Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and Foreign Minister Shanmugam are all simultaneously saying that naming an Indonesian warship after two marines who parachuted into Singapore at a time of war would reopen old wounds. What they should really reflect upon is what Lee Kuan Yew had hoped to achieve when he shocked President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono with the uncalled for commentary that SBY could only achieve one third of what he set out to do for his country.

Usman Hj Mohd Ali and Harun Said were obeying orders from their military commanders when they planted 25 lbs of explosive at MacDonald House in Orchard Road on March 10, 1965. During the Konfrontasi, there were 37 bombs exploded in Singapore. For their bravery and supreme sacrifice, president Soeharto honoured them with a state funeral at the Kalibata National Heroes Cemetery in South Jakarta. A National University of Singapore don put it in perspective, “It’s perfectly all right and normal to name ships after the heroes of the nation.”

Two other ships expected to enter service in June are named KRI Bung Tomo 357, after Sutomo, who led the popular resistance against Allied British and Dutch forces in the Battle of Surabaya in November 1945; and KRI John Lie 358, after John Lie who smuggled agricultural produce to buy and smuggle arms from Malaya to assist the Indonesian independence struggle against the Dutch from 1945 to 1949. Lie completed his career in the navy with a rank of rear admiral.

This is not the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the controversial Yasukuni Jinja (Shrine) that created uproar both in China and South Korea. Of the 2,466,532 people contained in the shrine’s Book of Souls, 1,068 were convicted of war crimes by a post World War II court, 14 of which are Class A war criminals.

Ensconced in their ivory towers, the paper generals thought a sprinkle of flowers on the soldiers’ graves would soothe old wounds. They thought a simple telephone call could change the Indonesians’ resolve to name the navy frigate KRI Usman Harun. They never even considered a personal visit to talk things over – even Vivian Balakhrishnan had to play dispatch boy to deliver a letter over the haze issue. They are too used to lording over mere mortals. Their super-ego is our nation’s greatest liability.

Relations between Indonesia and Singapore reached a nadir in the late 1990s when B.J. Habibie famously conferred the sobriquet of “little red dot” after some big mouth said the rupiah would fall if Habibie was elected president. Ties are supposed to have improved considerably in recent years under the stewardship of Lee Hsien Loong, notwithstanding the inconvenient mention in Yudhoyono’s book “Selalu Ada Pilihan” (There Is Always A Choice).


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