Correcting PM Lee’s pioneer package address

I refer to the 10 Feb 2014 Straits Times report “PM Lee outlines health-care package for 450,000 pioneers”.

PM Lee reportedly paid tribute to those who were at least 16 years old in 1965 as the pioneers who built the Singapore nation from its infancy. But the Singapore of 1965 had been thriving and prospering for 146 years already since 1819 and not at all at infancy.

First generation of Singaporeans
PM Lee thanked this first generation of Singaporeans. But the generation of 1965 wasn’t the first generation of Singaporeans. Generations of Singaporeans have existed since colonial times as these letters attest to:

• While the peculiarities of his predecessor, amounting almost to eccentricity, had laid us unfortunate Singaporeans under his ban …
The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 17 Aug 1848, page 3

• Do then the Singaporeans acquiesce in the opinions of the Straits Times?
The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Adverstiser, 15 Feb 1850, page 2

• And last but not least comes “Snoutt-a-Goosta,” also new to Singaporeans …
Straits Times Overland Journal, 27 Apr 1869, page 4, “The Coming Races”

• I should be much surprised if it were found that the Singaporeans approve of this scant politeness shewn to a meritorious officer …
Straits Times Overland Journal, 6 Dec 1871, page 4, “Reception of admiral Kellet”

• The library is visited by large numbers of passing visitors and by numerous Singaporeans …
Straits Times Weekly Issue, 20 May 1891, page 13, “The Raffles Library”

• … there certainly appears to be an overwhelming majority of Singaporeans in favour of the “Cuss you, Jack, I’m all right” spirit I had the misfortune to encounter …
The Straits Times, 4 Nov 1925, page 10, Singapore Courtesy

• As another Singaporean, I wish to say that his last remark was quite uncalled for …
The Straits Times, 21 Dec 1925, page 10, News Services

• Sir, it is curious how illogical, I almost wrote obtuse, are the minds of some Singaporeans.
The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 25 Aug 1928, page 10, Fullerton Building

• The degradation of Waterloo Street here is known to every Singaporean …
The Straits Times, 1 May 1939, page 15, Waterloo Street in Singapore

PM Lee recalled how the journey of many from this group of pioneers started with their migration here to start a new life. But pioneers have been migrating to Singapore since 1819 to start a new life here. The migration of the pioneer generation of 1965 was no more than the continuous migration of pioneers here since 1819.

Anti-colonial struggle
PM Lee reminded us of how this special generation took part in the drama of anti-colonial struggle. However, not everyone in this special generation participated equally in anti-colonialism. PM Lee’s own father LKY and others have credited the Chinese-educated Leftists as the protagonists in the anti-colonial struggle so credit should mostly go to them:

• For Lee the greatest sins of the English-educated lie in their self-interest, and failure to cast their lot with the anti-colonial movement. He was certain that Singapore’s political future would be in the hands of the Chinese radical left [page 35]
• For Lee, the Western-educated elite too prone to kowtow to the British were pathetically ‘irrelevant’ in the anti-colonial struggle; labour unions and the Chinese-educated world were something else altogether [page 38]
[Singapore: The State and the Culture of Excess], [Yao Souchou]

• A growing chasm between the Chinese-educated and English-educated population was clearly developing. This chasm was marked by the general allegiance of the English-educated to the British. This was in clear contrast with the vehemently anti-colonial and anti-imperial Chinese-educated Chinese [page 53]
[Negotiating Multiculturalism: Disciplining Difference in Singapore], [Nirmala Purushotam]

• Singapore’s anti-colonial movement was largely organised by Chinese-educated leaders from the Chinese middle schools [page 173]
• This (anti-colonial) movement was led largely by Chinese-educated leaders enjoying popular Chinese support [page 248]
• The citizenship-language campaign … had whipped up considerable Chinese interest in politics by 1954 [page 259 – 260]
[Political Development in Singapore, 1945-55], [Yeo Kim Wah]

• The left wing, strongly supported by the Chinese-educated working class, was probably the more passionately anticolonial entity [page 157]
[Fates of Political Liberalism in the British Post-Colony: The Politics of the Legal Complex], [Terence C. Halliday, Lucien Karpik, Malcolm M. Feeley]

Battle against communists
PM Lee claimed the special generation that took part in the anti-colonial struggle also battled the communists. This is a bizarre contradiction since we know that it was the Leftists who dominated the anti-colonial struggle and it was also the Leftists who were the most sympathetic towards the communists (though not necessarily communists). Therefore, the Leftists who played the biggest role in the anti-colonial struggle cannot be the Leftists who battled the communists. It was the British who more or less wiped out the communists in Singapore through its Special Branch with hardly so much as a battle so that the Leftist anti-colonial movement couldn’t have been communist led but had been led by true Singaporean patriots.

• The Malayan Communist Party … was not particularly effective. It hosted a meeting … most notable … for the comprehensive surveillance by the British Special Branch … Subsequent mass arrests decimated the MCP [page 134]
[Jungle of Snakes: A Century of Counterinsurgency Warfare from the], [James R. Arnold]

• The first thing to realise is that although left-wing and anti-colonial radicalism flourished to unprecedented levels during the first half of the 1950s, the Communist Party itself was diminishing as a controlling force in Singapore over the same period [page 26]
[Constructing Singapore: Elitism, Ethnicity and the Nation-building Project], [Michael D. Barr, Zlatko Skrbiš]

• The MCP itself … seems to have been more a figment of the imagination of … the British Special Branch and the right-wing forces in Singapore. Its “ghost” may have lived a much longer and more active life than the real one ever did. While the party … attracted idealistic recruits from Singapore … we may question the extent of its organization and power in Singapore, particularly during … 1952-63. Repeated waves of arrests, banishments and defections between 1948 and 1963 severely limited its ability to launch an effective organization [page 101]
[Singapore: Wealth, Power and the Culture of Control], [Carl A. Trocki]

• In Decemeber 1949 the Special Branch obtained the full list of the STC through a planted informer, and conducted a raid on 1 May 1950. Singapore Town Committee Vice Secretary Ah Har and three other committee members were arrested … Later that month, 20 more MCP and ABL members were arrested. Seven months later, on 5 December, because of an alert Special Branch officer, STC Secretary Ah Chin and his assistant, Ho Seng, were caught …the mass arrests caused the near collapse of the MCP’s operations in Singapore [page 61]
• In October 1951 the MCP issued a new directive aimed at restraining the Urban Armed Unit from engaging in … excessive and counter-productive violence [page 62]
• These mass movements took place substantially without the direction of the MCP … passions among the masses were running so high that these leaders could not successfully impose any sense of restraint, let alone strategy, over the crowds that they had brought together [page 63]
[Paths Not Taken: Political Pluralism in Post-war Singapore], [Michael D. Barr, Carl A. Trocki]

Fight against communalists
PM Lee then claimed that the special generation that contradictorily took part in anti-colonial struggle and battled the communists also fought the communalists which led to Singapore’s separation from Malaysia and hence independence.

Several books see it differently however; they attribute the racial riots and our separation from Malaysia squarely on the political conflict between PM Lee’s father LKY and the Tunku.

• The events of 1963-1965 appear to be substantially a clash of temperaments and world views, with consequent misunderstandings among the key players. Lee’s own colleagues tell a story of Lee Kuan Yew in overdrive, aggressively engaging in brinkmanship and pushing the Malaysian experiment to the precipice. Lee found it difficult to exercise self-control in front of a microphone and developed a pattern of making outrageous and inflammatory speeches, which Toh Chin Chye later characterised as anti-Malay. When Lim Kim San, a key cabinet minister during the period was asked by Melanie Chew whether he counseled Lee to tone down his speeches, he replied “Oh yes! We did! But once he got onto the podium in front of the crowd, paah, everything would come out. Exactly what we told him not to say, he would say!” Lee at this time was driving himself to the brink of a breakdown, and his judgment was impaired by a regime of prescription drugs designed to help him cope with the stress. He was not at his best and all his prejudices about Malays and his fears about the future were given a free rein, just at the time when he needed to keep them under strict guard [page 29-30]
[Constructing Singapore: Elitism, Ethinicity and the Nation-building Project], [Michael D Barr and Zlatko Skrbiš]

• On 31 August Lee Kuan Yew had personally declared Singapore’s independence. He had refused to comply with the decision of the Malaysian Parliament to proclaim Malaysia on 16 September … The Tunku’s government and the British Government, however, did not agree with Lee’s action. Lee was forced to brief angry British Ministers and officials about his move. Lee explained …”Indeed I had urged them to do something dramatic on 31 August” … This was, in fact, a violation of the Malaysian Agreement … The Tunku, however, was not to be outflanked … he announced the appointment of two Bornean politicians to his Federal Cabinet … But no Singapore leader was appointed … that probably … started the thorny relationship between the Alliance Government and the PAP … that eventually led to Singapore’s exit from Malaysia. Lee was rebuffed, despite his desire to share power at the Federal level … Privately … Lee had made it known that he wanted to be in the Federal Cabinet, if not to displace the MCA, at least to be accepted as an equal partner [page 98-99]
• The Alliance Government announced support for the Singapore Alliance candidates, followed by the Tunku personally arriving in Singapore to address an Alliance rally. This angered Lee and the PAP … It was clear that the Singapore elections (of 1963) had sown the seeds of race politics between Singapore and Malaysia [99-100]
[Malaysia: The Making of a Nation], [Cheah Boon Kheng]

Further evidence of our separation being fueled by politics rather than by racial differences:

• Up to the 1950s, there had never been a Sino-Malay riot. The Malay and Chinese had lived on the island side by side and never once fought each other [page 17, 18]
[A Sociolinguistic History of Early Identities in Singapore: From Colonialism to Nationalism], [Phyllis Ghim-Lian Chew]

• The ethnic relationship between Singapore and Malaysia was very weak and the politicos took advantage of this for their own good. The gap between ethnic groups was manipulated by politicos and the press, resulting in the simmering of tensions between Chinese and Malays [page 68]
• It was a low class but effective method for politicos to manipulate ethnic issues. As a result, the relationship between ethnic groups worsened [page 70]
• Tekong was able to endure the ethnic storm because the Chinese and Malays had lived together in Tekong for over a century, there was a profound and close relationship between them. There were no politicians on the island to provoke different ethnic groups [page 71]
• The ethnic conflict revealed the contradiction between PAP and UMNO [page72]
[Retrospect on the Dust-Laden History: The Past and Present of Tekong Island in Singapore], [Leong Sze Lee]

PM Lee referred to his father LKY as Singapore’s founding prime minister. But Singapore has no founding prime minister for neither 1959 nor 1965 were founding years but the years we attained total internal self-government and independence respectively. We have only one founder – Sir Stamford Raffles, whose name is behind the school that educated LKY, PM Lee’s father.


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