Pioneer Generation Unplugged

By Tan Bah Bah

And so it has come to pass. The Pioneer Generation will get its just rewards in a special package to be announced on Budget Day on Feb 21. This is the group of seniors who worked hard in the early years and laid the foundation for today’s Singapore.

I am of that generation. But I would hesitate a bit to expect compensation for being a Baby Boomer, besides having the satisfaction of being part of a world-wide sociological phenomenon which may not occur again in mankind’s history.

There will be population booms but we are not likely to have growths again on such a scale at the same time or period. The boomers are that group of babies who make up a once-off post-World War II population bulge which was unprecedented in size. After the war, the survivors went on a baby-making spree, as if to make up for lost time and lost babies.

The generation that became the Baby Boomers has people who have experienced some deprivations or have heard from their parents who could describe in Hi-D 3-D detail what took place in the biggest war the world had ever known as they (the parents) had lived through those traumatic years.

What was particularly special about the Pioneer Generation then? The people in the group were active participants in a make-and-break ride with destiny. There were so many things which could have gone wrong or turned out differently in Singapore.

If you are a PAP member, you would stand by the “official” version that Singapore today is the result of the undivided efforts of the ruling party’s first generation leaders working hand in hand with the people. Propaganda or one-sided massaged fairy tales, call the version what you like. The Singapore story as told by the establishment was and is being handed down as the unassailable truth. You would also be expected to believe that the opposition people were nothing more than disparate bunches of discontents or trouble-makers. Everyone, from the Barisan Sosialis to the Workers Party to all shades of marxists, was out to undo the fledgeling state.

The truth is less clearcut. Was the PAP the only party that helped shape the country’s political and economic history and development? Did some of the other players who lost out not play their part? These are questions for historians to unravel.

The Pioneer Generation package will, meanwhile, ensure that the contributions of those born between 1946 and 1964 (or thereabouts) have not been taken for granted. The medical and other benefits are being worked out.

It is fair to say that, without them, there would have been no Singapore the way we know it to be.

They made the difference in so many areas.

Instinctively, they knew Singapore was on its own after 1965. They accepted national service because they could see that the British were no longer keen to stay around. There was an unseemly haste in the manner in which they pulled out their troops in 1971, after making all sorts of assurances about how committed they were to the defence of the former colony, once touted as a bastion of the great British Empire.

They rolled up their sleeves and tightened their belts with the loss of thousands of jobs because of the troop withdrawal.

What if we had a sullen and uncooperative population? The Chinese triads were a threat to law and order. What if the compact between government and people were non-existent? What if the people were mediocre?

Were we a golden generation? Did we produce Nobel Prize winners? Did we have world-renowned scientists in our midst? Did we have any Olympic champion? No. But there are signs that the generations that follow – with stronger motivation, unrivalled financial and community backing and better education – will produce the champions and winners to inspire other generations.

The Pioneer Generation was forced by circumstances to rise to the occasion. The country does owe a debt to this generation.

Were we a remarkable generation? Not quite. Perhaps we could claim credit for the infrastructure and systems which came to be associated with Singapore. That, by any standards, is no mean feat.

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