Wed, Feb 28, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: The truth shall set you free

Transitions of political power have always been a painful experience in Taiwan over the past three centuries, a period of time in which the island was ruled by the Qing Dynasty, Holland, Japan and the KMT. In particular, the decades of Japanese and KMT rule left the darkest memories. During World War II, the Japanese military's forcible conscription of soldiers and comfort women became a cause of agony for many Taiwanese. The same was true with the conflicts that broke out between mainlanders and Taiwanese during and after the 228 Incident, which occurred under KMT rule.

This year's 228 Memorial Day, which is today, coincides with an ongoing public furor over the Japanese comic book On Taiwan, which has prompted women's rights groups to line up behind Taiwanese comfort women. The controversy has been further complicated by the anti-Japanese, anti-DPP sentiments of mainlanders and the pro-Japanese, anti-KMT feelings of the ethnic Taiwanese.

In an official investigation report in 1993, the Japanese government admitted responsibility in the recruitment, by force or deception, of comfort women -- including those from Taiwan -- against their will. The prime minister of the time apologized for such acts. A UN human rights report said the comfort women issue should be brought to an international court. Taiwan's high school textbooks also mention the fact that Taiwanese women were forcibly recruited to serve the Japanese military. In short, a general understanding has been reached in Taiwan, Japan and the international community over the plight of the comfort women.

Japanese cartoonist Kobayashi Yoshinori (小林善紀) only represents the opinion of a small number of Japanese right-wingers and is far from being part of the mainstream. Likewise, Taiwanese tycoon Shi Wen-lung (許文龍) was merely stating his personal opinions when he talked to Kobayashi about comfort women, a subject about which he later admitted having little experience. Shi's views in no way represent the prevailing understanding in Taiwan society. Both Shi and Kobayashi deserve criticism for their beliefs, but their freedom of speech should be protected in a democratic society such as Taiwan. There is no need to employ political struggle methods -- such as burning books and effigies -- in order to interpret history.

In the past, Taiwan's dissidents used radical methods to fight against authoritarianism and demand justice for victims of the 228 Incident. But that was a different era. Taiwan has now entered an age of democracy, in which burning books and effigies often smacks of political grandstanding. Such acts can also blur the real issues and put a damper on any rational debate.

Today, the administration is opening part of the government's 228 Incident archives to the public and holding an exhibition. Making historical information accessible to the public and allowing scholars to research the materials is a healthy approach to historical disputes. The interpretation of history should be decided by how truthful the information is -- not the size and power of the interpreter. The big-guys-make-decisions era is over in Taiwan.

Taiwan's history is full of painful memories. Its rulers have made contributions to Taiwan, but they have also inflicted suffering on its people. Taiwan's academic institutions should conduct thorough, objective research on each period of its history and let the people of Taiwan look straight into every phase of its growth and every scar left from the old days. This is the only way to heal the wounds of the comfort women and the 228 Incident victims. There is no need for grandstanding, hysterical stomping of feet or beating of chests. Only through historical soul-searching can we end Taiwan's preoccupations with China and Japan and transcend ethnic fixations that seek to bind and blind us.

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