SG’s ex-Political Detainees – they stood for the underdogs’ fight for rights

I refer to the 8 Apr 2013 TR Emeritus article “SG’s ex-Political Detainees – What did they really stand for?” by “Singaporean Citizen” / Mr Nathan Chan.

Mr Chan found evidence from the book the “Fajar Generation” showing Dr Poh Soo Kai as being supportive of anti-colonialists like the Vietminh and the Algerians. He didn’t explain why he took issue with Dr Poh’s support for the Algerians but he did say that the Vietminh and Mao’s China were together responsible for 100 million deaths in the 20th century alone (no evidence provided and no mention of the Vietminh’s share) and that the Vietminh had invaded Cambodia. However, Mr Chan’s so-called evidence from the “Fajar Generation” reads like this:

“We supported … the Algerians in their just struggle for independence against colonial France. We supported the Vietnamese against the French and against US imperialism. We were genuine and sincere in this national and anti-colonial struggle.”

So quite clearly, Dr Poh’s support was specifically for the Algerians’ and the Vietminhs’ fight for independence and fight against colonialists. Dr Poh didn’t state his support for Vietminh atrocities. Dr Poh’s support for the Vietminh’s fight for independence and against colonialists shouldn’t be misconstrued as support for Vietminh atrocities.

Mr Chan’s repeated main concern was with Singapore’s ex-political detainees’ claim to oppose Western imperialism on the one hand and their silence on the other hand with acts of imperialism by Left wing countries like the Soviet Union and Mao’s China. Mr Chan explained that the Soviet Union had been guilty of much worse atrocities and abuses like the establishment of repressive states throughout East Europe, crushing attempts by satellite states to break free, setting up communist North Korea, instigating a war with South Korea and seizing Japanese islands. Mao’s China, as Mr Chan explained, had been guilty of the brutal invasion and occupation of Tibet in 1950.

To begin with, half the blame for the establishment of repressive states throughout East Europe falls on Winston Churchill. It was his secret division of East Europe with Stalin that formed the basis for Stalin’s establishment of satellite states in East Europe. Britain supposedly entered the war to save Poland but ended up leaving Poland to the mercy of the Soviet Union.

The Russians and the Japanese agreed to share the Sakhalin and divide up the Kuril Islands in 1855. They subsequently agreed that Sakhalin should go to Russia while Japan gets the Kuril Islands. However, after the 1905 Japanese victory over the Russians, the Japanese seized Sakhalin for itself while keeping the Kuril Islands. The Russians merely returned in kind in 1945 by seizing back Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands. Thus, these islands weren’t entirely Japanese to begin with and the Japanese lost moral high ground by seizing the islands first. Furthermore, the indigenous peoples of the Sakhalin and Kuril Islands: the Nivkhs, Oroks and Ainus are neither Japanese nor Russian. Thus, historically the Sakhalin and the Kuril islands have been subject to both Russian and Japanese imperialism; there is no reason why Mr Chan should argue against Russian imperialism only to favour Japanese imperialism instead.

Tibet’s split from China shortly after the fall of the Qing dynasty was a unilateral one; Tibet was declared a part of the Republic of China at its founding in 1912. There is hardly any international recognition for Tibet’s status as a nation both then and now. Consider what triggered the American Civil War: the Southern states’ unilateral declaration of independence from the Union. The subsequent North’s invasion of the South is not considered an act of invasion but a civil war. Thus, the notion that China ‘invaded’ Tibet is false because Tibet has, since hundreds of years ago, ceased to be a nation but has instead become a province of China which is the same concept as Wales being an integral part of Britain today.

Essentially, Mr Chan was taking issue with what the ex-detainees did not say. But just because the ex-detainees didn’t denounce Soviet or Mao China atrocities doesn’t mean they therefore endorsed or supported them. Silence doesn’t mean consent. This is quite different from specifically stating such support like when LKY said “If I have to shoot 200,000 students to save China from another 100 years of disorder, so be it.”

It was also wrong for Mr Chan to paint the ex-detainees as being only supportive of Left wing struggles through selective choice (or omission) of evidence. Consider one of the books quoted by Mr Chan: “Escape from the Lion’s Paw”. On page 12, it writes:

• He had built a rich heritage of solidarity and friendship from Vietnam to Nicaragua, Palestine to the Yorkshire mines, South Africa to Norway and the people of USA to Cuba.
• When he became passionate about the Arab Spring, he would immediately think about a Singapore Spring.
• When he stood in solidarity with his South African friends demanding the release of their comrades detained in Robin Island.

What has the Palestine, South Africa, Robin Island or the Arab Spring got to do with Left Wing imperialism? These are clear examples of the ex-detainees’ and their families’ support for the underdogs’ fight for their rights that has got nothing to do with being Left Wing.

Furthermore, back then, accurate information about the formerly secretive Soviet bloc was scarce so the ex-detainees may have been ignorant of the atrocities then, a point Mr Chan himself had acknowledged. However, Mr Chan felt that now that the ex-detainees know the whole truth, they should acknowledge those atrocities. Mr Chan tried to look for such acknowledgements in recent books written by the ex-detainees and was disappointed to find none. Mr Chan should understand that those are essentially memoirs or autobiographies that tell the stories of what the ex-detainees went through or experienced then, not what they didn’t experience or didn’t know then.

Mr Chan claimed that the US was targeting chemical weapons on communists hiding in forests, not civilians. But he should acknowledge the inadvertent collateral damage these chemical weapons had on civilians.

In conclusion, Mr Chan’s argument that the ex-detainees were essentially Left wing supporters rather than anti-colonialists was founded on the false premise of selectively highlighting ex-detainees’ support for Left wing struggles while ignoring ex-detainees’ support for none-Left wing struggles. Mr Chan’s portrayal of the ex-detainees as supporters of atrocities because he did not find condemnation of such atrocities in books written by the ex-detainees was unfair and inadmissible by law. No one should be accused of supporting a crime because he didn’t condemn it while writing a book about him or herself. That would be like accusing Lee Kuan Yew of supporting Russian atrocities because LKY didn’t condemn Russian atrocities in his autobiography.


One Response to “SG’s ex-Political Detainees – they stood for the underdogs’ fight for rights”

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