There has been a chorus of righteous indignation from the Trump administration, the Washington, D.C. Beltway establishment, and mainstream media condemning the Assad government for an alleged chemical attack that killed 85 Syrian civilians — and the subsequent glorification of “beautiful” cruise missiles launched against a Syrian air base April 6 as punishment for crossing so-called US “red lines.”
Barely a week later, on April 13, the US Congress was reviewing a new arms package to Saudi Arabia to continue its indiscriminate bombing campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Now into its third year, this “moral abomination” as described by some US lawmakers, has killed more than 10,000 people in the gulf country, displaced three million, and condemned 19 million people — 80% of the population — to famine and starvation. Yet there is nary a mention by the Beltway establishment or media.
Sadly, this type of selective humanity and weaponizing of human rights — highlighting cases only when it suits one’s political agenda while cynically dismissing others when they don’t — seems to have been US foreign policy for the last 70 years.
One instance that has been whitewashed is the US bombing of Taiwan in 1945.
Selective humanity — the bombing of Taiwan
On May 31, 1945, 117 American B-24 Liberator heavy bombers carpet-bombed Japanese-held Taipei, known then as Taihouku. From 10 a.m. to about 1 p.m., American aircraft dropped some 3,800 bombs on the city, killing an estimated 3,000 people and wounding and displacing more than 10,000 others.
Aerial photograph by US Air Force, Wikimedia Commons
As described by witness Chen Wan-yi, beginning in late 1944, US planes — usually 20 or 30 at a time — would fly over twice a day. But something was different on the morning of May 31, 1945, when “the entire sky had turned white” with hundreds of B-24 bombers that had arrived to wreak havoc on Taipei.
The Americans met virtually no resistance from the Japanese due to attrition of the enemy’s air forces in the aerial battle of Taiwan-Okinawa. Despite efforts to avoid civilian casualties, many civilian installations were bombed, including Taihoku Prefectural Taihoku First Girls’ High School, Huashan Catholic Church of Taihoku, and the Lungshan Temple of Manka.
Location of bombs during the air raid, Wikimedia Commons
Although the estimated death toll of 3,000 was small compared with the hundreds of thousands of Japanese killed when Tokyo was firebombed, and atomic bombs were dropped later on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was a traumatic event for Taiwan. Then-Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander-in-chief of the US Pacific Fleet, described the bombing as a day that “achieved good destruction.”
Due to its pro-American political stance after the Second World War, the newly installed Kuomintang (KMT) regime in Taiwan toned down the attack and deleted it from media and history books.
Known as the Taipei air raid, this dark chapter of US-Taiwan relations was swept under the carpet. Due to its pro-American political stance after the Second World War, the newly installed Kuomintang (KMT) regime in Taiwan toned down the attack and deleted it from media and history books.
Not until recently has this event returned to public consciousness with the publication in 2007 by the Taipei city government’s department of cultural affairs of a book on the raid, to accompany an exhibition at the 228 Memorial Museum — another dark chapter in US-Taiwan relations that was whitewashed for a long time.
On February 27, 1947, agents from the KMT’s Tobacco Monopoly Bureau confiscated a vendor’s illegal cigarettes and money, then beat her with a pistol. A large group of people swarmed the agents, prompting one to open fire at the crowd. The incident led to mass protests the next day — February 28.
The 228 uprising against the US-sponsored KMT regime that took over the island in 1945 resulted in the estimated slaughter of between 18,000 to 28,000 civilians. With no social media to expose the truth, the incident was hushed up until two decades later. In 1965 George Kerr — an American diplomatic officer in Taiwan who witnessed the 228 massacre — finally published Formosa Betrayed, a damning exposé of Washington’s abandonment of the Taiwanese people in order to prop up its proxy KMT regime against the Chinese Communists. (KMT martial law was finally lifted in 1987).
Eroding humanitarian values and norms
Sadly, Washington has continued to engage in selective humanity in its foreign policy, weaponizing human rights and bombing “non-democratic” and “illegitimate” dictators it dislikes (e.g., in Iraq, Libya, Syria) while supporting US-friendly “legitimate” dictators (e.g., in Qatar, Saudi Arabia).
Unfortunately, this policy erodes and delegitimizes human-rights norms. Yemeni civilians are dehumanized and invisible in the US public consciousness as Washington pursues lucrative arms deals with Saudi Arabia. Human lives no longer have intrinsic value but are measured by cost/benefit calculation to push the Western agenda.
It is no wonder that Yemenis now see the US, and not just the Saudis, as their enemy. In Taiwan, contrary to the Western narrative, many members of the civilian population after the war did not see America as the liberator but rather, “We believed that they were the bad guys.” Indeed, sending hundreds of Liberator aircraft to drop thousands of bombs was unlikely to endear Washington to the civilian population in Taiwan. Nor will democracy-promoting bombing campaigns likely endear the US to civilians in Iraq, Yemen or Afghanistan.