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Sunday, October 25, 2020

The bombing of Taihoku, capital of Japanese Taiwan

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Taipei became the target of American bombers in what is known as the Taihoku Air Raid on May 31st, 1945. The confusing use of two different names for the same city is due to the fact that in those days Taiwan was still a Japanese colony and the official denomination for its capital Taihoku and not Taipei. After the beginning of the Pacific War on December 7th 1941, with the Japanese attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor near Honolulu in the territory of Hawaii, Taiwan become increasingly involved in the escalating conflict.

It received its first warning on November 25th, 1943, when the Shinchiku (nowadays known as Hsinchu) Airfield in the northern part of the island was attacked. Starting in autumn 1944, 20 or 30 enemy airplanes would appear over Taihoku twice a day. Regular bombings of various Taiwanese cities began at the same time and continued until the war and 50 years of Japanese rule ended in summer of 1945.

The largest American attack on the Formosan metropolis during World War II started when 117 Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bombers belonging to the US Fifth Air Force took off from the naval base at Subic Bay in the Philippines. The Americans met virtually no resistance, mainly due to the attrition of the Japanese Air Force in the ongoing Battle of Okinawa. Approximately from 10 AM until around 1 PM 3,800 bombs were dropped non-stop. Over 3,000 people died, more than all the casualties from the previous raids combined. Tens of thousands were displaced or lost their homes.

Buildings within the downtown area heavily damaged or destroyed included the Governor General’s Office and its library, the residence of the Assistant Governor General, the Army Headquarters, the Bank of Taiwan, the Taiwan Railway Hotel, the Taihoku High Court, Taihoku Imperial University (later renamed National Taiwan University), Taihoku Main Station and Taihoku New Park, among others. The Japanese quarter also suffered various damages. An eyes-witness recalls seeing numerous neck-deep bomb craters on a day “the entire sky had (first) turned white”.

Though late May counts as the most devastating, official documents show that US strikes between October 12th, 1944 and August 10th, 1945 killed a total of 5,582 people and wounded almost 9,000. During this period, a relevant number of buildings in Taipei were razed to create empty spaces and prevent fires from spreading in case of a direct hit.

In 1945, Taiwan’s agricultural and industrial output had fallen to 49% and 66% of 1937 levels. Coal production decreased from 200,000 metric tons to 15,000 and power generation from 320 kilowatts to 30. Nevertheless, when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists took over soon after Nippon’s total defeat, they inherited what was suddenly China’s richest province.

The new masters swept this controversial historical event under the rug, because the US firstly had been their staunch ally and afterwards helped them to keep Mao Tse-tungs Communists at bay. Therefore, Taiwan for decades celebrated its stunning victory over Japan, omitting the fact it had been bombed while being Japanese territory.

In 1996, native politician Lee Teng-hui, who in 1944 had volunteered for service in the Imperial Japanese Army, became the first democratically elected president. After localization accelerated, in 1999 the bombing was finally considered important enough to be listed in the book Top 100 Events in Taiwan’s History.

 Unfortunately, exactly 75 years later there has been no official ceremony in Taipei remembering this long-ignored chapter of World War II in Asia. Is that because Taiwan’s relations with the US under Donald Trump can be considered excellent, and incumbent President Tsai Ying-wen is following Chiang’s logic?

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