Sun, Jun 07, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Taipei Air Raid: a forgotten tragedy

Seventy years after the US bombed Taipei City, various organizations and scholars are working to spread awareness of this oft-ignored piece of history

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Chronicle of Taiwan (台灣全記錄), published in 1990, doesn’t elaborate but includes the Taipei Air Raid in its 1945 events timeline. By 1999, the event was considered important enough to be listed in Top 100 Events in Taiwan’s History (台灣史上100件大事).

In 2007, the first book pertaining specifically to the Taipei Air Raid was published by the Taipei City Government’s Department of Cultural Affairs to accompany an exhibition at the 228 Memorial Museum.

Why was this period of history swept under the rug for so long?

Hung Chih-wen (洪致文), professor of geography at National Taiwan Normal University who has conducted research and given talks on the topic, said the KMT didn’t want to emphasize this period of history because the US was an ally both during and after the war.

“Taiwan’s situation is strange,” Hung said. “We celebrate our victory against the Japanese, and we now see ourselves as the winning side. But then, we also have the history of being bombed.”

IDENTIFYING WITH CHINA

Hsu Wen-tang (許文堂), secretary-general of the Taiwan Association of University Professors (TAUP) and the organizer behind a series of commemorative events and exhibitions, said highlighting the bombings would have gone against KMT ideals after they took power.

“They wanted to educate the population in Taiwan to identify with China,” Hsu said. “If you are Chinese, then you were fighting against the Japanese. If so, then why would Taiwan get bombed by the Americans?”

And since the government didn’t talk about it, the people stopped talking about it as well.

“The older generation kept the memory of this period in their hearts, and purposely avoided discussing it,” Hung said.

Yet, as a curious child growing up in the 1970s, Hung always felt that something was wrong.

“In our era, learning about history was like having schizophrenia,” he said. “What we learned at school and what we heard our elders talking about was totally different.”

Hung grew up in Dadaocheng (大稻埕), an area of western Taipei that suffered much damage from the bombings.

“When I was a child, I found it strange that some of the roads only had old-style houses on one side,” he said. “And the style of our school building was different from one side to the other.”

Hung didn’t learn about the bombings until 2009 when Academia Sinica’s Center for GIS released aerial photos of the bombing obtained from the US Air Force Historical Research Agency.

While this explained what happened to his school building, Hung felt that the discrepancy along the main avenues was too orderly — as if it were planned.

“I realized the demolition of houses wasn’t necessarily because of bombing,” he said. During the period of frequent airstrikes, the Japanese government would raze buildings in high-density areas to create empty spaces to prevent fires from spreading in case of a direct hit.

According to Hung, 708,292 square meters of houses in Taipei were demolished for this purpose. Some were converted into wider roads, others into parks and other open spaces.

Hung later published his findings in an academic paper.

“This move has greatly affected the city today,” Hung said. “There are a lot of large lots from that time that are still there today.”

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