Saturday marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and celebrations were held around the globe. However, for Taiwanese the war might have ended, but peace never came.
After the end of World War II, Taiwan found itself trapped in the middle of the civil war between the forces of Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This was followed by nearly 40 years of martial law and a reign of terror imposed on the Taiwanese by the KMT, which fled to Taiwan from China after losing the civil war.
Taiwan went from being at the forefront of Japan’s military campaign to becoming the battlefield of the civil war between the KMT and the CCP and the front line of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union. Even after the Cold War ended in 1991 and the world cheered on as a US-led alliance defeated Saddam Hussein and ended his occupation of Kuwait and then-US president George H.W. Bush declared the establishment of a new world order in the post-Cold War era, Taiwan did not enjoy any peace. The Taiwan Strait was militarized once more as China fired missiles over Taiwan; not because Taiwan had mounted a military operation against China, but because Taiwan was holding a presidential election.
After World War II, several territories established themselves as sovereign countries, such as South Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar and India. However, Taiwan only saw a change of foreign administrations as the Japanese left to make room for the Chinese. Taiwanese fought unyieldingly for democracy against the backdrop of the Chinese civil war and the Cold War. Their endeavors finally bore fruit in the 1990s, but they were immediately vilified by pro-China forces in Taiwan and abroad as populists that changed the so-called “status quo.”
Former adversaries the KMT and CCP found a shared interest in thwarting Taiwan’s pursuit of democracy and self-determination, and began to cooperate, setting off a political civil war over Taiwan’s democracy. The oppression of foreign powers and foreign regimes left Taiwan with sovereignty problems internationally and conflict between the pro-unification and pro-independence ideologies domestically. Seventy years after the war ended, peace is still nowhere to be seen.
Taiwan has always been beset by foreign powers, forbidding Taiwan even from saying what it is or what it is not, and there are even attempts to force Taiwan to accept a peace treaty at the expense of its dignity and freedom. Looking back at the past 70 years, where the nation has seen the end of a war without the ensuing peace, Taiwanese have discovered that what Taiwan needs above all is a just peace.
As Martin Luther King Jr rightly put it, “Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.”
In view of the ongoing international and domestic conflicts that have enveloped Taiwan, it is evident that the nation is still shrouded in the shadow of World War II. Rediscovering Taiwan’s World War II history and establishing Taiwan’s own historic perspective on World War II are key to a peaceful Taiwan.
On Saturday, commemorations were held by several civic groups in Taipei, Taoyuan and Kaohsiung, as well as Changhua to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, which shows the importance Taiwanese society gives to this event.
History beckons Taiwanese to ponder what actions are required to help the tormented souls of their forefathers to finally rest in peace and establish a real peace for future generations.
Lai I-chung is an executive committee member of the Taiwan Thinktank.
Translated by Ethan Zhan
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