Arthur Waldron's letter arguing that Taiwan's democracy owes its existence to Chiang Kai-shek's (
Waldron first argues that Taiwan would not be independent of China were it not for Chiang's powerful China lobby connections, which enabled him to mobilize US opinion in his favor.
Taiwan, however, was saved not by US approval of Chiang but by the Korean War, which spurred the US to draw a line around the nation with its navy, preventing China from taking Taiwan, which it was almost certain to do in the summer of 1950.
At that time, the US had no intention of intervening.
The idea that "Chiang's presence saved Taiwan" is therefore a gross oversimplification. It is far truer to say that without the Korean War, there would have been no US protection for the nation and no US aid program to preserve the Taiwanese capitalists whose small and medium-sized firms would create the "Taiwan miracle" and lay the economic foundation for successful democratization.
Sadly, Waldron regurgitates a major Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) myth: that Chiang Ching-kuo (
Taiwan democratized in the 1980s thanks to three major factors. First, a dedicated independence and democracy movement was effective in pressuring the government in Taipei and in energizing support overseas.
This movement also conducted reprisal killings and attempted assassinations of KMT officials and supporters at home and abroad, serving notice to the regime that the nation could not be handed over to China without violent opposition.
It was the militant independence movement, not some putative steadfastness of Chiang Ching-kuo's as Waldron claims, that prevented him from serving Taiwan up to China on a platter.
A second major factor was the ineptitude of the KMT, which cracked down on the dissident movement with highly publicized trials that put the mention of democracy in every home and made heroes of its victims, all of which was exacerbated by its ordering the murder of writer Henry Liu (劉宜良) in the US and other boneheaded espionage moves, angering the regime's supporters in the US and galvanizing its opponents there.
Finally, the changing international scene -- particularly the fall of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 -- put fear into the government. Waldron ignores the fact that the Chiang Ching-kuo administration may have "lifted" martial law in 1987, but it kept dissidents in jail and passed a national security law that was martial law redux in all but name.
The real midwife of Taiwan's democracy was not the murderer and dictator Chiang Ching-kuo, but his successor Lee Teng-hui (
It is quite true that many ordinary Mainlanders sacrificed their lives to keep Taiwan free. They too, just as Taiwanese, were victims of the Leninist regimes that ran both China and Taiwan, and all honor to them.
Certainly they deserve a monument. But to argue that because a mass murderer's occupation of Taiwan was a necessary factor in Taiwan's democratic future he deserves a large monument in the capital, is akin to arguing that Hitler deserves a monument in Berlin for creating Germany's autobahns, or that Franco deserves a huge memorial in Madrid because of the Spanish economic miracle in the 1960s.
In every European state this principle is ironclad: mass murderers and dictators, regardless of their alleged contributions, do not get huge monuments in capitals and in many cases their political parties are banned.
In that realization we can see one of the most potent underlying reasons the KMT is struggling so hard to keep its dictator hero encysted in central Taipei.
The Democratic Progressive Party's moves are a necessary reclamation of the past no different from what has occurred elsewhere in post-colonial regimes. The icons of the Indian Raj now rust in a corner of the Bombay Zoo. Eastern Europe is slowly eradicating Soviet-era monuments. Post-colonial states in Africa renamed whole countries in claiming their freedom. National capitals in Europe do not feature monuments to the dead dictators who once ruled them.
Judged against this background, it is easy to see just how strange Taiwan is, and how wrong Waldron's arguments are.
Tanzi, Taichung County
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