Han Cheung’s article on journalism in Taiwan is a revealing read (“Taiwan in Time: Breaking newsroom barriers,” Aug. 25, page 8). It shows the injustice and oppression Taiwanese encountered in terms of pay difference during Imperial Japan’s rule of Taiwan through the story of Yang Chien-ho (楊千鶴), the first female journalist in Taiwan.
Yang’s motto in life: “Our lives are short... We must dream beautifully, live beautifully and die beautifully” is thought-provoking. It reminds me of an article, “The difference of 2cm,” I came across in Geng-Xin Weekly (耕心週刊), a Taiwanese Christian publication. This article tells the story of the author’s father, who grew up under Imperial Japan’s rule, during which Taiwanese were indoctrinated to live like cherry blossoms withering at the most beautiful time. Under brainwashing of this kind, many young Taiwanese dreamed of becoming Tokukebetsu and piloting of a suicide bomber to destroy the enemy for the Japanese emperor.
However, the author’s father was 2cm shorter than the height requirement (160cm) for Tokukebetsu. This old regret turned into a blessing in disguise for his father, who is still alive now. However, his father’s peers who served in the army for the Japanese emperor were all sacrificed.
When the tide turned against Japan during World War II, Japan also secretly trained people for Shinyo, the suicide motorboats used to destroy enemy warships. Young Taiwanese were secretly enlisted without knowing that they were assigned for suicide bombing tasks in the navy.
In the book Zuoying’s Secret History in World War II — Shinyo in Taiwan (左營二戰秘史：震洋特攻隊駐臺始末), Taiwanese Bo Fan-zang (薄繁藏), then 24 years old, recalled that he served on Shinyo. He was treated with high regard by the Japanese and presumably was paid decently. However, when he was made aware that he was destined to die from the beginning, he felt extremely surprised and disgusted.
I have compassion for these Taiwanese, because they did not have a fair chance to make informed decisions about their own lives. I also resonate with Yang’s resentment of those Kominka (Japanization, 皇民化) articles published in the then-Japanese-run Taiwan Daily News (台灣日日新報) intending to draft Taiwanese into the Imperial Japanese Army and encourage them to die for the emperor.
Japan’s attack of Pearl Harbor in 1941 took a further toll on Taiwan. Due to Taiwan’s role as the supply base of Japan to Southeast Asia and the Pacific theater, Taiwan was subjected to intensive bombing by the Allied forces. According to the archival record displayed in the Story House of Naval Base Zuoying, from November 1943, the Allied forces bombarded Taiwan 15,908 times, dropping 20,242 tonnes of bombs. Half of the air raids targeted Zuoying (左營) in Kaohsiung, which was the naval base of Imperial Japan. In January 1945, the US conducted the largest air raid against Taiwan to cover its landing on Lingayen Gulf in the Philippines’ Luson Island.
On Jan. 21, 1945, bombers from nine US aircraft carriers (Hornet, Essex, Ticonderoga, Langley, San Jacinto, Lexington, Hancock, Enterprise and Independence) concentrated their bombing in Zuoying, Gangshan and other Kaohsiung areas. Literally all the economic and industrial development built during Imperial Japan’s rule were nullified in World War II.
Ironically, Taiwan’s friends and foes have shifted with the times. During the Korean War, the US Navy was stationed in Zuoying, rebuilt by the Republic of China, to help defend Taiwan against communist China.
US officers resided in the accommodations left by the Imperial Japanese Navy that were once the US’ bombing target in World War II. These navy accommodations are preserved in the Farewell, 886 — Cultural Park of Taiwan Military Veteran Village in Zuoying.
The Japanese army and US army both become chapters in Taiwan’s history.
As a side note, after Japan’s attack of Pearl Harbor, Life magazine published an article teaching angry Americans how to identify Japanese without hurting innocent allied Chinese on US soil in 1941. It basically portrayed Japanese as with longer torsos, shorter legs and flat noses, while the Chinese, especially from the north, are tall and with more well-built noses. It also noted that when middle-aged and fat, Chinese look more like Japanese.
However, in the archival photograph in the aforementioned book, Bo appears slender. Taiwanese apparently show different facial features and body figures from Japanese.
Today, Japan is the US’ ally in Asia, while communist China is its competitor in a heated trade dispute. More and more, younger Americans think that dropping atomic bombs on Japan was unjustified. Seemingly, the history of World War II is now looked at from a more humane perspective than a military perspective. However, relatively less Americans still remember civilian Taiwanese losing their lives in the US’ intensive bombing of Taiwan in World War II.
Wang Ching-ning is a medical information analyst and an independent researcher.
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