Honour founding fathers while they’re still alive

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to your 1 Sept 2010 report on the Post National Day Rally dialogue between Ms Lim Hwee Hua and women grassroots leaders.

It was reported that many women grassroots leaders called for the honouring of Singapore’s ‘founding fathers’ while they are still alive. They also spoke of the need to imbibe our students with the values that these ‘founding fathers’ represented.

It is sad that our grassroots leaders adopt a slanted perspective of our history. They speak of our ‘founding fathers’ as though Singapore never existed before 1965. But the Singapore story began in 1819 with its founding by Sir Stamford Raffles. That is the one and only true founding Singapore has ever had. To regard MM Lee and the ‘old guard’ as our ‘founding fathers’ is to ignore the contributions of those who came before them. It will be a shame to our history and a great disservice to our children’s education if we choose to gloss over the contributions of earlier pioneers while over glorifying the exploits of MM Lee and his ‘old guard’.

Take Lim Bo Seng for example. While MM Lee served the Japanese during World War II, Lim Bo Seng fought them instead and sacrificed his own life. There is no other symbol more poignant than Lim Bo Seng in demonstrating the defence of Singapore. More so than Goh Keng Swee.

Take Tan Kah Kee and Lee Kong Chian for example. They as well as many others devoted much time, energy and money towards the education of fellow Singaporeans. They did so not as part of the job they were employed to do but out of true care and concern for fellow Singaporeans. They too are more symbolic than either Goh Keng Swee or Tay Eng Soon in Singapore education.

Take Tan Kim Seng for example. Much has been said about the nation’s achievement in its quest for self sufficiency in water. But this long arduous journey really began with the donation of a water drinking fountain by Tan Kim Seng.

Even the attainment of self-government from the British, a necessary pre-condition before independence, was achieved primarily through David Marshall. Yet David Marshall wasn’t even amongst the list of ‘founding fathers’ mentioned in PM Lee’s National Day Rally speech.

Singapore has lost perspective of its own history and has forgotten those who truly mattered. In its quest for self-glorification, the PAP has systematically brushed aside the important contributions of true Singapore pioneers and entrenched its own exploits as the only history that mattered. But we must never forget that without the work and contributions of our early pioneers, 1965 would never have been possible.

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