Editorial: KMT contrition for 228 is nonsense

Thu, Mar 01, 2007 - Page 8

When former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said on Sunday that the 228 Incident was not an ethnic issue but one of poor governance, it could be charitably concluded that he lives in a Nationalist Chinese fantasy world.

In the space of four days, Ma has reversed this position, writing yesterday in the United Daily News that: "Tragic ethnic conflicts such as the 228 Incident are likely to happen again if people allow politicians to continue dividing ethnic groups."

This new stance, which misrepresents the events and political structures of 1947, will probably leave readers rather confused. So, let the facts talk:

After the arrival of the KMT in late 1945, officials and newspaper editorials said Taiwanese had been infected by the Japanese -- on levels of language, culture and identity that can only be sensibly labeled as "ethnic" -- and promised to cure them of their "Japaneseness." This led to stupid policies, such as breaking up families with Japanese members and banning the use in publications of the Japanese language -- Taiwan's lingua franca at the time -- thus severing lines of communication between those of different ethnic groups with limited literacy.

So, ethnicity indeed had a critical role in 228.

All this history may be too complex for Ma to understand. And to this day, Ma may be unaware that his mentor and former employer, president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), spent a few days in Taiwan in the aftermath of 228 collecting intelligence on dissidents for direct delivery to his father, dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石). With KMT icons caked in blood, Ma has good reason to concentrate on "ethnic" semantics.

Yet Ma is the most moderate and conciliatory KMT leader on this issue. He is the KMT man civilized people turn to in the hope of having a dialogue. He can be abused to his face by his foes and he will maintain decorum. Unusual for a KMT leader, he manages to retain a degree of credibility and dignity.

The same cannot be said for most of his senior party colleagues, where there is scant interest in the 228 Incident. Put simply, there is no genuine contrition in the KMT over its criminal past.

The word "responsibility" and apologies may be bandied about, but the KMT has come up pitifully short on what really matters: action.

Action to make amends is the product of true contrition, yet within the KMT, and on its think tank perimeters and across sympathetic academic networks, hardliners consistently act in opposition to the process of accountability. And they still have the upper hand: So-called party moderates rarely speak out with conviction on these matters.

Events that triggered the 228 Incident -- government theft of private property, abuse of international aid, carpetbagging, the killing and mistreatment of ordinary people -- were later reflected in the manner in which top KMT officials made fortunes from the enmeshing of party and state. It is this legacy that the KMT refuses to denounce, let alone seek to correct in a manner respectful of all Taiwanese people.

Instead, we are treated to the KMT and its radical allies saying that accountability for 228 and the White Terror threatens to foment ethnic tension -- a claim that is unspeakably arrogant and malicious.

The real issue is this: Until the KMT can explain why it defends and nurtures extremist views of history and rationalizes theft of public assets, the pan-green-camp voter will look upon it as ill-willed.

Today's KMT leaders did not commit the crimes of 1947 or those thereafter, but they refuse to let go of the booty that the violence helped put in their hands.

Until this changes, the anniversary of the 228 Incident will continue to divide those who want to move forward by facing the past and those who insult the memory of the murdered by lecturing the bereaved on ethnic harmony.