Writing/Righting History of the Second World War : Forgetting and Remembering the Taiwanese Veterans in Postwar Taiwan
In postwar Taiwan, part of the Sino-Japanese War, as experienced by those who fought alongside the Allied, is categorically represented as a victorious war. Yet the same War, as experienced by those who fought alongside the eventually-defeated Japanese, is treated as a “discredited war”. In pursuit of postwar political unity of one nation under the Chinese KMT rule, how did postwar historical accounts represent these conflicting views of the war and antagonistic experiences ? And how did the agents of the war remember these wartime experiences ? Did people who write history (histories) find a way to “reconcile” the conflicting views ? To explore these questions, this paper will focus on one of the many agents of the war, Taiwanese-native Japanese soldiers (and military personnel) [Taiji Riben bing], and examine the postwar historiography of these soldiers and their experiences in Taiwan.
During the Second World War, especially since 1937, more than one hundred thousand Taiwanese were recruited to serve in various capacities in the Japanese armed forces : “paramilitary” [C : junfu, J : gunfu] ; “auxiliary military personnel” [C : junshu, J : gunzoku] ; “volunteer soldiers” [C : zhiyuan bing, J : shigan hei]. As scholars point out, “when the war is at such intensity, they were given no choice but ‘forced’ to pick up guns and, from that moment on, became ‘soldiers’”. These Taiwanese serving in or alongside the Japanese military became known collectively as Taiwanese-native Japanese soldiers. During the war, as the Japanese military pushed into mainland China, Southeast Asia, and islands across the Pacific, these Taiwanese were also sent to work (and fight) in foreign and remote lands across Asia and the Pacific. At the end of the war, according to various accounts, there are between 100,000 and 200,000 Taiwanese veterans who had fought in the Second World War. Among them, there are more than 30,000 casualties.
I. Forgetting Taiwanese Veterans in Public Memory since 1945
Since the end of the war, history of the Second World War has been written extensively in Taiwan, often under the auspice of the Chinese Nationalist (KMT) government. In any postwar account of war, soldiers (and thereafter veterans) are featured predominantly. Not only because soldiers had played a key role in war. The bravery, commitment, and sacrifice made by soldiers—on behalf of the nation—in the battlefields are often represented in (wartime and) postwar accounts as the ultimate manifestation of patriotism. In other words, soldiers are represented as the builders, defenders, and embodiment of the nation and the model citizen that all citizens should aspire to follow in time of national crisis.
In postwar accounts in Taiwan, however, the episodes of more than 100,000 Taiwanese soldiers fighting on the side of the Japanese—in other words, against the Chinese—was hardly found. These Taiwanese veterans were hardly present in the postwar discourse of veterans. Instead, postwar account and public memory of the war has been dominated by the history of (mainland) Chinese soldiers and the mainland Chinese view(s) of the war.
Discourse of “(mainland Chinese) veterans” in postwar Taiwan Since 1945, the mainland Chinese soldiers are the only “veterans” recognized politically in the public discourse of veterans (including state policy and administration) and historiographically in the general accounts of wars. For example, (institutionally) at the cabinet-level Veteran Affairs Commission, part of the Commission’s Chinese name, guojun [or Nationalist soldiers] defines, categorically, the veterans are those who have served in the Guomindang (KMT) military. Thereby, the Commission is set out to look after the well-being of the mainland Chinese veterans who have served under the KMT government and the Taiwanese veterans who have served under the KMT government after 1949. Under the Commission’s administration, the Taiwanese soldiers from World War II are categorically excluded.
Another state-level institution devoted to veterans, which is symbolically important as a part of the state’s performance of shaping national identity, is the Martyr Shrine [zhonglie ci]. The Martyr Shrine has very specific rules as who could be “enshrined” and commemorated, and is dedicated to those who died fighting for the “Nationalist revolution [guomin geming]”, including those who contributed their lives in the “war of resistance” and anti-Communist campaigns since 1949. Later on, the KMT government enshrined several Taiwanese who died resisting the Japanese colonial rule. However, Taiwanese soldiers who fought as Japanese soldiers and died during the War are not enshrined. Related to the Martyr Shrine and also at the symbolical level (of performance), the “autumn national worship [qiuji guosang]”—led by the President of Taiwan—is hold annually at the Martyr Shrine in Taipei on the 3rd of September, the Armed Forces’ Day [junren jie] in Taiwan. In the highest state form of honoring the soldiers, the mainland Chinese veterans and the post-1949 Taiwanese veterans are those “veterans” who are honored on the Armed Forces’ Day. Conspicuously, the Taiwanese veterans from World War Two are absent in the postwar public discourse of veterans, without receiving state recognition or veteran welfare after the war.
And historiographically, the Taiwanese veterans are similarly absent in most, if not all, postwar account of the war. Consequently, experiences of the Taiwanese veterans were largely, if not completely, suppressed in postwar accounts. Between 1945 and 1990, the history of Taiwanese-native Japanese soldiers who had fought against the Chinese and the Allied forces were hardly known to the public in Taiwan.
As Suleiman argues, forgetting is the “active agent” in the formation of memories as it “gives memories their shape and relief”. By forgetting the history of Taiwanese-native Japanese soldiers, an actively and politically constructed public memory of the war—as well as an officially imposed amnesia—came into shape in postwar Taiwan under the KMT government.
The Significance of Forgetting/Amnesia to Amnesty and Redemption The official amnesia can be understood as a two-stage forgetting (in the sequence of forgetting → forgiving → redeeming). First, forgetting is a form of KMT government forgiving what the Taiwanese soldiers did against the Chinese during the war. Secondly, after forgiving by forgetting, forgetting is a way of KMT government redeeming the Taiwanese from what the Taiwanese soldiers did during the war against the Chinese.
A : Forgetting as a form of forgiving/amnesty In the immediate years after the war ended, many Taiwanese were prosecuted in Taiwan, China, and at the International War Crime Tribunals across the Pacific and Japan. However, after 1949, “war crimes” committed by the Taiwanese against the Chinese and the Allied forces, as convicted by the International War Crime Tribunal after the war, were completely ignored by the KMT government in Taiwan. This “forgetting” (of what the Taiwanese soldiers did during the war against the Chinese) allowed the KMT government to forego war crime prosecution after 1946.
Paul Ricoeur defines this kind of “official injunction to forget”, or “amnésie commandée”, as a “prescribed amnesia”. In postwar Taiwan, this “prescribed amnesia” continued for more than fifty years under the KMT government. So, what is the significance of this political amnesia ? We can understand the KMT’s forgetting as a form of amnesty.
Again, quoting from Paul Ricoeur, amnesty is a “forced amnesia” and a “parody of forgiveness”. Yet, amnesty has its “conciliatory”, “utilitarian”, and “therapeutic” function. As Ricoeur recognizes that for the sake of political unity, amnesty can “silence the non-forgetting of memory”. In forgetting the Taiwanese “war crimes” committed against the Chinese and the Allied forces, the KMT government effectively—regardless of its intentionality—imposed a political amnesty on the Taiwanese soldiers who served in the Japanese military during the war. This amnesty first allowed the KMT government to halt prosecution of Taiwanese war crimes. Furthermore, this amnesty by forgetting helped to reduce—if not erase—animosity between the mainland Chinese and the newly incorporated Taiwanese population. As Stéphane Gacon argues, “the citizens grant amnesty to other citizens with the primary aim of reestablishing a national unity unbroken by civil conflict”. In doing so, it allowed the KMT government to build and maintain the much-needed political unity in Taiwan between the formerly antagonistic mainland Chinese and the Taiwanese. Especially after 1949, as the KMT government retreated to Taiwan and consolidated itself after losing the civil war against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), this “forgetting” became ever more urgent in KMT government’s fight against the primary enemy—CCP. By imposing a “forced amnesia” of the Taiwanese-native Japanese soldiers and their “war crimes”, the KMT rule could prevent domestic conflict between the Chinese and the Taiwanese in postwar Taiwan.
As Suleiman argues, “[I]f there is a ‘duty to remember’, there is also, just as importantly, a ‘duty to forget’”. For the sake of national unity, particularly after 1949, the history of Taiwanese-native Japanese soldiers was forgotten and this amnesia imposed by the KMT government served as a form of granting amnesty on the Taiwanese soldiers.
B : Forgetting as a form of redemption Hannah Arendt has pointed out, forgiveness provides the “possible redemption from the predicament of irreversibility” and frees both “the one who forgives and the one who is forgiven” from consequences of an irreversible act. Wartime suffering inflicted by Japanese (including the Taiwanese soldiers) on the Chinese is surely an irreversible act. After the war, forgetting provides both the KMT government and the general population an opportunity—if not the only opportunity—to forgive war crime committed by the Taiwanese against the Chinese before 1945. And as Hannah Arendt argues, forgiving allows redemption from an irreversible act. Only by forgiving what the Taiwanese soldiers had committed during the war can the Taiwanese—as well as the Chinese—can be freed and redeemed from the consequence of an irreversible act like war crime.
As Suleiman points out, Ricoeur’s view of “forgiveness” is redemptive as the latter argues that forgiveness proclaims to the sinner, “You are more worthy than your actions”. By forgetting the history of Taiwanese-native Japanese soldiers, the postwar KMT government was able to re-represent and redeem the Taiwanese as more “worthy” than their “action” (such as war crimes committed again the Chinese in the mainland). As Suleiman further points out, the “established democracy could not afford to throw out, let alone bring to trial, everyone who had worked under or implicated with” a now defunct and officially condemned regime. It happened in France after the Vichy, Italy after Mussolini, Argentina and Chile after military dictatorships and Eastern Europe after communism. The same happened in postwar Taiwan under the KMT government. (first forgetting, then) Forgiving war crime (of the Taiwanese soldiers) allows the KMT government to redeem the Taiwanese soldiers for the sake of national reconstruction, especially after 1949. For example, former Taiwanese-native Japanese soldiers were redeemed and represented as a force prepared to “recover the mainland” [fangong dalu] under the lead of the KMT government, regardless of what they did during the Sino-Japanese war. Again, this act of forgiving became ever more indispensable, particularly after 1949, as the Chinese KMT government consolidated itself in Taiwan and was forced to depend on its former enemies, the Taiwanese, as compatriots and “soldiers” in its anti-Communist campaign.
II. The Creation of a New Discourse of Taiwanese Veterans since the 1990s Under the politically imposed amnesia, the history of Taiwanese veterans is largely forgotten in postwar Taiwan. However, in private domain, Taiwanese veterans have been keeping their memories alive. Some veterans (and veterans’ families) organized social activities and published directories and internal newsletters ; others organized themselves to seek (KMT government’s assistance in seeking) veterans’ compensation from the Japanese government. Although the public was hardly aware, these private efforts and network helped to keep the history of Taiwanese veterans alive under the politically imposed amnesia for more than five decades.
Things finally started to change in 1990s. After five decades of being forgotten in official accounts of the war and in public memory of the war, several volumes of Taiwanese veterans’ oral history, conducted by historians, were published, coincidentally, in 1997. The publication of oral history gives the Taiwanese veterans their first opportunity—since the end of the war—to bring their private memories of the war into public discourse.
One of the major contributors to this new discourse of Taiwanese veterans is the Institute of Taiwan History (ITH) at the Academia Sinica. ITH initiated its oral history project as early as 1994 and published their findings in 1997. Academia Sinica is a top research institution in Taiwan, and notably, it is also a state-sponsored national-level research institute. Similarly, several county-level local governments also conducted their own oral history projects during this period.
In addition to the aforementioned changes in the narratives of Taiwanese veterans by oral history projects, the emergence of a new discourse of Taiwanese veterans was also seen in practice. Also in 1997, a special exhibition of Taiwanese wartime history, “Taiwan ren zhanzheng zhan [exhibition of Taiwanese people’s wars]”, was hold in Taipei by the Taipei Municipal Government. This exhibition showed pictures of several Taiwanese-native Japanese soldiers, personal effect saved from the war, and historical documents related to Taiwanese veterans. Since the end of the war, this exhibition is the first time in which the history of Taiwanese-native Japanese soldiers was featured publicly and predominantly in a governmental function in Taiwan.
Since then, more scholarly works on Taiwanese soldiers are published, and often in collaboration with state and local governments. In addition, there are notably several autobiographical accounts by Taiwanese soldiers and oral history conducted by the families of Taiwanese soldiers. But in terms of their significance to the emergence of a new public discourse of Taiwanese veterans, scholarly works came earlier and more widely read.
Significance of oral history in two domains A. (Politically) To speak/write to redeem yourself from amnesty and to seek due state recognition as “veterans” in Taiwan For more than fifty years, for the sake of social and national unity, wartime experiences of the Taiwanese veterans were forgotten in postwar amnesia. Consequently, memories of the Taiwanese veterans became what Ricoeur calls the “forgetful memory” and Taiwanese veterans would not be allowed to speak publicly for themselves or speak of their wartime accomplishment (or contribution) or suffering.
Oral history provided the Taiwanese veterans a new opportunity to recover the latter’s wartime memory. It allowed the Taiwanese veterans to speak publicly, for the first time, for and of themselves in their own country. At a seminar hosted by the Academia Sinica in 1996, a veteran commented on the long-awaited opportunity : “please allow me this opportunity to talk a bit more, this is the only one chance I got in fifty years, and it will be gone if I miss it”.
And in speaking publicly of their experiences, what the Taiwanese veterans are seeking is due recognition—particularly state recognition—of their wartime accomplishment (or contribution) as well as their wartime suffering like other “veterans” being recognized in the public discourse. Like what some Taiwanese veterans have done since the late 1950s in Japan, the Taiwanese veterans started seeking recognition in Taiwan in the mid-1990s. And they are seeking recognition from both the general public and the government.
Speaking of private efforts to erect memorials to commemorate the deceased Taiwanese-native Japanese soldiers, a veteran commented that the efforts was made to raise public awareness of the issue because these “poor” deceased soldiers were never “respected” or “properly worshipped”.
Speaking of the Taiwanese government, a former nurse commented : “the government treats these glorious citizens [rongmin], (and) these mainlanders [waisheng ren, or people from the outer provinces] so well, why it does not treat these poor people (former Japanese soldiers and auxiliary military personnel) the same way, we have all been poor and miserable, why the government does not care about us ?”
To the Taiwanese veterans, their present-day government and society at large have neither recognized their war efforts nor provided them veterans’ welfare. And this lack of recognition and welfare is particularly acute and unbearable in comparison to other veterans such as the so-called “glorious citizens” veterans, who are mostly mainlanders. Therefore, veterans in Taiwan are organizing themselves and asking their own country to “reverse the verdict [pingfan]” on their wartime experiences.
B. (Historiographically) To speak/write to recover the forgetful memory and history from political amnesia On the other hand, by speaking publicly of the Taiwanese veterans’ experiences, oral history that has emerged since mid-1990s has helped to (re-)establish the Taiwanese veterans in history and postwar historiography in Taiwan.
Interestingly, the process of redemption is partly, if not mostly, initiated by historians in Taiwan in the 1990s. Here, we would like to further explore the issue of agency in understanding the emergence of a new discourse of Taiwanese veterans since the 1990s. We want to know : who make this new discourse ? As we have witnessed, several agents have played a role in creating and shaping this new discourse : veterans (soldiers and military auxiliary personnel), family members of veterans (jiashu for those veterans who are still alive and yizu for those veterans who passed away), historians and journalists, and, finally, governments in both Taiwan and Japan (by adopting the new discourse and reinforcing it). In terms of its significance to historiography, we will examine more closely the role of historians and historian’s (sense of) responsibility/urgency in the emergence of the new discourse of veterans.
Ricoeur differentiates “forgetful memory”, “for the sake of public harmony” ; and the “unforgetful memory”, “for the sake of philosophical truth”. By making the general public aware of the existence of Taiwanese veterans, oral historians are effectively recovering the “forgetful memory” of the Taiwanese veterans and turning it into “unforgetful memory”. Even before any formal oral history work was completed, historians started the process of (re-)establishing the Taiwanese veterans in public memory of the war, by announcing the recruitment of interviewees in major newspapers, for example. Since the 1990s, the re-emergence of “unforgetful memory” of the Taiwanese veterans not only reconstructs the history of Taiwanese veterans, it further reshapes the history of the war in Taiwan. As one scholar points out, Taiwanese veterans and their history have been “long forgotten”. The purpose of these oral history projects on Taiwanese veterans is to “discover” Taiwanese history through oral history and “challenge” the “orthodox history” dictated by the government, and to fill in the “forty-year gap” in postwar history writing. This task is particularly significant in mid-1990s, as it is conducted at the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the war.
At the same time, a sense of urgency propelled historians in Taiwan to initiate numerous oral history projects on Taiwanese veterans in the mid-1990s. As one scholar puts it, when historians finally track down a veteran only to find that the latter has passed away, they “feel regret and sorry for being ‘late for the appointment’”. With each veteran passed away, he took with him the “memory of his life”. And for historians working to “recover” history of Taiwanese veterans, time is literally running out.
The researchers and the publishers behind these oral history works are of special meaning to the Taiwanese veterans. As most oral history works are conducted by scholars in collaboration with local governments and the state-sponsored Academia Sinica, official and semi-official institutions have played a major role in recovering the history of Taiwanese veterans and re-establishing the new public discourse of Taiwanese veterans. The official and semi-official affiliation and sponsorship, which can well be represented and understood as indirect state recognition, give these oral history projects an extra significance to the veterans interviewed.
III. Conclusion : A New Discourse of Taiwanese Veterans as a New Challenge to Political Unity, 1990s to present
In forgetting the history of Taiwanese-native Japanese soldiers, postwar accounts of the Second World War created an amnesia (of history) that made amnesty and redemption of the Taiwanese soldiers possible and helped to reinforce political unity under the KMT government. At the same time, as a result of this amnesia, Taiwanese veterans and Taiwanese wartime experiences have been absent in the postwar historiography of the war and the discourse of veteran for more than fifty years. It was only in the mid-1990s that oral history projects conducted by historians—in collaboration with official and semi-official institutions—began to recover memory of the Taiwanese veterans in public discourse and re-establish Taiwanese veterans in historical account of the war.
Since the mid-1990s, more and more private memories of the war and history of Taiwanese veterans have been recorded and published, and a new discourse of Taiwanese veterans has been created. “Speaking of repressed memory, Suleiman argues that it is the very attempt to effect a forced forgetting that eventually leads to the return of the repressed”. In recent years, this new discourse becomes politically and historiographically more significant and controversial, particularly as this act of writing begins to challenge the long-hold national and social unity in postwar Taiwan. In place of the formerly imposed unity and political amnesia, the public memory of war in Taiwan has become highly contentious in the past decade. The latest example of contention is Lee Teng-hui’s recent visit to Yasukuni Shrine. Lee visited and paid tribute to his deceased brother at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on 7 June, 2007 during his latest “sightseeing trip” to Japan.
The Significance of Lee’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine, 2007 Lee, the former president of Taiwan (1988-2000), asserted that his visit to Yasukuni Shrine is meant to pay tribute to his deceased brother, who died fighting in the Japanese military in the Philippines in 1945 and has been enshrined in the Yasukuni since the end of the war.
Some politicians who oppose Lee’s visit have argued that Lee’s visit to Yasukuni is politically motivated and “has ruined the dignity of the Taiwanese”, while other politicians who support Lee assert that this visit is for the “love of family” and criticized those who oppose Lee as “cold-blooded”. After Lee’s visit to Yasukuni, a PRC man attempted to attack Lee by throwing a plastic bottle at the Narita airport in Tokyo as Lee was preparing to return to Taiwan, claiming that he “does not like Lee”. Amidst emotionally charged political rhetoric and action, what is the historical significance of Lee paying tribute at Yasukuni ? Its significance can be found in the larger context of the postwar historiography of forgetting, remembering, and redeeming Taiwanese veterans.
A. (Politically) To seek state recognition : State recognition is particularly important for veterans. Since the end of the war in 1945, Yasukuni is the only officially sanctioned place commemorating the Taiwanese veterans. Therefore, Yasukuni, regardless of the political controversy started in 1980s, remains the only official place to pay tribute to the Taiwanese veterans. Ironically, some politicians who opposed Lee’s visit started to argue, somewhat satirically, Lee as a former president should also seek recognition of others who were affected by the war.
B. (Historiographically) To establish/restore (the history of) Taiwanese veterans in history : Having been ignored in most historical accounts till today (2007), Lee’s action is drawing unprecedented public’s attention to the history of Taiwanese veterans (and the Taiwanese suffering during the war in general).
C. To seek personal/family redemption : Before he visited Yasukuni, Lee told reporters : “to pay respect to my brother (at Yasukuni) is something that I have to do as (his family)” and “should have been taken for granted”. For Lee, the visit has fulfilled a wish he has hold for more than sixty years, since the time he last saw his brother before the latter left for the battlefield in the Philippines. As Lee personally explains shortly after the visit, only a personal visit to where the dead family member is worshipped could truly fulfill the need of paying tribute.
As the postwar (contention over) memory of Taiwanese veterans has demonstrated, officially imposed “tidiness” (in the words of Martha Minow) on memory of war hardly lasts or stays unchallenged. Although “the temptation of closure” (in history writing never ceases (again from Martha Minow), memories of war are questions that will continue to surface and lead to heated debate in writing of history. In Taiwan, amidst the growing debate and the more open conflict over national identity since the 1990s, the new discourse of Taiwanese veterans becomes another notable site of contention. As the recent controversy over Lee’s visit and paying tribute at Yasukuni has demonstrated, the Taiwanese society—as well as the larger Chinese and Japanese societies—is far from reaching a consensus on the legacy of the Taiwanese veterans. After decades of forgetting, remembering, and forgiving, writing the history of Taiwanese veterans continues, and it continues to reflect a deeply divided national identity and different perception of the war and Japanese colonial legacy in Taiwan.