Even though 70 years have elapsed since the events of the 228 Incident, every year, on the anniversary of the massacre, Taiwan descends into a kind of collective anxiety. Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) was the first leader to apologize, setting up memorials and allocating compensation, and presidents Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) have followed suit, marking the anniversary with speeches expressing their regret over what happened.
Unfortunately, this has done little to dispel the enmity. Tensions are proving to be so persistent because everyone has their own version of events. This year, even the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) commemorated the Incident, demonstrating that it has its own version, too.
Everyone having their own version has made it difficult to establish the facts or apportion responsibility. On Sunday, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) announced that all archived documents related to the Incident have been declassified. This is a good first step, giving everyone access to historical documents in order to get at the facts of what happened all those years ago. Of course, nothing will change overnight, but at least it gives hope that a version of the truth that everyone can accept will be established.
The roles played by then-Taiwan governor-general Chen Yi (陳儀), Kaohsiung Fortress commander Peng Meng-chi (彭孟緝) and Taiwan Garrison Command secret police chief of staff Ko Yuan-fen (柯遠芬) are well-known. The controversy surrounds the role former president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) played.
In recent years the public has been given access to Chiang’s diaries and these have brought some new clues to light. There are not many entries in these diaries related to the 228 Incident, suggesting that it simply was not a priority for Chiang at the time. However, they do tell us what considerations were guiding his strategy.
The entry for Feb. 28, the day after the incident flared, read: “In the absence of a national army, with the government left without a military force, the Taiwanese protesters started rioting throughout the island in what was a completely unforeseen incident.”
On March 3, Chiang wrote: “The Taiwanese have risen in protest about a matter involving a cigarette vendor and have taken to killing our compatriots throughout the province of Taiwan, and the area of rioting is gradually increasing. The removal of the armed forces from the island has to be the only major reason for this.”
It is quite clear that Chiang was aware of the flare-up of tensions right from the beginning and that it was his opinion that an insufficient military presence was the cause.
Even though Chiang was dissatisfied with Chen Yi’s poor governance, his failure to report the situation and, indeed, to try to pretend all was peaceful, when Chen on March 2 sent a telegram asking for troops, Chiang answered three days later: “Do not worry, a regiment of infantry has been dispatched, together with military police who should be in transit on the seventh of this month.”
The entry for March 7 says: “The Taiwanese have long been enslaved by the Japanese foe and have forgotten who their motherland is. They fear only power and do not know how to cherish virtue.”
Then, after the uprising was brutally suppressed, his entry for the 15th reads: “The incident on Taiwan, following the arrival of the army, has already ended, but the root cause has yet to be solved. It is thus abundantly clear that military force will be needed to maintain peace in the province.”
Chiang believed in military might. He believed that the people needed to be shocked and awed.
On March 10, Chiang laid the blame at the feet of the CCP, deflecting the blame from Chen Yi’s poor governance. As the highest authority in the nation, for protecting Chen Yi and putting his trust in military might, Chiang must take some responsibility for the massacre.
In November last year, a man struck a woman with a steel bar and killed her outside a hospital in China’s Fujian Province. Later, he justified his actions to the police by saying that he attacked her because she was small and alone, and he was venting his anger after a dispute with a colleague. To the casual observer, it could be seen as another case of an angry man gone mad for a moment, but on closer inspection, it reflects the sad side of a society long brutalized by violent political struggles triggered by crude Leninism and Maoism. Starting
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