It has been 70 years since the 228 Massacre took place in 1947, and it has been 72 years since Nazi Germany was defeated in 1945.
In Germany, Nazi accomplices in their 90s are still being brought to court, but in Taiwan, there is no investigation into criminal responsibility for the massacre.
Taiwan’s transitional justice, or, more precisely, the transition process from dictatorship to democracy and the righting of all the wrongs that were committed as a result of the injustices that were part of the authoritarian system, is progressing far too slowly.
The general impression is that Germany took a brave view of the crimes committed during World War II as it reviewed the dark history of the Nazi era following the end of the war, but actually the denazification process did not get a very smooth start, and it was not until the student movement of 1968 that there was greater progress.
Consider the fact that Adolf Hitler ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945 and turned it into a totalitarian dictatorship. The smooth operation of the state apparatus requires the interaction of thousands upon thousands of components. Although the West German government dismissed some of the officials and civil servants that served under the Nazi regime, it still had no choice but to keep most of them.
In practice, it was very difficult for all the government departments to remove all the staff that had served during the Nazi era because it would have been impossible to keep the government running if every single civil servant had to be replaced.
Sadly, that also meant that there were still plenty of government officials left that thought of the Nazi regime as a good thing.
Konrad Adenauer, the first post-war chancellor of West Germany, was criticized for not doing enough to promote denazification. His own account was very revealing and according to his description: “One does not throw out dirty water as long as one doesn’t have any clean water.”
The whole denazification and transitional justice process met with strong resistance during Adenauer’s time in office.
His comments about “dirty water” brings to mind how, not very long ago, former director-general of the Executive Yuan’s Central Personnel Administration Chen Keng-chin (陳庚金) called on Taiwan’s civil servants to “goof around as much as possible” because of his opposition to pension reform proposals.
This kind of attitude is precisely what Adenauer was talking about when he made his comments about “dirty water.”
Most civil servants are nothing like Chen, who was a senior official during the party-state era. The kind of mentality represented by Chen can, to a certain extent, explain why the transitional justice process in Taiwan is progressing so slowly.
The continued existence of people like Chen in the state apparatus is one of the obstacles to transitional justice.
Chen’s statement exposed his own flaws and shortcomings, but not only that: He also shone a light on the people hiding in the darker corners of the state apparatus who support such views and openly or covertly goof around as much as they can.
Liao Lin Li-ling is vice president of the Taiwan United Nations Alliance.
Translated by Lin Lee-kai