This month, after a military parade featuring troops riding motorcycles and mountain bikes, Apache attack helicopters flying in formation and shirtless frogmen waving paddles from the backs of trucks, President Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan told a handful of World War II veterans that their contribution to defeating Japan was not forgotten.
“Facing history,” he said, “there is only one truth: that the eight-year war of resistance was led by the Republic of China, and the victory was the result of the heroic struggle of the whole nation’s army and civilians’ brave struggle under the leadership of Chairman Chiang Kai-shek.”
Mr. Ma has repeated those words in one form or another throughout this summer, during events in Taiwan to mark the 70th anniversary of the war’s end. They are meant to remind the world of China’s critical contribution to Japan’s defeat and that it was Chiang’s party, the Kuomintang, that led the fight, not Mao Zedong’s Communists. The Communists won a subsequent civil war and established the People’s Republic in 1949, forcing the Kuomintang to flee to Taiwan.
But even as the role of the Kuomintang in Japan’s defeat is better understood, some in Taiwan complain that a devastating wartime attack on the island — a deadly 1945 air raid on Taipei by American bombers — has been ignored, with no official events to mark its anniversary and no physical memorial for the dead.
That lacuna is a product of Taiwan’s complex history, which survives in its present-day political divide between those who see Taiwan’s identity as part of a greater China and those who see it as an independent nation. During the war, Taiwan was a colony of Japan, which had taken over the island in 1895 after defeating the Qing dynasty in the first Sino-Japanese War. More than 200,000 Taiwanese served in the Japanese Army during World War II. When Chiang’s Kuomintang took control of Taiwan after the war, it had little interest in the experience of its people during the war, particularly the suffering caused by its American allies, scholars say. Seventy years and the end of authoritarian rule on Taiwan have done little to change that attitude.
“The Communist Party was fighting a guerrilla war behind the lines. How is it that they came to represent China’s anti-Japanese struggle? So the Kuomintang has struggled for this history,” said Chen Yi-shen, a historian at Academia Sinica, a state-financed research institution in Taipei. “But this is out of touch with Taiwan. It’s the Kuomintang’s past glory. What about what happened to us then in Taiwan?”Jih-chang Lee, a retired philosophy professor, described his memories of the Taipei air raid in a newly published memoir. As a child, he had been relocated from Taipei in the final months of the war because of the Allied bombing. But a younger sister stayed behind. After the American B-24s dropped their payloads on the afternoon of May 31, 1945, Mr. Lee’s father rushed back to the house, on what is now Taiyuan Street in Taipei. He gathered others to dig through the rubble, but they were only able to clear it hours later, after the cries of the victims had stopped.
“After the war ended, I came back and saw the destruction and the place where my sister was killed,” Mr. Lee said in an interview. “That street had houses on both sides. Originally there were two-story buildings, but they were completely gone.”
The estimated death toll of 3,000 was small compared with the more than 40,000 killed in Britain during the Blitz, or the hundreds of thousands of Japanese killed when Tokyo was firebombed and atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But it was a traumatic event for Taiwan, injuring more than 10,000 and damaging important buildings like the Japanese Governor-General’s Office, now the Presidential Office Building.The war diary of Adm. Chester Nimitz, commander-in-chief of the United States Pacific Fleet, noted that 116 B-24s dropped 316 tons of ordnance in the attack on Taipei, then known by the Japanese name of Taihoku. The bombs that hit the nearby town of Yilan that day “achieved good destruction,” the diary said. Unexploded bombs continue to be found to this day in Taipei, a potentially lethal reminder of the buried history.
“There are still hidden stories that need more telling,” said Rana Mitter, a professor of history at the University of Oxford and author of the book “Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II” (outside the United States, it is titled “China’s War With Japan, 1937-1945”). “It is a worthwhile thing that greater China’s contribution to the war against Japan is recalled proportionally on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. It’s not as if it hasn’t been addressed, but broadly speaking, there hasn’t been enough attention paid to the indigenous story of what happened in Taiwan.”
Sun Lih-chyun, a spokesman for the executive branch of Taiwan’s government, said that while none of the official events to mark the end of the war will specifically focus on the Taipei air raid, it will be discussed during memorial activities.
On May 31, scholars held a panel discussion and civil society groups organized a memorial event on Ketagalan Boulevard, across from the Presidential Office Building. But Mr. Chen, the historian, lamented that there was no official remembrance or memorial for the dead. “In Taiwan, there’s talk of transitional justice, but it’s not complete,” he said. “The ghosts can’t leave.”
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