment of the Trojans. On the contrary, the return of the great warrior and army not only encourages his compatriots but also grants the adversaries legitimacy of declaring war. The poet, the ultimate fuse of the war, is not a thoughtless mistake but another fact reflected in the mirror, that is, for the people, the war is necessary because the culture of enemy has already been implanted.


Giraudoux adapted the ancient Greek myth to depict the anxious international tension at his time as well as to express his absolute pacifist position. Soon after the publication of the play, he was even criticized by his contemporaries in the newspaper: “This apology of cowardice and peace at all costs is repugnant.”[1] However, as a soldier who survived the trenches, the incessant bombing, and  the fatal wounds of WWI, he has his reasons to hate war by all means. The title of the play is apparently ironic and yet at the same time represents his hope for the future. For us, readers of the 21st century along the Taiwan Strait, the utopia announced by the title remains a major issue of our time: can we avoid wars? Why do the wars inevitably follow each other from one point on the globe to another?

On the contrary to being a naive pacifist, Giraudoux shows, through the personage of Cassandra, the complex causality of war. As a cursed prophetess in Greek myth, Cassandra sees the unfortunate future. Nevertheless, in Giraudoux’s play, she is rather an analyst than fortune-telling. For her, the return of the great warrior, the arrogance of the elders, and the naive pacifism all lead to the image of destruction. There is only Cassandra who sees the future from a macro-scale, that the danger, the sleeping tiger, is not merely the aggression of the Greeks but the destiny-image that composes of the protectors and invaders. To put the literary insights back to actuality, in October 1935, Italian fascist leader Mussolini finally invaded Ethiopia under the acquiescence of France and Britain. About one month later, Giraudoux published the play. A very simple and direct interpretation of the relation between the play and historical incident is that, for Giraudoux, neither the appeasement (represented by Hector, Andromache, and Hecuba) nor the patriotic belligerence (Demokos, mathematician, the Trojans in general) could dispel the war cloud. It is from this angle that we find the position of Cassandra as a political minority: she sees the “destiny” as a whole, which is actually a realistic political analysis, and strives to spread her vision.


Along Taiwan Strait


On March 20, 2023, an anti-war statement and petition were advocated by a group of Taiwanese academics. In the statement, four main petitioners proposed mainly four demands: 1) peace in Ukraine, 2) stop US militarism and economic sanctions, 3) say no to the US-PRC war: Taiwan should preserve its autonomy and maintain equidistance from the great powers, 4) the national budget should be used to meet social needs and to mitigate climate change. It is not the first time Taiwanese intellectuals advocate an anti-war statement to denounce US imperialist military operation. But ironically, it is the first time that an anti-war statement received so much attention and drew massive criticism in Taiwan due to its US-suspecting tone. The petitioners were soon labeled as the “capitulators,” “Chinese communist associates” etc. not only by the public opinion but also even by the members of parliament.

Under the name of democracy and freedom, the space of discourse in Taiwan is tightened up. Two weeks before the publication of the statement, in the parliament, facing the inquiry about the potential influence of the US’ “Taiwan Fellowship Act,” the Vice-president, Chien-jen Chen, did not answer but condemned the member of parliament who inquired as spreading the US-suspecting discourse. The majority government deploys a defective mechanism to engage in so-called cognitive warfare, which upgrades its power to interfere with all sorts of discourses and narratives, including that of the academia. For example, a recent report concerning the prevalence of US-suspecting discourse published by the Institute of National Defense and Security Research concludes that “We don't want the 'US-suspecting discourse’ to become the mainstream of Taiwan’s public opinion, since it will affect Taiwan-US relations and endanger Taiwan's national security. We believe that a possible approach is to participate in the competition of narratives and emphasize our values, beliefs, and viewpoints without denying other narratives, to guide people to continue thinking.”[2] It is nothing new that the State always invents and imposes the mythological origin, culture, ideology, etc. with its narrative apparatus. However, the claim of cognitive warfare, which is seen as a prelude to war, puts people into a state of exception. As a result, the violent control and manipulation of the speech are all legitimized as a matter of fighting against “cognitive aggression.”

Anti-war scholars attempted to point out the blind spot of the mainstream ideology and proposed a macro-scale perspective, in terms of facing the disastrous result of war and the militarism of the US, to shed light on the crisis of the Taiwan Strait. Unfortunately, an open initiative in the field of humanity discipline, before it could stimulate and articulate more insights, is already drawn into the turmoil of the realistic political field——that is to say, before anything, one would have to be identified as an enemy or a comrade. After decades of national education with its cold war background, the constant threat from Mainland China, and the repeated identity construction, now is more urgent than ever for the Taiwanese to re-adopt an emancipatory mindset, to re-orient themselves in the world.

Nevertheless, among the criticism immediately stirred up after the anti-war statement was issued, most of them were to criticize with a kind of “realistic political tone”. These authors, calling themselves anti-aggressionist (to distinguish themselves from the anti-war camp), would also provide a seemingly-logical geopolitical analysis after they poison the well. But overall, their smart-ass analysis is always just a repeat of ahistorical propaganda: You say the US is imperialist? They say so is China! The equidistance, refusing US-PRC war, or autonomy, for them, are all synonyms of pro-China. With a Nietzschean slave morality, they refuse maliciously every proposition of potential alternative solutions. Thus the conclusion for them could only be always same and simple: there is no future or past, and thus the only right way to do it is to augment our military preparation, on a national level to an individual level.

The anti-aggression camp (unfortunately they are the majority among the Taiwanese), they do not want to think about the crisis of the Taiwan Strait. On the contrary, what they are fighting for is political and economic superiority. To put it more precisely, it is the recognition of the West that they are guarding at all costs. “A ridiculous theory of modernization and the nostalgia of American hegemony” as said Jon Solomon.

As the central mechanism of the nation-state, the border plays a critical role when we think about the strait. As Yang points out, the “illusionary sense of sovereignty” for the Taiwanese derived mainly from the short period of 1949-1971, and under the name of the Republic of China[3]. Arguably, the illusionary sense of sovereignty may also relate to other identity-constructing matters, that is the cultural aspect of it. But what is critical in this idea is that the border completely restraints our possibility to form a sense, an affect of community, which can be interpreted quite bluntly as a fact that if one day the war of Taiwan Strait takes place, it is not the fault of either only the Chinese or Taiwanese but the failure of the people along the Strait.

Instead of entrusting the U.S. regime and the CCP regime to fight on the geopolitical chessboard and then decide our destiny, why can’t we think about returning to the context of the Chinese civilization before 1949 and resetting the framework? It is a utopian idea. But rather than the ideal benevolence of the Chinese people, it is the fact that the Taiwanese people finally put themselves to a status of becoming-minority that is utopian. As Deleuze remarks, “People always think about a future of majority (when I am great, when I have power…). Yet, the real problem is that of becoming-minority: not just to make resemblant, not just to imitate the child, the lunatic, the female, the animal, the stammerer, or the foreigner, but to become all of them for the sake of inventing new forces or new weapons.”[4]


[1] Paul Claudel, Journal, t. II (1935-1955), “Bibliothèque de la Pléiade”, 1969, P.115. 

[2] 「國防民調呈現「疑美論」退燒及其省思」,《國防安全民意調查》。2023. 04. 26。國防安全研究院。

(“National defense polls show ‘US-suspecting discourse’ subsides and its reflections”)

[3] Yang, Ju-bin。〈給〈反戰聲明〉下個注腳─別讓台灣掉進「主權國家」的黑洞〉。2023. 04.27。

(“A footnote of the ‘anti-war statement’——To save Taiwan from the black hole of ‘sovereignty”)

[4] Deuleuze, Gilles; Parnet, Claire. Dialogues. 1996. p.11.