Correcting the reflections of a pioneer

I refer to the 12 Oct 2014 Straits Times letter “Reflections of a pioneer” by George Wong Seow Choon (Dr).

Japanese Occupation and National Defence

Lim Bo Seng and Lt Adnan died fighting the Japanese during the Japanese Occupation and the Battle for Singapore respectively. Today they are mere footnotes in Singapore history. Lee Kuan Yew worked for the Japanese. Today, he is erroneously regarded by many as Singapore’s ‘founding father’. If fighting the Japanese meant sacrificing one’s life for nothing while working for the Japanese means living to be hailed by the world, surely the lesson from the Japanese Occupation isn’t national defence but self preservation?

Singapore Citizenship

It is not true Singaporeans enjoyed citizenship status only after we gained independence in 1965. When Singapore attained full internal self-government 1959, we were elevated in status from Crown Colony to the State of Singapore and Singaporeans became citizens of the new State of Singapore while remaining as British subjects. Our national flag, national anthem and head of state Yang di-Pertuan Negara all originated from 1959, six years before independence. In fact, the first time a Singapore citizen won an Olympic medal for which the Singapore flag, not the British flag was hoisted was when Tan Howe Liang won his silver medal in the 1960 Rome Olympics, five years before independence.

1958 August: State of Singapore Act passed British Parliament, providing for the State of Singapore and Singapore citizenship.

[Historical Dictionary of Singapore, Justin Corfield, page xxvi]

A new Constitution came into force on 3 June 1959, with the establishment of the self-governing State of Singapore … Under the Constitution, Singapore citizenship may be acquired by birth, descent or registration …

[Europa World Year, Taylor & Francis Group, page 3760]

Singapore had even earlier acquired its own citizenship by virtue of the Signapore Citizenship Ordinance of 1957.

[Management of Success: The Moulding of Modern Singapore, Kernial Singh Sandhu and Paul Wheatley, page 633]

Racial harmony

The racial riots that emerged from our ill fated merger with Malaysia were the result of racial politics played on both sides of the causeway. What must be remembered however was that Malays and Chinese never once rioted against each other throughout our years under British colonial rule. We always had racial harmony prior to Lee Kuan Yew being in charge. Racial harmony unraveled only after Lee Kuan Yew merged us into Malaysia.

Racial Harmony In Malaya
To those who know their Malaya from one end to the other, no less than to the casual visitor, it is a constant source of wonder how so many different races and communities live and work together in the utmost harmony … we repeat, that the different communities live and work in harmony because the British system of justice and administration enables them to obtain fair play. There are no discriminatory or repressive laws, there are few, if any race prejudices in the bazaars and counting houses, there is nothing to prevent the humblest coolie from rising to great wealth – many indeed have done so …

[The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942), 26 July 1935, Page 8]

“It is a pleasing feature of life in Malaya that there is not merely a complete absence of friction but much cordiality in the relations between the different races inhabiting it. It is quite common to find Malays, Chinese and Indians all living the same street in perfect harmony and apparently, with some degree of intimacy.” The Mui-Tsai Commission Report Chapter VIII.

[The Straits Times, 1 March 1937, Page 13]

It makes me happy to see the Chinese and other peoples here co-operating so well with each other.

[The Straits Times, 15 November 1940, Page 11]

The Malayan Melting-Pot
The Sultan of Perak … “I wish to say to you that Chinese and Malay in the past eighty years before the coming of the Japanese lived side by side in absolute peace. The Chinese lived in the midst of Malays without any trace of fear, and the Chinese also fearlessly and peacefully pursued his vocation in any Malay settlement … Here in Singapore we are constantly impressed by the easy, natural and friendly relationships existing between Eurasians, Straits Chinese, Straits-born Indians and others who went to school together and now meet each other in adult life … Boys – and girls – of the local-born communities who sit side by side in the classrooms of Raffles Institution and St. Joseph’s and St. Andrew’s and the A.C.S., learn to become unconscious of racial differences, to meet on common ground, and to accept each other simply as Singaporeans – not as members of this racial community or that. Naturally this process is more penetrating in the secondary schools than in the elementary ones, because the influence of the school is exerted for a longer period and in years of higher mental awakening …

[The Straits Times, 25 May 1946, Page 4]

S’pore an ‘example’ of race harmony
Singapore has set an example to the world of racial harmony, said Mr. T. P. F. McNeice, President, in reply to Mr. C. F. J. Ess, at the meeting of the City Council yesterday.

[The Straits Times, 29 September 1951, Page 5]

Duchess praises ‘one people’ idea
The Duchess of Kent, the first Royal Freeman of the City of Singapore, said yesterday that its people were engaged upon a project of far-reaching significance – the casting into one mould of elements derived from many different cultures.
“This plan in itself testifies to the good will and good sense so characteristic of the people of this island,’ she said.

[The Straits Times, 2 October 1952, Page 1]

Police help island troop to learn sailing
Singapore’s 84th Pulau Tekong Sea-Scout Troop is certainly helping to strengthen the bonds of friendship among Malays and Chinese on the island. It is undoubtedly a Sino-Malay affair for half of its 20 members are drawn from each race. Even the four patrol leaders in the troop are equally divided on a communal basis. Members of each patrol, however, are mixed.

[The Singapore Free Press, 17 July 1953, Page 12]

Our racial harmony inspiration to bishop
An American Negro bishop said in Singapore yesterday that complete racial harmony among students and teachers in Colony schools was an inspiration to him. He said it proved his theory that if you get people of all races close enough together for them to smile at each other racial pride and prejudices will vanish quickly

[The Straits Times, 30 September 1954, Page 4]

‘See yourselves as just one people’ Governor’s advice to teachers
The people of Singapore must not think of themselves in terms of their racial and language loyalties, but as Singaporeans, the Governor, Sir William Goode, said yesterday. Schools must be Singapore schools, not English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil schools … In 1953, he said, English was the only medium of instruction at the college, but today they worked in English, Malay and Chinese. “In this way too the different races in the Colony can be welded into a united people with a common loyalty and a common pride in Singapore and a united determination to work for the good of Singapore.”

[The Straits Times, 12 October 1958, Page 7]

Eighteen American teachers (above) from 11 states left for Bangkok by CPA this morning after a four-day stay here … Prof. Mulder said they were impressed by the racial harmony they had observed in Singapore and had come to know the state much better.

[The Singapore Free Press, 16 July 1959, Page 10]

So many races, but one nation
If a world list were compiled of countries enjoying high degree of inter-racial harmony Singapore would undoubtedly occupy a leading position. Here people of various races work, play and live together happily as one nation. They help each other in time of difficulty. They rejoice in each other’s happiness. And they share each other’s grief. Such is the respect, understanding and goodwill between the Malay, Chinese, Indian, European and other races living here that visitors in Singapore have often praised the State as an example for the rest of the world to follow. The latest visitor to express this view is Mrs. A. Qugley, formerly of the Chicago Tribune, who passed through the State during a tour of the Far East. She said that “the people here must be extremely proud of themselves for the “really great” racial harmony that was evident

[The Singapore Free Press, 6 July 1961, Page 6]

Not true we have no natural resources

According to Dr Goh Keng Swee, it is not true that Singapore has no natural resource. Our excellent geographical location is our most precious natural resources that has allowed Singapore to grow and prosper.

There are four reasons which enabled Singapore throughout her history as a British colony, and today as an independent republic, to survive and even prosper in the face of apparently insurmountable difficulties. First, there is the well-known fact of a superb central geographical location with a natural harbor swept by currents flowing between the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca.

[Goh Keng Swee, The Practice of Economic Growth, Chapter 1: Why Singapore succeeds, pages 6-7]

It is precisely because we are a little red dot that we cannot possibly cramp too many people onto this small red dot.

Straits Times, Reflections of a pioneer, 12 Oct 2014

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has called on Singaporeans to learn from the past as they embrace the future (“Past and future”; last Sunday).

As an old man from the pioneer generation, I have some reflections to share with the younger generation of Singaporeans.

First, do not take national defence for granted. The Japanese Occupation is still fresh in my memory. To instil fear, the Japanese beheaded four Singaporeans and displayed their heads in public as a warning to those who did not obey them. From then on, the people were gripped by the fear of arrest and torture by the Japanese secret police.

Second, treasure your Singapore citizenship. Our forefathers came to work in this country as “foreign labour” under the British. It was only after we gained independence that we enjoyed citizenship status.

Third, guard racial harmony as you would a rare treasure. In the process of political struggle in the early years, racial issues reared their ugly head, resulting in many episodes of violence. As a young boy, I witnessed mindless assaults and bloodshed in the streets that arose for no other reason than racial differences.

Fourth, educate and train our young well. Singapore was once a pirates’ cove. It took human effort and resourcefulness to make it what it is today.

We have no natural resources; our only resource is people. So train our young to be resourceful and ensure they have the right attitude to work together to build a strong and just society that will benefit all.

At the same time, let us not forget that, as a little red dot, we need to inject good foreign talent to strengthen our human resource pool.

Onward Singapore!

George Wong Seow Choon (Dr)


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