Too little effort has been made in Taiwan to research the role the country played in the Pacific Theater of World War II, wasting an opportunity to establish wartime history from a Taiwanese perspective, academics said at a seminar yesterday.
“There are many relics, preserved or faded away, and stories, told or untold, in Taiwan that preserve the memory of war, but most people often talk about World War II like it happened elsewhere,” National Chengchi University historian Tai Pao-tsun (戴寶村) said at the seminar, which was focused on history in Taiwan between 1941 and 1949.
Nine theses were discussed at the seminar, which was organized by Taiwan Extra-Patriot Veterans Association (TEPVA) for the second consecutive year and is aimed at promoting academic research on the nation’s recent war history.
Many of the thesis authors, including Tai, lamented that most of the information cited in their studies came from either the US or Japan — a result of Taiwan’s inadequate preservation of relics, documents and oral history as well as the education system implemented by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government after it took over Taiwan.
If not for these reasons, it would be hard to explain why some young people today would think that it was Japan, rather than the US, that bombed Taiwan during the war and why few are aware that the Presidential Office building, known at the time as the Office of the Governor-General, suffered a direct hit and extensive damage in a bombing raid in Taipei in 1945, they said.
Tai and Tu Cheng-yu (杜正宇), a doctoral candidate of history at National Cheng Kung University, said conducting more research into Taiwan’s history during the period would help people understand more about the nation’s role and strategic significance in the war, as well as Taiwanese’s lives during the Japanese colonial period.
The authors intended to demonstrate the value of more research by covering a wide range of topics in the seminar, including the US’ bombing of the Okayama Airfield — now known as Gangshan (岡山), Kaohsiung — Japan’s deployment of special attack speed boats in Taiwan and Penghu, the recruitment of student soldiers in 1945, Japan’s invasion of the islands in the South China Sea, as well as the KMT government’s recruitment and kidnapping of Taiwanese to be soldiers to fight in the Chinese Civil War.
According to statistics from the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, more than 30,000 Taiwanese soldiers were killed in the Pacific War, 15,000 of whom are listed as missing in action.
Hundreds of thousand of Taiwanese were directly or indirectly involved in the war, said Lee Hsueh-feng (李雪峰), who was among 8,000 Taiwanese boys between the ages of 12 and 14 who went to Yamato City in Japan’s Kanagawa Prefecture in 1943 to build fighter planes.
More than 300 of those boys died during the Allied bombing of Japan and never returned home, Lee said, adding that the more one knows about war, the more he or she understands that peace should be cherished.
The period between 1943 and 1949 for Taiwanese was probably so unique that it would never be replicated again, Lee said.
“Some of us fought for Japan, some for the KMT and some for the Chinese Communist Party. And some did more than one,” Lee said.