Taiwanese Not Forced to Serve in WWII

I managed to interview a Sakizaya war veteran during one of my recent trips to Hualien, Taiwan. One of things that came up in our interview was whether or not Taiwanese were drafted into the Imperial Japanese Army during WWII. According to this man, they were not. He told me that he even had to take a test to get in, which he did willingly, just to follow friends who wished nothing more than to serve and reap the rewards, namely money bonuses and land at the end of WWII.

The issue of Taiwanese serving in WWII for the Japanese is a touchy subject - see the lack of even one good book on this subject. The old Sakizaya man I talked to, who we called Backee (Grandpa in Sakizaya), said that he wasn't receiving a vet pension, an interesting point considering all of the old KMT soldiers who do receive one in Taiwan (I think the figure is at around 80,000). 200,000 Taiwanese individuals served in the Japanese military in one way or another; these people have been ignored by both KMT and the DPP governments.

A couple of shots of trains, and how people used to ride during the Japanese colonial era. I took them in Hualien, just outside the main gate to the Hualien Train Station.

I took this shot at the Hualien Train Station. They've got a few old trains and engines on display directly outside the main gate.


Anonymous said...

Currently, I don't think there's much controversy about whether Taiwanese were forced to serve in the Japanese military. I have spoken to several vets and many of their relatives and I've found that their service to Japan is a point of pride. I would guess that the lack of historical material on the subject is more due to scholarly neglect than any "unease" regarding the topic.
Regarding neglect by the KMT and DPP, while I have not researched the issue, I know of no government that has paid any sort of pension to former enemy combatants on account of their service to the enemy state. I think that the government should take care of the former IJ vets, but certainly not on account of their service to Japan.
If anyone should compensate these vets, it should be the Japanese government that they served. As indicated in a recent article in Sinorama (excerpt below), some of these vets are upset that Japan has not given them the same compensation as ethnic Japanese vets. I agree that this issue is one that Japan needs to deal with, not the KMT or DPP.

"The Japanese government is really heartless. We all fought for the Emperor, but Japanese were compensated 7000 times of their salary and Taiwanese only 120 times." This betrayal at the hands of the Japanese government undermined their sense of identity and overturned their pride in being citizens of the Japanese empire. Many Taiwanese soldiers refused their compensation, deciding the Japanese government would "owe them for life."


Patrick Cowsill said...

I've talked to several descendants of Japanese Imperial Army vets here in Taiwan. They told me that there was a compensation effort several years back, that the Japanese government was willing to pay an amount of money. They said that A) the paperwork was mind-boggling B) that they had to prove that their dads, uncles, etc. served/died and this was, strangely, hard to do.

I think that there should be no doubt that the "service to Japan is a point of pride". I've read that many individuals put on their WWII uniforms to protest the incoming KMT leading up to 2-28. I just wonder why I keep hearing about a draft, without ever seeing anything to back this up. This is just a matter of getting the facts straight.

"I know of no government that has paid any sort of pension to former enemy combatants on account of their service to the enemy state..." This doesn't make much sense to me. What do KMT war vets receiving pensions thanks very much to taxpayers in Taiwan have to do with Taiwan? All politics aside, I'd just like to see some sort of documentation to show that that Taiwanese were actually drafted. People tell me they were; old war vets tell me they weren't.

"Many Taiwanese soldiers refused their compensation, deciding the Japanese government would 'owe them for life.'" Others simply had no idea how to apply for compensation.

Anonymous said...

I think plenty of documentation exists, both in Taiwan and Japan that show the Taiwanese vets were mostly volunteers. That this has not been officially recognized in Taiwan is probably due to politics.
Another similar issue that doesn't appear to have ever been resolved is whether Taiwanese comfort women who served Japanese soldiers during WWII were volunteers. If you recall, back in February 2001, DPP official Hsu Wen-lung said in an interview with nationalist Japanese author Yoshinori Kobayashi that the Taiwanese comfort women who served Japanese soldiers throughout the Pacific and Asia during WWII were volunteers. Kobayashi had documents and even photographs that seemed to show Taiwanese women did indeed volunteer to serve Japan. However, the surviving Taiwanese comfort women who have spoken out on the issue (albeit in an effort to get compensation from Japan) deny that they were volunteers. I'd like to know what the truth is.

Patrick Cowsill said...

Some "comfort women" from Taiwan did volunteer in Japan and other places where there were Japanese soldiers, but it seems like they didn't volunteer for prostitution.

My old Hakka friend was telling me about how her mother (a nurse) was offered three times her salary to go to Singapore to work as a nurse. Her parents decided against it, as she was an only daughter. Her best friend, on the other hand, did go, and ended becoming a comfort woman. She was clearly tricked into volunteering and into leaving Taiwan.

A lot of Taiwanese people seem not to know that their parents/grandparents fought for Japan during WWII. I don't think you'll find anyone who will know that 200,000 served and that 30,000 died. The textbooks here are starting to take up Taiwanese history, but only in a way that is favorable to Taiwanese (Hoklo-speaking) people. 200,000 people, 8 years, almost daily bombings of Taipei, Kaohsiung, Taichung, etc., POW camps seem like a lot to avoid, but somehow they manage.

EyeDoc said...

Interesting post title: Certainly not conscription at gun point, if that is what you mean by forcing into service.

Officially, the military service for the Taiwanese began in Jan, 1942. The history, in great detail, is available on the net (wikipedia, for example). While some truly volunteered, some did so after persuasion by their superiors, while others simply received draft orders. The ones that served with "pride” are most likely the elite group (the 军人) who must pass a rigorous selection process. Others, 军属 and 军夫,reported to duty with the order in hand, known as the Red Sheet (紅書). In fact, some resorted to bribery to get out of the service. It was a mixed bag, no different from the US draft system during the Viet Nam War.

As far as pension for the vets, it is still up in the air. A lawsuit was filed by a group of Taiwanese vets and on Feb 26, 1982, the Tokyo District Court decreed that the Japanese gov’t could not pay anyone who no longer was a Japanese national. The eligibility is lost in a convoluted way, i.e., since the family registers in Taiwan were no longer valid in the eyes of the Japanese bureaucrats, therefore… The unpaid salaries, insurance, and savings of the Taiwanese servicemen were severely devalued after the war. That was the issue that Mr Anonymous has mentioned in his post.

For the war-dead and the severely wounded, there was a nominal payment, called 弔慰金 (monetary gift from a neighbor), not compensation per se. That came through in 1988 after the tireless lobbying by Prof 王育德 of Meiji University and his friends. The payment was 2 million Japanese yen (< USD 20K) per person. In comparison, the Japanese received 40 times more. It was administered by the Japanese Red Cross. Of the 29,913 applications, 29,645 were paid. And everything was by the book as far as the proofs which your interviewees have already mentioned.

This period of history has remained forgotten until some of us decided to dig deeper.

Again, if you have not read my blog, please do so: My http://shinseimaru.blogspot.com is about a group of Taiwanese physicians and medical workers who perished with the ship Shinsei Maru, outside of Saigon. Another blog by Chen (http://blog.kaishao.idv.tw/?p=694) is about his grandpa who served in Hainan. Yet another article detailed the fate of Taiwanese servicemen stranded in Hainan after the war and even more surprising aftermath (http://blog.roodo.com/michaelcarolina/archives/2718249.html).

I need to add one more point: the collective war-time and the immediate post-war experience of the Hok-los, the Hakkas, and the Aborigines (the 高砂义勇队) who served in the military was not that much different. All fought, wounded, died, or survived. No one cared to remember, perhaps until now. Keep up with your research. It is a good thing.

Anonymous said...

"The textbooks here are starting to take up Taiwanese history, but only in a way that is favorable to Taiwanese (Hoklo-speaking) people. 200,000 people, 8 years, almost daily bombings of Taipei, Kaohsiung, Taichung, etc., POW camps seem like a lot to avoid, but somehow they manage."

To me, this statement is an irritant. How do they make history books favourable to Hoklo. Hoklo, Hakka and Aboriginal all had the same experience under Japanese rule. The 200,000 soldiers were Hoklo, Hakka and Aboriginal. Can you read Chinese? Have you actually read the history books you're refering to?

Jeanne Wang, Toronto

Patrick Cowsill said...

I sure have read the recent Taiwanese textbooks; why on earth would I make such a comment about the missing years if I hadn't? I wonder if you're calling me an imbecile, Jeanne? Why wouldn't a 37-year-old man be able to read something in the language of his country, especially when those books are written at a grade-eight or -nine level for social studies?

I will say it again: anyone non-Hoklo seems to be discounted in how history is told these days in Taiwan. With all due respect, I think this is a reaction to 50+ years of having Chinese Han propaganda shoved down one's throat. For out-groups in Taiwan, both the KMT and the present form of history, are irritants. It seems the two in-groups continue to fight each other, and the rest of us do not exist.

I remember taking exception to WUFI's (World United Formosans for Independence) Website a couple of years back. It claimed that before Koxinga and his 1661 landing in Tainan, "only a few hundred people were living here" in Taiwan. It made no mention of the 100,000 Aborigines, 2,000 Dutch and the 40,000 to 50,000 new Taiwanese who had made their way to Taiwan from mainly Fuchien province, thanks in a large part to Dutch ships. When I contacted WUFI about this, they told me that "I was an ignorant fellow."

eyeodoc, thanks for the information. I have never heard of a red sheet before. I guess that puts me in the main with most other Taiwanese. I don't know why I still feel strange about this, or why I resist it, but I will add it to my interview questions. There are some gaps that need filling in.

EyeDoc said...

If you need more info: the dreaded “red sheet” draft order (“赤紙”召集命令状 in Japanese) measured exactly 15.5 x 25.7cm. It was first put in use on Nov 15, 1941, by the IJA. It has the draftee’s name, address, unit name, and the report date. (There were also white and blue draft orders, for different purposes.)

Strange. The history of Taiwan during the Dutch era was well-documented – by the Dutch colonial gov’t - with extensive census statistics (for taxation purposes of course). Looks like you have talked with a true “ignorant fellow”.

The real irritant is distorted history.

Patrick Cowsill said...

Were they draft cards or were they application cards? How were they interpreted by the Taiwanese, and what happened to young men when they burnt these red cards on Middle Mountain Road (Main Street)? Peng Ming-min 彭明敏 writes in A Taste of Freedom about how the Japanese pressured Taiwanese students to join the army without drafting them. They’d simply post the names of all those who hadn’t joined up in the public square. Peng managed to escape fighting in the war, but did lose an arm in the air raids over Japan in the final days of the war. If there was a draft, I still think this needs more work; it’ll also be interesting to compare the numbers of those who volunteered v. those drafted. (For the time being, I’m still holding to the idea that there wasn’t one.)

(Note: I deleted my own comment above, because I wanted to add something to my point. I didn't delete anyone else's comment.)

EyeDoc said...

Heavens, no, those red sheets ain't application forms. They were bona-fide draft orders with a 3x3 inch official red seal stamped on each sheet. (The paper itself was pinkish in hue, BTW.)

You'll gradually find more unwilling draftees than true volunteers as you expand your database.

The voluntary issue may have its origin in the nomenclature in the draft laws.

The Japanese gov't enacted the "Special Volunteers" System for the Army and the Navy in Taiwan, in 1943 and 1944, respectively.

Yet another group was called upon in 1945, known as the Student-Apprentice Volunteers Army. Which, I believe, was what Mr Peng was referring to. This group was supposed to carry on the last-ditch fight against the US military if the latter had invaded Taiwan. There have been memoirs of students recalling the harsh training camp experiences.

Because the name of each group has a "voluntary" element. Some suspected that this was the way for the Japanese gov't to disclaim responsibilities. And in fact, it did. You can also regard it as a semantics issue - volunteered vs being drafted - except it was not an academic exercise, for it involved far too many lives and families.

As in other countries, draft dodging was punishable by imprisonment or worse.

Be skeptical, but keep an open-mind.

anonymous two said...

I think you're loosing some perspective on this. There is a vast and widely accepted historical literature on Taiwan's colonial identity which includes military service. This goes far beyond the individual autobiographies of prominent Taiwanese. I think you'll find that among historians of this period, regardless of their political orientation, there is no disagreement on the issue of Taiwanese voluntary participation in the Japanese army.

On the other hand, it's probably not much different from participation in the colonial armies of European nations, such as Britain or France.

Patrick Cowsill said...

Actually, there seems to be some debate and it's worth looking into more. That there is scant information makes it a worthy topic.

I didn't have a perspective before on this, so I'd hardly say I've lost one. Your post isn't very useful because it doesn't give a single specific. You might name just one of these "prominent individuals" or one of the "vast and widely accepted historical literature" you're referring to. This would be more useful to me.

Anonymous said...

My father in law was orphaned after his parents were invited to a planning meeting at the University. Everyone that was invited was either a diplomat, scholar or other intellectual. They were all gunned down.
Homes, businesses and resources were confiscated. If your family were threatened would you volunteer for military service to save them? Many did.

Anonymous said...

I found it interesting and strange, in my tours of Taiwan, of the total absence of war memorials for the 30,000 relatives of the contemporary Taiwanese who died while fighting as part of the Japanese army in WW2, whether as volunteer or conscript. There are war memorials in almost each and every Australian town to remember our war dead. The memorials cover several wars, and nowadays we dont think about who they were fighting at the time, only that they were fighting for a better tomorrow for their families back home and they died in the effort. In WW2 Taiwan was a part of Japan - it was not an occupied country any more than Australia was occupied by Britain until 1901 - both were colonies of a much larger empire. We do not think of Australians fighting in wars for the British Empire, they fought for their country, Australia. So it is a strange concept for me to consider that the service of Taiwanese WW2 veterans is considered in the same way. Rather the KMT government of Taiwan memorialises Chinese soldiers who died in China - who were the enemy of Taiwan at the time...and not their own soldiers.

Patrick Cowsill said...

I agree about the lack of effort to remember this part of Taiwan's history. That is why I pursue it. There is also an effort to rewrite Taiwan's history to fit a political agenda, which is a terrible thing. People are responding though. That is what I am trying to do as well.

Kepha said...

I knew some old men in Hsinchu county who spoke of being conscripted by the Japanese, and trying to evade it. I also knew one older man who said his English was learned in an Australian POW camp (he and a Taiwanese comrade surrendered after their Japanese comrades committed suicide--by his description in Hakka-accented Mandarin, I suspect it was New Guinea).

Something tells me you'll find a lot of similar ambiguous feelings among Alsatians who were in the Wehrmacht in WWII.

Anonymous said...

My father went to Japan and entered the Naval "academy" when he was 14 years old. He stayed through the war, never saw combat, and made his way back to Taiwan at the end of the War. He was 17. To him, it was his experience of the aftermath of War in Japan, including seeing the destruction of Hiroshima, that have stayed with him all these years. There is no pro or anti-Japan or pro or anti anybody or anything. He was just a kid caught in the big web of grown up fight. He has maintained a close cultural tie to Japan all these years and still speaks beautiful, albeit, old fashioned Japanese.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 26/10/13: You are making a bit of an apples and oranges comparison. A large number of Australians had a British ancestry at the time, whereas the same was not true for Taiwan (ie. there wasn't a large Japanese ancestry). Australia also didn't become governed by a group hostile to the wartime government immediately afterwards either. The animosity between the KMT (post war government) and Japan (war time government) at the time complicates things.