From ‘Problematic new name for Changi Naval Base’, 18 Feb 17, ST Forum
(Sunny Goh, Dr): Names and labels have been under scrutiny lately. While the Syonan Gallery has been hotly debated, one other name change has escaped attention: RSS Singapura – Changi Naval Base (“Changi Naval Base’s new name to hark back to beginnings“; Feb 10).
It is problematic in two aspects. First, is the new name supposed to shift the emphasis away from “Changi” as the base onto the ship “Singapura”?
If so, this will force a contest between two historically powerful words, and not everyone will agree that the ship triumphs over the base.
Most people – visitors and taxi drivers included – will pick either RSS Singapura or Changi Naval Base. No one is going to blurt out the entire mouthful in everyday situations.
Second, how is the ship related to the base?
The RSS Singapura was a former Japanese minelayer that was berthed at Telok Ayer Basin and was used by the then Singapore Naval Volunteer Force as its headquarters from 1966 to 1968, while the base was officially opened only in 2004, almost 40 years later.
Those at the Republic of Singapore Navy must be able to account for this, if foreign dignitaries were to ask them about the name. From a practical point of view, there is another problem.
Over time, an abbreviation for the name will probably emerge – the same that has taken place for the Goh Keng Swee Command and Staff College (GKS CSC). But having seven letters, such as RSSSCNB, is itself unwieldy.
All of this begs the question: If the original name wasn’t broken, why fix it?
Just the day before, the Government made a reluctant and rather surprising U-turn after a public outcry over the Syonan Gallery, changing it to the mouthful’ Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies’, which sounds more like the title of a history textbook than an actual venue. What if my grandfather DIDN’T survive the Japanese Occupation? Wouldn’t this new name be a snub to those who sacrificed their lives during this horrific period?
Think ‘Changi’ and our world-famous airport comes to mind. But there was a time when naming our iconic airport after a place that evokes bloody war atrocities was deemed to be ‘in poor taste’. Brand it anything else to soothe psychological wounds and we may not have the Changi Airport as we know today. Similarly, I’d like to think that if we had retained ‘Syonan’ as a name for exhibitions, Singaporeans would learn to accept and move on over time like how ‘Changi’ became mundane, yet still retaining a prickly reminder of wartime history. Unfortunately, we’d rather sanitise our labels than learn to deal with them.
The ship RSS Singapura itself has some interesting history. Once bequeathed with the Japanese ‘WakaTaka‘, it was given its current name when Singapore joined Malaysia. It was also intended in the 60’s to be converted into a floating night club. Now thanks to the Syonan saga, we have to be wary of labels that summon wartime sensitivities, and by coming with up a practically useless and cumbersome hybrid-hyphenated name for the naval base, we’re injecting those affected with a double whammy; combining a ship that once served the Japanese Imperial navy and a place once associated with instituted mass murder.
Maybe the Navy should emulate Yaacob and reverse the decision after some ‘deep reflection’.