Archive for September, 2013

Revisiting congratulatory messages on LKY’s 90th birthday – Part 1 (narrative)

September 29, 2013

I refer to three Straits Times congratulatory messages by Mr Ramasamy, Mr Soh Yi Da and Mr Johnson Lim [1], [2], [3] on the occasion of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s 90th birthday.

Mr Ramasamy claimed that if so many world leaders and Singaporeans have praised Mr Lee, surely they can’t be wrong [1].

Practically the entire German nation of the Third Reich praised Adolf Hitler. Would Mr Ramasamy say that since so many Germans praised Hitler, surely they can’t be wrong? Sadly, after losing the war, those who praised Hitler tried desperately to hide any associations with him and overnight, what had been right became wrong, never mind so many Germans had believed it at first.

Practically the entire North Korean nation adores its Kim dynasty rulers and is convinced that building the atomic weapon is more important than fighting famine and malnutrition of children. Since so many North Koreans believe in their Kim dynasty rulers, would Mr Ramasamy also say that surely they can’t be wrong?

Sadly, an entire people can be wrong if they are fed with only one source of information – from the state. So when Mr Soh Yi Da accused some young people of rebelling against the conventional narrative of Singapore history and attempting to erase what Mr Lee has done [2], the question that must be asked is who sets the conventional narrative? The German and North Korean lessons have taught us never to trust the state’s version of conventional narrative if it is the only one available.

Mr Soh also insisted that any narrative against the conventional would be a grave injustice that has no historical basis [2]. Again, whose version of history was Mr Soh referring to? Because of the state’s manipulation of history, most Japanese today know only of themselves as victims of nuclear weapons, not perpetrators of untold atrocities. A Japanese mayor reportedly told a visiting Chinese delegate that the Nanjing massacre probably never happened [4]. A Japanese lady, Mrs Yoko Natsume admitted that very few Japanese know about their atrocities in Singapore and that she herself only came to know of these atrocities when she came to live here [5]. Mr Soh must go beyond the state’s version of history to obtain the more complete historical basis upon which the narratives can be judged.

Mr Soh believes that LKY’s place in history will always be that of a most distinguished trailblazer with visionary foresight [2] while Mr Johnson Lim believes that LKY will go down in history as a leader extraordinaire who made history rather than became history and is one of the world’s top leaders who impacted, influenced and inspired generations of local and global leaders [3].

Stalin, in his time and day won just about every important award there was in Russia, had a city named after him and was even nominated for the Nobel Peace prize twice. This was despite the fact that he was responsible for genocide deadlier than the Holocaust [6] and had repressed his own people. At the beginning of Russia’s war with Germany, his constant interference with his generals’ conduct of war caused unnecessary losses after losses. His best contribution to the war effort was to do nothing for the later part of the war. After he died, his name was erased from the conventional narrative; his city of Stalingrad was renamed Volgograd and his Stalin peace prize was renamed Lenin peace prize. Thus, the ‘good’ name that a dictator enjoys while he was still alive because of fear or deference will gradually dissipate once that fear and deference disappears with his death.

Mr Ramasamy urged many younger people who do not know Mr Lee well to read about our history [1]. But too much of the current literature out there is one sided or even fictional and reading them would only provide a one sided or even fictional sense of our history.

[1] Straits Times, Lucky to be born in Singapore, 17 Sept 2013, Rajasegaran Ramasamy
Many younger people do not know Mr Lee or his colleagues well. I urge them to read about our history.
World leaders and Singaporeans have praised Mr Lee. Surely, so many people can’t be wrong.

[2] Straits Times, ‘Differences in opinion, but strong respect’, 16 Sept 2013, Mr Soh Yi Da
In recent years, some young people have shown a desire to rebel against the conventional narrative of Singapore’s history, which is centred on Mr Lee and his People’s Action Party team.
They believe history’s underdogs – such as the leftists of the 1950s and 1960s – have not been duly recognised for their contribution to the Singapore story. I fully agree with the thinking behind this revival, which has spawned books and films featuring alternative accounts of history.
But in their eagerness to correct what they saw as wrong, some have cynically gone to the other extreme by attempting to erase what Mr Lee and his team have done. There is no historical basis for that. Would not the second injustice be at least as grave, if not more grave, than the first?
History has a place for everyone. In my mind, Mr Lee will always be a most distinguished trailblazer with visionary foresight.

[3] Straits Times, Lessons on the S’pore Spirit, 16 Sept 2013, Johnson Lim Teng Kok (Dr)
He will go down in history as a leader extraordinaire, who made history rather than became history. Even his most vocal critics acknowledge this, albeit grudgingly.

[4] Straits Times, Japanese mayor’s denial of massacre upsets China, 23 Feb 2012
BEIJING: China said yesterday that it had made an official complaint to Tokyo after the mayor of a Japanese city told a visiting Chinese delegation that the 1937 Nanjing massacre ‘probably never happened’.
China says 300,000 people were killed that year in an orgy of murder, rape and destruction when the eastern city of Nanjing – then the capital – fell to the Japanese army, and the incident has haunted Sino-Japanese ties ever since.
‘On the denial of the Nanjing massacre by the mayor of Nagoya, China has already expressed its solemn position and made a solemn complaint to the Japanese side,’ foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular briefing.
Mr Takashi Kawamura, mayor of Nagoya, told Nanjing officials on Monday that he believed only conventional acts of combat took place in the Chinese city, not the mass murders and rapes cited in history books.
‘There were regular combative activities but I believe the Nanjing massacre probably never happened,’ said the 63-year-old mayor, whose father was in Nanjing when the war ended in 1945.
‘Why were people in Nanjing kind to Japanese soldiers eight years after the incident?’ he asked, referring to his father’s memory of the event.
‘I could go to Nanjing and attend a debate on the history of the city, if necessary,’ he said.
Mr Kawamura’s comments have triggered outrage in China and the Nanjing municipal party committee announced late on Tuesday that it had suspended ties with Nagoya.
The two cities established sister city relations in December 1978.
‘In view of the current denial by Nagoya mayor Takashi Kawamura of historical facts pertaining to the Nanjing massacre, which seriously hurt Nanjing people’s feelings, Nanjing city is suspending official contact with the government of Nagoya,’ it said on its official Twitter-like Weibo account.
Mr Hong said yesterday that Nanjing’s decision was supported by Beijing.
Despite the controversy, Mr Kawamura, a former lower house lawmaker with the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, was unrepentant yesterday about his views.
‘As the disagreement over the incident is like a sting in a throat, I’ve proposed to hold a debate on it,’ he said.
He added that he wants to visit Nanjing to explain his position on the issue.
‘I hope to continue friendly exchanges between Nagoya and Nanjing.’
Before China’s official reaction, Japan’s top government spokesman Osamu Fujimura said the spat caused by Mr Kawamura’s remarks ‘should be settled appropriately by the local governments of Nagoya and Nanjing’.
‘It isn’t a matter for the state to interfere,’ he said.
Mr Fujimura, the chief Cabinet secretary, also refuted Mr Kawamura’s view of the Nanjing massacre, saying ‘we cannot deny that the killing of non-combatants, looting and other acts occurred’ following the Japanese imperial army’s advance into Nanjing.
The Chinese officials who met Mr Kawamura also came under fire as a Kyodo report on the meeting said the leader of the delegation, Mr Liu Zhiwei, did not challenge Mr Kawamura’s comments on the spot.
Mr Liu is a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s Nanjing City Standing Committee.
The committee’s publicity department told the Global Times that the delegation did respond during the meeting, without offering details.
‘Our officials are often inadequate at diplomacy. The officials are so stuck to norms that they have forgotten their feelings,’ said Ms Zhang Quanlin, an anchorman with China Central Television, the country’s largest television network.
Many people in China still feel resentment towards Japan, which waged a war against its giant neighbour from 1937 to 1945, occupying vast swathes of the country.

[5] Straits Times, Japanese teacher’s gratitude to Singaporean POW, 16 Feb 2012, Yoko Natsume (Mrs), Tokyo
I WAS saddened to learn of the death on Feb 1 of Mr Jimmy Chew, 88, a World War II prisoner of war (POW) during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore.
A group of Japanese high school students and I owe him a debt of gratitude for describing to us his personal ordeal (‘Remembering the thousands who lost lives’; Dec 9, last year).
Yesterday marked the 70th anniversary of the Occupation and many Singaporeans must have bitter war memories.
Unfortunately, relatively few Japanese of my generation or younger are familiar with the Occupation, when an earlier Japanese generation inflicted untold misery on the people of Singapore. It was not until I had a chance to live in Singapore in 1992 that I learnt of the suffering inflicted by the occupiers: renaming Singapore ‘Syonan-to’, forcing Japanese culture on Singaporeans, and committing many atrocities.
All Japanese citizens remember Dec 8, 1941 as the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in the United States.
But there is little mention in Japanese history classes of the simultaneous strike on the Malayan Peninsula and the subjugation of Singapore.
When I returned to Japan in 2002, I was convinced that my fellow Japanese, especially the younger generation, should learn about the dark years of the Occupation because we cannot close our eyes to the past.
I organised study tours to Singapore for my students, which included visiting a survivor of the Occupation.
Mr Chew willingly accepted my request and for six years until his death, he invited me and representatives from my school to his flat each March to share his experiences as a POW of the Japanese.
He courageously relived the dark years to inform and educate us. His telling inevitably filled us with guilt and remorse.
Yet, he would assure us unfailingly that while he remembered the suffering, he no longer harboured ill feelings towards the Japanese. He said he realised that the Japanese must have suffered in their own way; that the trauma and absurdity of war made victims of both Singaporeans and the Japanese.
His remarks never failed to move us.
Now that Mr Chew is no longer with us, I feel it is my duty to pass on what we learnt from him to my fellow Japanese. May he rest in peace.

[6] Russia’s War 1941-1945, Richard Overy, Page 23

The farmers’ own food was seized, even the seed for the following year’s planting. Stalin ordered the security police to seal off the whole of the Ukraine from the rest of the Soviet Union to prevent anyone from leaving or food from getting in. It was certainly Stalin’s single most murderous act. The most recent Russian estimates indicate a death toll of 4.2 million in the Ukraine alone in 1933. Whole villages were starved to death or were dispatched by epidemics to which there was scant bodily resistance. In Kazakhstan the mainly nomadic farmers were forced into crude camps and left to die. An estimated 1.7 million, almost half the population of the republic, perished in the most wretched conditions. In total an estimated 7 million fell victim to the class war launched in the countryside. Stalin told a critic in 1933 that it was the fault of the peasantry, for waging ‘silent war’ against the Soviet state.