The Last Refuge of Scoundrels

I think it was Samuel L. Jackson who said that "Patriotism is the last refuge of Scoundrels". I think he might have said it in Pulp Fiction. Just before he blew away some scoundrels.

Then, because I check my facts, I Googled, "Patriotism Scoundrel". And learned that it was SamuelJohnson who said it. 

My mistake.

But I have always considered Patriotism to be another "-ism" – like socialism, or liberalism, or capitalism, or racism.

"ism" is defined as a distinctive doctrine, system or theory.

Well, Patriotism, the wrong kind, might well be summarised as "My country, right or wrong."

That is, one takes the side of one's country regardless of the merit of the position.

So while I am proud to be Singaporean, and will defend Singapore's name, reputation, culture, position, I do assess the merit of those traits or positions. Fair criticism, I will reflect upon.

And even when I defend my country in words (haven't had the opportunity to defend in deeds) I defend with an academic objectivity. I don't get emotional. I don't usually get "patriotic".

But strangely I find myself rather pissed off by the Indonesian plan to name a frigate after the two marines who bombed MacDonald House in 1965.

Why? I asked myself. (This post is my way of working it out for myself.)


First of all the bombing carried out by the two Indonesian soldiers was one of over 30 bombings, but the one with the most casualties. It was carried out during the period of aggression called "Konfrontasi". Which has an interesting story. I am quite sure there are at least a few versions of what was Konfrontasi about, but here is one version (do find out for yourself) that I used to make sense of it. (Note: this is my interpretation. I am aware that I am probably glossing over a lot of facts, but don't give me any grief about it. If you do know the story better, feel free to comment, respectfully.)

Indonesia considers itself the "Big Brother" in the region and historically (as recently as 1960s, maybe even now) sees Malaysia, Singapore, Borneo, and perhaps even parts of the Philippines as part of a larger Indonesian-Malaysian hegemony, or empire (random memories of history lessons suggests it might have been called the Majapahit empire?)

So when Malaya, Singapore, and parts of Borneo (Sabah & Sarawak) decided to form a federation, the Indonesian President saw that as an obstacle to the re-establishment of this empire and opposed the formation of the Federation. Well, the federation went ahead anyway, and Indonesia opposed it with armed incursions and aggression which was called Konfrontasi. Of course for moral high ground, the Indonesian President used the pretext that the federation was just a British Empire puppet.

Konfrontasi was an undeclared war. So no armies facing off against each other. The Indonesian forces basically engaged in sabotage – the planting of bombs in Singapore. 

So within this context, the acts of aggression were not the acts of open warfare but surreptitious sabotage. And in many cases including the MacDonald House bombing, the original orders for the two soldiers was to target military targets. However, the military targets were too well protected. The bank was a secondary "soft" civilian target. The objective was to foment terror. It was ultimately, an act of terrorism. 


As a victim of terrorism, Indonesia should be well aware of the similarities between the Bali Bombing and the bombings in Singapore during Konfrontasi Both targeted civilians in an undeclared war and were intended to create terror and spread fear.  Yet in one case (Bali Bombing) they call the bombers, terrorists, arrested them, tried them, and executed them. In the other (1965), they call the bombers, heroes, protested their execution, and honour them. 

What's the difference?

Indonesian Arrogance/Insensitivity/Callousness

And of course, there is nothing Indonesians can do insensitively, that their words cannot subsequently make even more poignantly insensitive. 

Is this an internal Indonesian matter, of no concern to Singapore?

If these two soldiers had killed a thousand Singaporean soldiers on the field of battle, they would be worthy of honour and respect and the title of "Heroes". And truly Singapore would have nothing to say about it.

But they were saboteurs killing unarmed civilians on civilian premises in an undeclared war. What was so heroic about killing unarmed, unsuspecting civilians? What was so heroic about killing women? Even if war had been declared, soldiers who have murdered non-combatants have been charged with murder and if not executed, would have been dishonourably discharged after their punishment. 

In honouring these men, what the Indonesian Military is implicitly if not explicitly condoning is the instruments and methods of terrorism.

I want to make it clear, that I do feel sorry for the two soldiers. They were given dishonourable orders, and asked to carry them out. And then they were caught and faced Singapore's Criminal Justice System. Then they were convicted. And then they were executed. I am quite sure no soldier joins the army or military believing that one day they may be charged in a foreign court for a crime which was committed under orders from their commanders, and would eventually be executed as a criminal.

Their execution were protested by the Indonesian people. But what was the official position of the Indonesian government and military? This is lost in history. Did the Indonesian government disclaim all knowledge of their mission? Did they try to ransom these "prisoners of war"? Were they even considered prisoners of war, considering that war was never declared? Were they considered "common" criminals? Did they reveal their orders from the military? Were the "facts" of their military derived or deduced solely from investigation with no corroborating confession from the two?

So many questions.

So when their bodies were returned, the Indonesian government honoured them as heroes and buried them in a Heroes cemetery. It was the least they could do to assuage their people. And more importantly, their soldiers.

Did some of the soldiers question the dishonourable orders the two were given? Or others? Were they made promises similar to what suicide bombers and terrorists are given? Were they told that they would be patriots, and if they were caught and executed, they would given full military honours? And a burial in Heroes cemetery? 

But what does it say for the Indonesian authorities to dredge up this old zombie issue, and honour these men again? 

Probably politics.

Because it is always about politics.

And if you want people to be on your side, the easiest way is to beat the Patriotic drum. And so I think I have found the scoundrels in this play.

Comments on FaceBook:

We have to consider the perspective of the Indonesians, and pity them.

The best they can come up with for heroes are two soldiers who, unable to hit their primary military target(s), had to settle for blowing up a bank. And killing unarmed, civilian, non-combatants in an undeclared war that Indonesian had neither the honour nor integrity to declare. And because they did not have the integrity to declare war, their soldiers were not treated as prisoners of war, but were arrested as criminals, charged with murder, and executed as murderers.

But hey, they were still heroes to the Indonesians. Because while they may have acted dishonourably (bombed civilians), and without integrity or competence (unable to bomb military targets), at least they were NOT Corrupt!

And Indonesia today needs to find uncorrupted men wherever they can. And make them heroes.

Because, when you can't contain the Haze, when you can't defeat corruption, when you can't solve your problems, at least you can look back to those halcyon days when men were men and they heroically bomb the shit out of unarmed, civilian, non-combatants.

Konfrontasi was not a declared war. Indonesia did not even have the integrity or honour to properly declare war before carrying out acts of war.

So in a non-state of war, two soldiers entered SG to bomb military targets. BUT they could not hit their primary military targets because the targets were too well secured.

So instead they targeted civilian soft target. That is an act of TERRORISM. Unarmed. Civilian. Non-combatants. Again, no integrity. No honour. Heroic? What's so heroic about targeting unarmed civilians? What's so heroic about killing women? US soldiers who murdered civilians in the Vietnam war have faced charges of various kinds. Sure, not all of them. Just those that they had evidence against, and those that can't get away.

These two did not managed to get away. So if it were a military operation during a state of war, they would be Prisoners of War, no? 

They were tried as criminals. As murderers.

Well, at least they gave their lives for a military objective, right?

I'm sorry, they gave nothing. We executed them. We took their dishonourable lives for their dishonourable acts.

Giving their lives would be something heroic like dying to give their comrades a chance to win or survive. Bombing a civilian building? Killing unarmed civilians. In an undeclared war? Terrorism.

The best you can say about the Indonesian Marines is that they were good obedient soldiers, who when asked to attack civilians did not flinch from their orders. Who allowed themselves like good soldiers to be used by their commanders.

And now Indonesia is making use of them, again, in death.

Heroes? Well, I guess Indonesia is desperately short of people with honour and integrity, These two, at least, were not corrupt.

That'll do.

Batmen Bin Supermen, Sure. We respect them for being good obedient soldiers that knew how to follow orders. Singapore men understand about following orders. 

The two Marines understood that their lives were to be used by their commanders. 

And yes, we understand that in Indonesia today, there is a shortage of heroes. There is a shortage of men of integrity, honour, incorruptibility, honesty, and the ability to work for a higher purpose. For a greater good.

When politicians are corrupt. When leaders are corrupt, when police are corrupt, what Indonesia needs are clean uncorrupted role models.

So yes, we understand that Indonesia needed to return all the way to the past to find and remember men who are men, who can heroically bomb unarmed civilians without flinching, who can kill women without qualms, who can be role models for Indonesian soldiers today, so that Indonesian soldiers can understand that if they are ever called upon to do dishonourable deeds, that they remember the most important virtue that they must have is obedience. And the second most important virtue in incorruptibility. And dishonour is just a sacrifice that one must be willing to make for one's country.

So these incorruptible men have served their country twice. Once when they bombed MacDonald House in 1965, and now they are once again being used by the Indonesian Govt and Military to be role models for their soldiers today. 

Of course, Singaporeans will wonder about the hypocrisy of Indonesians. What after all is the difference between the actions of the two marines and the Bali bombers? Both groups of men targeted civilians in an undeclared war, and kill innocents to create terror. One group you call terrorist and execute. The other group you call Heroes, protest their executions, and honour them.

But that's ok. 

We know Indonesia has a lot of problems. What with the Haze you can't control, the corruption you can't fight, and the flooding, and the traffic jams, and the loss of subsidies for fuel and other necessities, and so many problems. 

We try to be understanding. In these difficult times, you need heroes to inspire the people, to take their minds off their other troubles, and believe in something. 

So make these two men your heroes. Every country needs their heroes – role models for young people. 

And I'm sorry if I gave you the impression that I object to the honouring of these two men by the Indonesian. I don't. Whoever Indonesia believes is worthy of honouring is precisely the kind of Heroes Indonesia needs. And deserves. 

Congratulations on the naming of your new ships!

[This reply was to an Indonesian who goes by the name "Batmen bin Supermen" But I do not know if he got "the kind of Heroes Indonesia needs" at the end.]

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