EDITORIAL: More to truth than a number

Mon, Feb 27, 2012 - Page 8

Tomorrow mark’s the 65th anniversary of the 228 Incident. Unfortunately, a recent opinion piece by former premier Hau Pei-tsun (郝柏村), which claimed the number of people killed during the massacre was far less than the figure noted in textbooks, discounted long-term efforts in seeking delayed justice for victims and their families.

In the article, published in the Chinese-language United Daily News on Tuesday, Hau questioned the description of the 228 Incident in junior-high history textbooks, which says Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) troops killed more than 10,000 people during the uprising. He said the number of people who were killed or went missing was little more than 500.

Even after the government lowered the threshold for compensation for victims’ families, the number increased to only about 1,000, he said.

Hau said he spoke as an authority on the subject because while he was premier in the early 1990s he had instructed the Cabinet to form a panel and study the massacre. This was the figure the panel had agreed on, and the Ministry of Education should correct the textbooks, he said.

Hau seems to have forgotten that the investigation presented by the panel stated that the number of people who were killed or went missing during the incident was between 18,000 and 28,000, and that the conclusion was reached after much research.

Even today, the 228 Incident is seen as a complex issue with few easy answers, and the pain of victims and their families has never stopped during efforts to uncover the truth.

Hau’s comment ahead of the anniversary were unacceptable to both the victims’ families and society as a whole, and merely rubbed salt into old wounds.

What he denied in his article was not only the true number of the dead and missing, but the historical context of the 228 Incident, while ignoring the long struggle by Taiwanese to piece together the facts of what actually happened.

Views on the origin of the 228 Incident are widely divergent. While President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has vowed on numerous occasions to make a full effort to uncover the truth and ease the pain of victims’ families, his administration has so far failed to discover anything new, and has in fact only stressed the number of Mainlanders affected, while no one involved in the incident has stepped forward to offer an apology to the victims or the public.

When attending an exhibition on Friday in memory of members of the judiciary killed in the massacre, Ma dismissed Hau’s comments and stressed that “the focus should not be on the number of people that were killed,” as he reiterated the promise to uncover the truth behind the crackdown.

Ma is at least correct in this: The number of the victims is not the most important issue regarding the massacre. The biggest problem is that there remains no accountability, and the truth remains unknown.

In the file on the 228 Massacre in the National Security Bureau’s archive, for example, there is a list of individuals who went missing, but no mention of the dates of their deaths or the reasons why they were detained.

As Wang Ke-shao (王克紹), whose father was taken by the KMT regime during the incident and never returned home, said when attending the same exhibition as Ma, what most families of the victims wanted to know is when and where their loved ones died, and what crimes they were accused of.

In the absence of the truth behind the massacre, and in view of people like Hau who continue to whitewash what happened, the best we can do is to ensure that the rationalization of murder and indifference to the suffering of the victims and their families never goes unopposed.