Lessons from a turbulent past may inspire a brighter future

The China Post news staff

Today Taiwan commemorates 228 Peace Memorial Day; a public holiday where many will be reflecting on history. It has now been a long time since the sad events that began in February 1947, but not long enough for the wounds to have completely healed. There are still people living today who remember watching a loved one be hauled away by security forces — many of whom never returned home. Hopefully we are approaching the point where a good percentage of the people of Taiwan can look back on history with marginally more understanding for the role history itself played in this tragic drama. So many suffered over the course of Taiwan’s modern history — Indigenous Taiwanese, or aboriginals, were uprooted from their homes by waves of immigrants, the Japanese colonial occupation caused more suffering for many and finally, the peace-loving people of Taiwan were dragged into World War II. American bombers flattened parts of Taiwan in the Allied attempt at liberation, killing and wounding more. Then, just a few years after what some call the “228 Incident,” the KMT government was defeated by Mao Zedong’s communists and some two million fleeing Chinese soldiers and civilians poured into Taiwan. It’s hard to imagine what life must have been like for all of those — Chinese and Taiwanese alike — who were caught up in the whirlwind of history.

In the Holy Bible’s Old Testament there are tales of “the good guys” committing what would be today considered atrocities. But the writers of these scriptures don’t record these actions as despicable as, by “the standards of the time” they were considered acceptable. Gratefully, standards of morality evolve as humanity slowly sheds its brutal past and today we fully recognize that the actions taken by a group of former wartime Kuomintang (KMT) authorities beginning in 1947 were terribly wrong. And while it is sometimes unfair to judge yesterday’s crimes with today’s standards, it is always right and never too late to unreservedly and sincerely apologize for the actions of the past and do the best job possible to make amends. There can be no whitewashing of the 228 killings. True, mainlanders were also swept up in the violence, and there are reports of Taiwanese mobs meting out beatings and lynchings. But the instigators of the so-called “White Terror” period were KMT military authorities who should have used the power of their forces to protect civilians, not terrorize and kill them. There is no excuse for these horrors and history will forever record this period as shameful. As the nation moves further into the 21st century, the hope is that the progress of reconciliation can become the focus of 228 commemorations. Apologizing doesn’t change the past, but one day hopefully all the people of Taiwan will be able to look beyond the sorrows of history and feel pride in the reconciliation that modern Taiwanese have built together. Of course, we have our differences — political, ethnic, cultural and more — but Taiwan has overcome the past and is today a country worthy of emulation; peaceful, prosperous and democratic. Today, however, let’s also not forget to honor those who suffered through our turbulent past; the person taken from their home and executed in the middle of some night in 1947 or the political prisoner who wasted the best years of their life in a dank cell. But after we’ve paid our respects, let us turn our thoughts to the future and reaffirm our commitment to build a nation where such horrors are unthinkable; a nation of Hokklo, Hakka, Chinese, Indigenous Taiwanese and recent immigrants united as one society and one community. In the words of the 228 Memorial Foundation, today is a day for “Remembering the Past; Joining Hands for the Future.”