Editorial: Historical record is key to justice

Wed, Feb 28, 2007 - Page 8

Today is the 60th anniversary of the 228 Incident, a political and social watershed that still has the potential to split the nation.

For more than a decade the government has attempted to heal the wounds from the violence and persecution of that era, but despite former president Lee Teng-hui's (李登輝) apologies, the erection of monuments, financial compensation, the decision to build a 228 National Memorial Hall and the designation of a national holiday, the wounds still fester.

This year, the biggest change has been the government's decision to name dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) as primary culprit for the 228 Incident. This may bring some comfort to the families of victims, and it is a credible assertion based on the evidence, but it has been too long in coming.

Former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has called the incident "a popular revolt against oppressive officials" and said the government should shoulder responsibility. But he has consistently refused to acknowledge that the incident had a strong ethnic component. Meanwhile, Chiang's grandson, KMT Legislator John Chiang (蔣孝嚴), has called Academia Historica's research into the incident "partial and evil."

It is instructive that so many voices within the KMT remain unwilling to face up to the historical record and concede the criminality of past deeds. Ma's attempts to give the KMT a friendlier face will continue to be foiled as long as extremists and apologists within its ranks defend indefensible conduct by their party heroes.

But the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government deserves criticism, too. Its piecemeal approach to dealing with the issue leaves the impression that it is insincere and irresolute. For example, some of those persecuted still have the label "hooligan" on their household registration certificates, a situation that the Ministry of the Interior ordered to be changed only this year, displaying an astounding lack of tact and diligence on the part of officials.

In another example, regulations authorizing compensation for victims imply that these payments are goodwill handouts instead of compensation for past wrongs at the hands of the government.

The 228 Incident has come to crystallize the beginning of a string of tragedies and abuses that began almost immediately after KMT troops arrived in Taiwan at the end of World War II. These abuses, including the security census and the White Terror that followed the 228 Incident, must never be forgotten if this nation is to arrive at a just reading of the past.

An indispensable part of this process is the release of all information from official investigations -- despite the reluctance of powerful bureaucrats with pan-blue-camp ties and others who wish to avoid inflaming bad memories -- to let the facts be known.

This is an important task, and one which the DPP has inexplicably failed to accomplish. President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) should use his remaining time in office to not just hold dead KMT icons to account, but also to ensure that these vital components of restitution are put into place.

Victims of the 228 Incident and the White Terror included Taiwanese and Mainlanders. The abusers were a clique of autocrats led by the Chiang family and a number of civilians who capitalized on their superior status. The attitude of KMT hardliners over the decades has resulted in all Mainlanders being branded as complicit in the injustice.

It's about time this perception ended. But for this to happen, those with personal responsibility for massacres and persecution must no longer be depicted as national heroes by the KMT.

True forgiveness is only possible with justice and understanding, and understanding must be built on facts and the courage to face up to them -- and the consequences of their release.