Debate on S’pore history obstructed by govt’s unproductive behaviour


Recent remarks from government ministers to the various alternative accounts of our history is disheartening, to say the least. If this is how the debate on our beginnings is going to proceed, I am afraid we may end up with nothing more than personal invective being hurled by the government, and nothing more.

For that is how the “debate” has gone so far.

I wouldn’t even call it a debate, actually. I would call it whiny and desperate defences, devoid of any real or meaningful and productive discussions.

The government’s actions so far are namely two – one; ban, censor, prevent, any alternative accounts from reaching the masses. The ban on Tan Pin Pin’s film is an example.

Of course, the authorities say it is not actually a ban because students can view it, and private screenings of the film are also allowed. But this, the authorities do not seem to realise, makes a mockery of its own reasons for the ban in the first place – that the film poses “a threat to national security”. What kind of government allows a film (or anything, for that matter) which poses a threat to national security to be made available to the masses, especially our students?

So, it is clear the authorities have rubbished their own assertions.

Two; it has resorted to personal attacks to obscure the call for evidence to substantiate its claims made about our history, in particular to the security swoop which detained more than 100 opposition members in Operation Coldstore in February 1963. The government has, instead, chosen to avoid and ignore such calls from Singaporeans, historians and former detainees.

The prime minister, for example, had even mocked what he described as “revisionist” historians for their academic credentials, instead of presenting facts to back his claims. And just yesterday (14 Jan 2015) Minister of State, Sam Tan, accused these “revisionist historians” and their “proxies” of lacking “intellectual honesty”.

Mr Tan, like PM Lee, has presented no evidence to back up what they say, whether in reference to the historical facts, or to who these “proxies” of the “revisionist historians” are.

In other words, the ministers seem to be swinging wildly in perhaps the hope that something will hit.

In sharp contrast to the petty and infantile name-calling of the government, the historians, the former detainees and even ordinary Singaporeans have all – civilly, I might add – taken it upon themselves to do their research and to take time and effort to write these down and share their findings and views with others online.

The latest to do so is Dr Poh Soo Kai , who was in the thick of the situation more than 50 years ago. pskI’ve had the privilege to meet and listen to Dr Poh speak on several occasions. He is a soft-spoken man. And the word which lingers in my head after hearing him is “gentleman”. And you can see this in the way he calmly writes about our past, about what had taken place back in 1963 and prior.

His is quite unlike the uncouth name-calling of PAP ministers.

Dr Poh is a founding member of the PAP, and also of the Barisan Socialis, and a former detainee under Operation Coldstore. He is a practising medical doctor who continues to practise at his clinic which he set up in the 1960s with the late Dr Lim Hock Siew, Singapore’s second longest detainee (19 years).

Do take some time to read this fascinating background to not only why Lee Kuan Yew had to instigate the arrests of more than 100 of his political opponents, but also the larger context in which the British and the Malaysians had to go along with the scam.

For example, Dr Poh writes in “Battle for Merger Revisited, Part 2“:

“Even Lee Kuan Yew saw that the way ahead for him politically was to take on the appearance of an anti-colonial fighter though he recognised that his future rested firmly with the British.[ii] Chin Peng in My Side of History (2003) revealed that Lee had contacted the CPM for support when the PAP was being formed. At that time in 1954, Lee was fully aware that Samad Ismail was a communist, yet he appointed him the pro-tem chairman of the PAP at its inaugural meeting at Victoria Memorial Hall.”

In brief, while the PAP government, now as in the past, castigates and accuse the opposition Barisan Socialis of being part of a communist conspiracy to overthrow the government in Singapore through armed struggle, the PAP was in fact itself deeply in cahoots with the communists.

This is borne out in historical records and is not disputed, even by the PAP.

But instead of engaging in deep and meaningful debate on our history which will enlighten and even empower Singaporeans with a shared sense of national identity in this our 50th anniversary, the PAP government has instead chosen to attempt to discredit others through name-calling, and mocking of researchers’ personal academic qualifications.

It is truly unfortunate for Singaporeans that the Government is also at the same time denying them access to historical records, such as Cabinet Papers, which will no doubt cast much light on what the Lee Kuan Yew government discussed in private about the alleged communists and indeed of Operation Coldstore itself, and in particular its real reason for the security operation.

Singaporeans deserve a substantive debate, and not the vain and childish attempts at avoiding the real questions of our history.

The PAP government should stop its unproductive behaviour, including its unconvincing excuses not to release secret documents which will help Singaporeans understand their past.

It is shameful behaviour, especially in the year when Singaporeans are called to celebrate its nationhood.


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