Transparency and open discussions facilitate better understanding of what has been covered up and deliberately not taught in schools for decades, and also reveal the absurdity of those who resist the consignment of the symbols and other remnants of authoritarianism to history — especially when apologists for the Martial Law era come to face to face with White Terror victims and their stories.
The first public hearing, of the four in total required before a substantive discussion over draft legislation to promote transitional justice is held in the legislative committee, took place on Monday. The second was held yesterday. Both saw the attendance of White Terror victims and their families. The defense made by some Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-invited academics, “shocked” the audience — in the words of a professor present — and prompted strong retorts from advocates.
Formosan Political Prisoner Association president and White Terror victim Tsai Kuan-yu (蔡寬裕), 83, responded angrily after listening to KMT think tank analyst Lee Hsun-min (李訓民) question the efficacy of officially identifying Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) as a perpetrator, and other KMT-invited academics saying that the pursuit of transitional justice is a “political vendetta” and “ethnic harmony-severing.”
“Did any of you ever utter a word for what is right and for justice during the White Terror era?” he asked. “More than 18,000 people were persecuted, and about 2,000 executed; did they ask for it? You cannot feel the pain they felt. It was not just the 18,000 victims; it was the more than 18,000 families destroyed.”
Many seem to think that holding people accountable for their actions is harmful to “social harmony.” They are not alone in defending an unexamined past.
In South Korea, the democratic government’s efforts to dig up human rights violations and brutal killings that took place during the one-party state era were considered by some a threat to the unity of the country. In Germany, as the movie Labyrinth of Lies shows, silence about the atrocities of the Nazis prevailed at the beginning of the post-World War II era, and the breach of it would be like — as a character in the movie said — every German child asking if their father is a murderer.
However, South Korea set up its truth and reconciliation committee — which held public hearings, collected evidence and unearthed mass graves — and brought the facts into the light. The Frankfurt Auschwitz trials forced Germans, who had couched their denial as “looking forward,” to confront their country’s gruesome past.
Government institutions must make a comprehensive effort to take a full account of human rights violations perpetrated during the White Terror era, strip the past of its “sanctity” and familiarize the general public — who presumably are inclined toward empathy — with the suffering and grief of older generations. Otherwise, some people will always say — without guilt — that the violence and cruelty suffered by a minority was a necessary sacrifice made for the good of the whole.
Tsai said that an academic born in the former East Germany told him, three years ago when the academic was in Taiwan attending a human rights symposium, that he was bewildered by Taiwan’s attitude toward human rights violations.
Tsai said that then-minister of culture Lung Ying-tai (龍應台) in the morning accompanied a group of academics to Taipei’s Liuzhangli (六張犁) — where a memorial park was established for the mass graves of those executed, but not properly buried during the White Terror era — and then in the afternoon accompanied them to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.
Tsai said the academic asked: “How is it that we could be led to a memorial to the victims [of the White Terror era] and then taken to visit a memorial hall dedicated to the perpetrator?”
The academic said he was puzzled — and so are we.
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