This article studies the history and historiography of Taiwanese World War II veterans (commonly known as Taiji Riben bing or Taiwanese-native Japanese soldiers), who served as Japanese paramilitary fighting the Chinese and Allied forces. Hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese were recruited into the Japanese forces during the war, serving in Taiwan, mainland China, the Pacific islands, and across Southeast Asia. After the war, however, the experiences of the Taiwanese and Chinese fighting each other were largely repressed and ignored in official and scholarly accounts of the war. Consequently, the Taiwanese veterans were absent in postwar discourse of veterans and public memory of the war. This politically imposed amnesia in the public memory served as a form of amnesty for the Taiwanese veterans, allowing the Kuomintang (KMT) government to redeem these former enemies and re-represent them as a force in its anticommunist campaign since 1949. Overall, forgetting the history of Taiwanese-native Japanese soldiers helped to create and maintain national and social unity in postwar Taiwan under the KMT rule.
As a result of this amnesia, Taiwanese veterans have been rather insignificant, if not completely absent, in the postwar discussion of war-related issues such as jus post bellum (war crimes, compensation to the civilians and veterans) and commemoration of the war until 1990. In the 1990s, with the publication of oral history projects and autobiographical works, the history of the Taiwanese veterans gradually emerged out of the private domain and began to draw more attention in the public discourse of the Second World War. This article will argue that the emergence of a new discourse of Taiwanese veterans since the 1990s has served as a (long overdue) redemption for the Taiwanese veterans and the beginning of recovering (and reconstructing) the long-neglected general wartime history of Taiwan. At the same time, however, this new discourse of Taiwanese veterans (and recovered memory of the war) challenges the national and social unity created by political amnesia in postwar Taiwan. Issues related to the historiography of the Taiwanese veterans such as the recent controversy over Lee Tang-hui's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine continue to stir debate over the legacy of the Second World War in Taiwan and to generate conflict over the already divisive national identity in Taiwan.