Revisionism is Taiwan's big enemy

J. Michael Cole 寇謐將  / 

Fri, Jul 20, 2007 - Page 8

Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), the child said, with the precarious conviction of a toddler as he takes his very first uncertain steps, was our savior. Thus a four or five-year-old on the weekend, gazed with wonder at the TV camera lens, as the nation looked back on a different time, when martial law, imported from distant shores, governed everybody's lives.

We shake our collective heads, or recoil in horror, when we hear young Palestinians, young Iraqis, Afghans, Serbs or Chinese tell the camera that Osama bin Laden, the late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat, Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic or Chinese leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東) were, in similar terms, the saviors of their people.

Aside from the telling fact that it is not altogether outlandish to name Chiang alongside such enlightened murderers, the characterization -- by children born long after his death -- of the generalissimo as any kind of savior reveals that some elements within our society are still passing along a revisionist version of history.

If, as outsiders, we have the clarity of vision, or the advantage of emotional distance, that allows us to pass judgment on youth who see bin Laden and his ilk as saviors, then surely admirers of Chiang cannot be exempt from similar criticism.

And yet, to this day, many are those who refuse to throw Chiang into the pit alongside the multifarious tyrants that pepper the long, sad history of man's inhumanity to man. Instead, as do some misguided parents and teachers in far-away lands, they pour the poison in their children's ears and thereby perpetuate falsehoods out of which no good can come.

While it would be invidious to even conceive of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) trading his jogging shorts for the generalissimo's ever-pristine martial costume, or to imagine that he could make recourse to the same dictatorial methods as his predecessor, his failure -- and that of his party -- to completely break ties with the past and decry the crimes for what they were belies a continuation of a mindset of oppression, the epitome of which is the teaching of youngsters that Chiang was, and remains, a hero.

If, heaven forbid, Chiang were still alive today, Taiwan would be an entirely different place. In this alternate universe, the generalissimo would conceivably still be at war with China, as a result of which the powers in Beijing would likely be more repressive and more bellicose than Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and his retinue.

In fact, it is not too far-fetched to imagine that, with Chiang still in power today, Taiwan and China would by now have come to blows and the 1,000 missiles pointed at Taiwan as you read this would appear like a minor day-after headache.

All this to prove that Chiang, the old savior revered by some, wasn't good for Taiwan, as his presence today would mean more dangers for the country and a hotter conflict than the Cold War that haunts us every minute.

The only reason Beijing has softened its stance on Chiang and, to a certain degree, refashioned his image, is that he is safely long dead. In so doing, by rehabilitating its old nemesis into a character worthy of -- granted, mitigated -- reverence, Beijing has once again demonstrated in no uncertain terms that it doesn't have the interest of Taiwanese at heart. A true friend of Taiwan would never change his line on a murderous dictator, or choose to visit Taiwan for its last remaining monuments to this man's dreams of grandeur.

With elections looming, Ma and the KMT cannot pretend to stand for Taiwanese if they continue to refer to the Martial Law era and the White Terror as mere tactical "mistakes," or to encourage so-called historians to portray Chiang as a savior. Anything less than a full repudiation of what the generalissimo stood for, a complete denunciation of the crimes he and his followers committed against a people, will be -- should be -- insufficient to convince Taiwanese and the world that the KMT is worthy of the people's trust.

The beauty of elections, inasmuch as there can be beauty in the process, is that they encourage us to review history and see if, indeed, our purported leaders are worthy of representing us.

Irony of ironies, by calling for rapprochement -- if not unification -- with China, Ma and the KMT have been betraying Chiang, who would never in a million years have brooked such efforts. Heaven knows what such treasonous activity would have implied for Ma and his like-minded group had they endeavored for such ends when Chiang was in power.

But the beauty of democracy, that which the generalissimo denied the people he claimed to represent for almost 30 years, is that Ma is allowed to strive toward the ultimate betrayal of his old master's wishes without fear of persecution. We may not agree with his objective, but as a citizen of a democratic country, he has the right to fight for his goal.

That he chooses to ignore the great irony at the core of his understanding of history is his decision to make.

One thing the Ma cannot be allowed to do, however, is betray Taiwanese by telling them lies about their history.

J. Michael Cole is a writer based in Taipei.