The US presidential elections approach. Win or lose, people are beginning to ask: What will President George W. Bush legacy be? Will it be the economy, the Iraq war or terrorism? What should this man be remembered for? \nPerhaps perspective can be gained from the case of another controversial historical figure. Oct. 31 is the anniversary of the birth of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石). Time was needed to get a clearer picture of his true character and impact. Books have and can still be written on the ambitions, goals, wealth, deeds and misdeeds of this man. One reality too often overlooked has been Taiwan's long arduous path to democracy and Chiang's role or lack of it therein. Examine three countries in the post-World War II era. \nIn May 1945, Germany was a defeated country. Under martial law, imposed on it by the Allies, Germany was demilitarized and de-Nazified. The political, legal and educational systems were reformed. In non-communist West Germany, democratic elections were held as early as 1949 and, despite the split and the Berlin Blockade, progress began. In September 1949, Konrad Adenauer of the Christian Democratic Union was elected as the first chancellor. By early 1952 the occupying army that had by then taken a constabulary role was preparing for deactivation. \nIn less than a decade after the war, this once Nazi fascist country had returned to a functioning democracy; it joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and began an economic miracle. The Germans, with their typical hard work ethic and aided by the Marshall Plan, were well on their way to building a strong country. In politics, a multi-party system that even gave participation to communists and former Nazis was in effect. \nIn August 1945, Japan also was a defeated country forced to surrender unconditionally. The main occupier and enforcer of martial law from the Allies was the US. Emperor Hirohito lost his "divinity" but was kept as a symbolic figurehead. US General Douglas MacArthur had almost absolute power. A new Constitution was drafted. War criminals were prosecuted (seven men were hung); and a period of rebuilding with a multi-party political system followed. \nIn this multi-party state, the first postwar election was held on April 10, 1946 for members of the Lower House of the Diet; and the second was on April 20, 1947 again for the Lower House of the Diet. By late 1955, the country had stabilized into two major political parties: the Liberal Democratic Party and the Socialists. \nThe San Francisco Peace Treaty (signed by 48 nations) went into effect on April 28, 1952. With it, martial law formally ended; but the US would retain bases in Japan and be responsible for the country's military protection. \nBy the late 1950s Japan, with a multi-party democracy freed of martial law, was also well on its way to creating its own economic miracle. This would be carried out by the hard work of its people, with some assistance from the outside. \nTaiwan after World War II was treated not as a defeated country but as a Japanese colony of 50 years. It was taken from Japan and placed in the care of Chiang Kai-shek's Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) but its definite status was not spelled out in the subsequent San Francisco Treaty (1952). \nTaiwan did sustain bombings during the war, but the destruction was nowhere near the scale as that of Germany or Japan. The true devastation of Taiwan ironically took place after the war as the occupying KMT Nationalist army under Chiang took almost anything that was not nailed down to sustain their losing effort in China. It was at that time that the infamous 228 Incident took place, in 1947, as the people protested their unfair treatment and exploitation. It was under the guise of quelling this protest that many of the Taiwanese intelligentsia who had experienced the development of democratic participation under the Japanese were killed off. \nMartial law followed; in 1949, as Chiang's army was facing defeat in China they had to retreat to Taiwan. Elections would begin to be held in Taiwan in the 1950s but they would only be for bodies beneath the provincial level, like county and city governments. A multi-party system was not allowed. Access to the top was denied public vote. Representatives of the National Assembly (namely those in the Legislative Yuan and the Control Yuan), after having been elected in China in 1947, never had to face another election until 1991. What justified this usurpation? \nTaiwan achieved its own economic miracle like the Germans and the Japanese, again due to the hard work of the people and some outside assistance; but it is the area of democracy where the real scrutiny of Chiang and his legacy must take place. \nWhy were national elections delayed in Taiwan until the 1990s when they were possible in Germany and Japan in the 1950s? Why did martial law have to wait until 1987 to be lifted in Taiwan when it had been lifted in Germany and Japan again in the 1950s? Why could a multi-party government with opposition parties be developed in Germany and Japan in the late 1940s, when it had to wait till the late 1980s in Taiwan? (In 1986 the nation's first opposition party the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was formed but even then it was still technically not legal.) \nWhy were the so-called "re-united brothers on Taiwan" treated more brutally and with less respect than were the conquered enemies of Germany and Japan? Why was Taiwan's press controlled for over 40 years by the KMT? Why did Taiwan have to suffer over 40 years of purges and White Terror after World War II with thousands (20,000-30,000 in some estimates) of Taiwanese executed on the streets and in prison when only 12 Germans were sentenced to be hung and seven Japanese executed for war crimes? Why did the KMT, as the saying goes, "have to kill nine Taiwanese to find one communist?" \nWere the Taiwanese that much more vicious, more dangerous and not to be trusted with self-determination than the Nazi Germans and the militaristic Japanese? \nStability is not an excuse. All three countries, postwar, had relative stability in which to develop their economies. The threat of instability was perhaps the greatest in Germany as the US faced off against Russia in the Cold War. Japan had the security of the US taking over its military obligations. Taiwan had the security of the US Seventh Fleet occupying the Taiwan Strait after the Korean War started in 1950. \nChiang ruled with a one-party state in Taiwan from 1945 to 1975 when he died; another decade would pass before martial law would be lifted and then it would only come after pressure from the outside. This is Chiang's legacy. \nWhy did democracy never come under Chiang? The answer is simple, clear and unavoidable. The central focus of Chiang and the KMT was to keep one party, one privileged group and one person in power. \nSome western historians have praised the accomplishment of democracy in Taiwan -- that the dream finally became reality. Minimally, Taiwan has at least proven that Chinese culture is not antithetical to democracy. But the only true question for democracy in Taiwan is why did it come so late? \nThe Republic of China founded in 1911 under Sun Yat-sen's (孫中山) guidance had three key principles, min-tsu, min-chuan and min-sheng. Min-chuan -- government by the people, or people's rights -- was not intended to mean rule by one party. This lesson of Chiang and the dictatorship of a one-party state are still to be learned on the other side of the Taiwan Strait where one party controls all, facetiously "in the name of the people." \nInitially viewed by many as the man who opposed communism, time has exposed Chiang's true Taiwan legacy. We can now see why so many Taiwanese can never consider him a hero. If you had listened to Chiang's resolute words at the time, he was a champion of democracy. Ultimately, he served his friends and special interest groups; he left Taiwan with Langston Hughes famous "dream deferred." And Bush? Despite his resolute words, what is he leaving the economy, the American people and the people of the world in the long term? What is his unspoken reality? Americans must give it careful consideration. \nJerome Keating is the co-author of the book Island in the Stream, a Quick Case Study of Taiwan's Complex History.
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