Battle for Merger a reality check for revisionist views

From ‘Reprint of the Battle for Merger will provide reality check for revisionist views’, 10 Oct 2014, article in CNA

The re-publication of a book of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s radio talks from 1961, The Battle For Merger, will provide a “reality check” for revisionist views, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean at the launch event on Thursday (Oct 9).

“I hope it will awaken interest among younger Singaporeans in the events of this crucial period in our history, educate them into what actually happened, what the battle was about, and why it was so crucial that the right side won,” he said in his speech at the launch.

Originally published in 1962, The Battle For Merger is a book that contains a series of 12 radio talks delivered by Mr Lee between Sep 13 and Oct 9, 1961, giving a vivid account of the ongoing political struggle over merger.

Among the many superlatives used to describe LKY’s radio sermon, the best come from his son, the current PM, himself, who recalls the ‘superhuman‘ effort of 36 broadcasts in 3 languages, and how the Battle of Merger still reads like a THRILLER today. In TCH’s speech, he called it a ‘gruelling’ exercise which left our founding PM ‘thoroughly exhausted’, but later makes a too-brief mention of the critical event that is the 1962 referendum.

..In the referendum on merger held in September 1962, 71% supported the PAP’s position while 25% cast blank votes as advocated by the anti-merger group.

Although public support for merger was unequivocal in 1962, and Singapore joined the Federation of Malaysia on 16 Sep 1963, the differences in views between the Singaporean and Malaysian governments as to how a multi-racial, multi-religious nation should govern itself caused merger to fail.

The essence of a good thriller, or any book worth reading, is to ‘leave out the boring details’. In politics, such filtering is de rigeur in government propaganda, and to refer to one supreme leader’s personal, ‘self-serving’ account of history as a ‘reality check’ is an insult to the entire study of History as we know it. A reality check is a painful reminder of how real life works, like failing in business if you pursue a naive fantasy of starting an organic ice-cream parlour. The ‘Battle of Merger’ launch, instead of extinguishing the ‘revisionist’ spirit, is more likely to add fuel to the fire.

It’s probably true that without the PAP’s tactics in securing the merger and subsequent break-up, we wouldn’t be where we are today, even if some would label the short-lived marriage with Malaysia as a ‘mistake’. While we generously laud our pioneer politicians as hardworking, tenacious and selfless in their fight for freedom, we refrain from other adjectives that contribute partly to the success of the ruling party and hence modern Singapore. ‘Cunning’ and ‘Opportunistic’ would be a couple of them.

For a quick summary of what the Battle for Merger was all about without downloading all of LKY’s speeches, this ‘Diary of a Nation’ episode from the 80’s would suffice, though we all know who are the ones penning their thoughts in this ‘diary’. Maybe the MDA will re-telecast this entire series on national TV, crappy music and title credits and all, and give it a G rating so your babies can watch it too.

The SG50 committee is not interested in telling you how the PAP twisted the electorate’s arm during the 1962 referendum, from the strategic use of the Singapore flag in one of the 3 options to the screening of movies on how to vote for merger, or how you couldn’t even vote ‘NO’ to the whole idea. They want you to know that it was ‘unequivocal’. Digging further into ‘history’ will suggest that perhaps ‘unequivocal’ was an exaggeration. The SG50 doesn’t want you to know David Marshall once described the Referendum as ‘dishonest’ and ‘immoral’, an insult that deserves to be published in full glory, by the ST itself no less.

Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 9.07.05 AM

Any history student, or thinking Singaporean, would be obliged to find out exactly why some people thought the Referendum was a sham. For starters, this was what the Referendum form looked like, which may give you some inkling of whether ‘unequivocal’ is the right word to use here. You may also want to read further on how the PAP decided to handle ‘blank votes’ (defaulted as Alternative A).

TCH also doesn’t explain what a ‘revisionist’ view is, probably alluding to the commentaries from the recent banned Tan Pin Pin film, which attemp to ‘revise’ history as written in the textbooks. It seems to me like a polite term for a radical deliberately creating strife by distorting events, or through outright LIES, when most of the time it’s really an attempt to ‘fill in the blanks’ behind the scenes, or give this ‘thriller’ that is the Singapore Story, a not-so-happy ‘ending’.  No one ever calls for Singaporeans to reject ‘denialist’ views, or victors who prefer to leave the ‘convenient truth’ intact and arrogant enough to tell you what ‘reality’ is when they were too young then to know what the hell was going on.

There may indeed be a book out there written by someone free of all bias, one which gives the most accurate account of the merger history, warts and skeletons and all, but it’s probably so boring and painful to read that it went out of print a long time ago. In the meantime, there’s Dennis Bloodworth’s The Tiger and the Trojan Horse, which offers juicy details amid a colourful cast of characters beyond LKY, including Lim Chin Siong, the ‘Plen’ and Goh Keng Swee, with many twists and turns as a proper thriller should have, instead of one man hogging a microphone for days. Still, our DPM is right about how this would ‘awaken interest among young Singaporeans’, except that the PAP, through merciless rebuttal, censorship and instigating fear of us even discussing Communism in public, continues to underestimate the public’s ability to ‘think independently’, a skill that we’re all urged, ironically, to develop in school. That is, don’t just rely on ONE source to form your own judgement of events, ESPECIALLY if it makes better reading than the Da Vinci Code.

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3 Responses

  1. […] Bertha Harian: Whose story is history? – Everything Also Complain: Battle for Merger a reality check for revisionist views – Unravelling 1987: Govt fears amnesia as Battle for Merger goes for reprint – Cooler […]

  2. […] ..In the referendum on merger held in September 1962, 71% supported the PAP’s position while 25% cast blank votes as advocated by the anti-merger group. Although public support for merger was unequivocal in 1962, and Singapore joined the Federation of Malaysia on 16 Sep 1963, the differences in views between the Singaporean and Malaysian governments as to how a multi-racial, multi-religious nation should govern itself caused merger to fail. The essence of a good thriller, or any book worth reading, is to ‘leave out the boring details’. In politics, such filtering is de rigeur in government propaganda, and to refer to one supreme leader’s personal, ‘self-serving’ account of history as a ‘reality check’ is an insult to the entire study of History as we know it. A reality check is a painful reminder of how real life works, like failing in business if you pursue a naive fantasy of starting an organic ice-cream parlour. The ‘Battle of Merger’ launch, instead of extinguishing the ‘revisionist’ spirit, is more likely to add fuel to the fire. While we generously laud our pioneer politicians as hardworking, tenacious and selfless in their fight for freedom, we refrain from other adjectives that contribute partly to the success of the ruling party and hence modern Singapore. ‘Cunning’ and ‘Opportunistic’ would be a couple of them. For a quick summary of what the Battle for Merger was all about without downloading all of LKY’s speeches, this ‘Diary of a Nation’ episode from the 80’s would suffice, though we all know who are the ones penning their thoughts in this ‘diary’. The SG50 committee is not interested in telling you how the PAP twisted the electorate’s arm during the 1962 referendum, from the strategic use of the Singapore flag in one of the 3 options to the screening of movies on how to vote for merger, or how you couldn’t even vote ‘NO’ to the whole idea. They want you to know that it was ‘unequivocal’…David Marshall once described the Referendum as ‘dishonest’ and ‘immoral’, an insult that deserves to be published in full glory, by the ST itself no less. Any history student, or thinking Singaporean, would be obliged to find out exactly why some people thought the Referendum was a sham. For starters, this was what the Referendum form looked like, which may give you some inkling of whether ‘unequivocal’ is the right word to use here. You may also want to read further on how the PAP decided to handle ‘blank votes’ (defaulted as Alternative A). No one ever calls for Singaporeans to reject ‘denialist’ views, or victors who prefer to leave the ‘convenient truth’ intact and arrogant enough to tell you what ‘reality’ is when they were too young then to know what the hell was going on. There may indeed be a book out there written by someone free of all bias, one which gives the most accurate account of the merger history, warts and skeletons and all, but it’s probably so boring and painful to read that it went out of print a long time ago. In the meantime, there’s Dennis Bloodworth’s The Tiger and the Trojan Horse, which offers juicy details amid a colourful cast of characters beyond LKY, including Lim Chin Siong, the ‘Plen’ and Goh Keng Swee, with many twists and turns as a proper thriller should have, instead of one man hogging a microphone for days. Still, our DPM is right about how this would ‘awaken interest among young Singaporeans’, except that the PAP, through merciless rebuttal, censorship and instigating fear of us even discussing Communism in public, continues to underestimate the public’s ability to ‘think independently’, a skill that we’re all urged, ironically, to develop in school. That is, don’t just rely on ONE source to form your own judgement of events, ESPECIALLY if it makes better reading…  […]

  3. The option ‘available’ on the voting card is really enlightening. Better sent this to TRS or tr emeritus for a showing?
    With our more educated minions, maybe can de-veil the whitewash?

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