“While the future’s there for anyone to change, still you know it’s seems It would be easier sometimes to change the past.” Jackson Browne
The many comments made on the articles relating to the Communist threat (within the Battle for Merger) suggest that writers’ and readers’ views, on either side of the divide, are highly polarized – and almost always selective.
A disinterested observer will find it amazing that either side is so darn sure that theirs is the only true and correct version. How can that be so? We are discussing politics and political events here. It’s also amusing that when such a neutral view is taken, both opposing sides are only too happy to unite (for once) to condemn it; instead of contemplating if there may be some or much truth in the view that the truth probably lies somewhere in between the 2 extremes.
Here are some perspectives that may be worth considering.
@BK appears to hit the bull’s-eye when he observes that PAP’s narrative has to be defended primarily to ensure that the PAP government ‘legitimacy’ is not doubted.
But a slightly nuanced view is that PM Lee needn’t have been in apprehension of the ‘legitimacy’ whether in the 1960s or today on account of the Communist reality. The 60s are past and gone (we shall revisit this later). Why even raise your own legitimacy (propriety) since, strictly speaking from a legal standpoint, PAP has always ‘legitimately’ been elected the government? Instead, the PAP’s credibility (believability, trustworthiness) is what he should be worried about; what with, for e.g., fixing the opposition, the GRC system and redrawing of electoral boundaries, to name a few credit-negative acts.
Another point worth noting is their use of the word, ‘revisionist’. PAP is explioting their ‘first mover advantage’. Just because they ‘won’ that period, they enjoy the luxury of putting ‘their side of the narrative’ out to the marketplace first. Does being a ‘first mover’ in matters of political history necessarily bestow ‘truth’ to one’s preferred narrative? But a ‘first mover’ lacking the confidence to allow for a different perspective or narrative to be told – or a film to be shown – will likely encourage more FMMs (fence-sitters, marginal supporters, mal/mis-informed voters) to question the veracity of the original narrative.
What the heck are PAP strategists thinking? Either they are clueless or shuddering at the loss of support they are facing. In days like these, it is not their die-hard supporters they need to convince but FMMs. Well, that can’t be bad news for us here at TRE.
ISA Ex-detainees’ & Supporters’ Beef
It is true that only those who have been detained are qualified to speak up and they are the best source of the facts of the matter.
But is it beyond possibility that some of them and some of what they may say (or have said) may also be influenced by their own sufferings, their need for ‘closure’, sense of unfairness? As much as the protagonists embellishing and twisting theirs.
I’m asking a fair question, not making a statement.
Regardless, if the chances of getting one’s story told in the current circumstances and via mainstream media are not good, what is the better solution? Perhaps, everyone interested should come together to discuss how to deal with that – aside from the ad hoc counter-responses. The goal should be to decide how best to convince the FMMs. Creating different presentations to reach different target audience groups will probably be more effective compared to PAP’s single ‘Battle for Merger’ narration.
The Times Form The Context
The Tiger and The Trojan Horse (1986) contains a comprehensive account of the co-op and struggles between the social democrats and the pro-communist who became bedfellows of convenience to advance each own cause.
Chin Peng (MCP head) didn’t deny the ‘front’ that the MCP used to advance their cause. Or the influence he wielded those days. In fact, joining forces with non-commie Malayan Democratic Union (1945-8) preceded their co-op to form the PAP. If so, is it objective to write off parts of the PAP’s narrative with such certainty? And not just LKY, even (honourable) Goh Keng Swee, Devan Nair & others have given the same broad story lines.
That is not to say party leaders didn’t exaggerate some ‘facts’ to suit their party’s or individual’s interests.
Furthermore, those were heady days of anti-colonialism, nationalism, communism and anti-communism. The fights for hearts and minds were in full flux. There were no eternal enemies, no certain friends – only pure interests. So, how possible was it that claims and counter-claims were all true and correct, then? What more with the passage of time and fading memories?
Isn’t it more likely than not, therefore, that the truth lies somewhere in between the 2 narratives?
Truth & Reconciliation (or Punishment?)
Finally, calls for a revisiting of that traumatic time have been amplified by the (non) release of To Singapore With Love, no doubt helped by social media.
That is a good thing and should be borne in mind.
Note: such calls have been confined to giving those detained or exiled their say in order to uncover lies, expose the (or other) truths. That’s fine. But the word ‘reconciliation’ has been patently absent. That being the case, some form of punishment is left unsaid but implied.
Well, the most prominent Truth & Reconciliation exercise of modern times is the South Africa Government of National Unity (1985), formed ‘to help heal the country and bring about a reconciliation of its people by uncovering the truth about human rights violations that had occurred during the period of apartheid’.
Two things to note:
One, such a commission was only possible after, not before, the previous apartheid government lost power.
Two, the Reconciliation part bears emphasizing. Without that complementary goal, any revisiting may be more akin to a witch-hunt in reverse, serving only to further divide and disunite an already highly polarized Singapore. Not only a non-starter with PAP in firm power, is that what detractors really want for Singapore?
Missing Something From Both Sides?
Both sides claim their aim of wanting Singaporeans to understand our past in order, presumably, that we will all be more aware of our shared past struggles and bond as ‘one united people’. But I am skeptical.
See, if the aim is to educate and remind our shared difficult past, there is another episode round about the same time that saw a) more violence, more bloodshed, more Singapore lives lost and b) our people truly standing side-by-side in unity against a common enemy and for a cause. Wouldn’t that historical episode be more effective and appropriate to discuss and remind us of why and how we should stand as one united people?
Does the period known as ‘日本天’ (‘Japan Sky’) ring a bell?
Till today, Koreans, Chinese and Taiwanese are all teaching their children the common sufferings and shared pains brought on by the Japanese. While here in Singapore…Hello? Hello? —Almost total silence on that period of our nation’s history.
The use of state resources and the relentless insistence on their own and only their own PAP’s narrative – to the exclusion of others – and the prioritizing of that narrative to the exclusion of any discussions on ‘日本天’ (‘Japan Sky’) show how this Party is only interested to propagate their own dominance of Singapore. Not interested in ‘one united people’ but ‘polarize and rule’.
If what’s argued so far makes sense, then those pushing for redemption for their unfortunate and sad detention and sufferings are playing into PAP’s purpose.
Would it not be better to await the time when PAP is toppled to push for that redemptive exercise? Would it not be exposing the PAP’s bald and shameful, self-serving aim of prolong their own dominance by taking the higher road of focusing on WWII and how Singaporeans (as much as we could identify ourselves as such then) were and can be ‘one united people’ going forward?
With the trust quotient deteriorating each new day, no need insisting on the ‘truth’ of alternative narratives to that of the PAP’s. All that’s needed is to turn opportunities to raise reasonable doubts about theirs.
The Present & Future More Than The Past
Which leads me finally to what one side has done and the other side wants undone…
‘While the future is there for anyone to change,
still you know it seems it would be easier
sometimes to change the past.’
But those who have changed the world have always first accepted the world the way they found it to be – taking that as their starting point. No, they don’t bitch about how the way the world should have been in order for them to get started changing the world.
Hence, if your goal is to end PAP’s dominance, do you focus on the past – or reach for the now and reach out to the future?
“Results are obtained by exploiting opportunities, not by solving problems…It is more productive to convert an opportunity into results than to solve a problem – which only restores the equilibrium of yesterday.” Peter Drucker