I refer to the 16 Oct 2015 Straits Times report “Public can give views and join forums on Founders’ Memorial”.
It was reported that dialogues will be held to get views from the public on a Founders’ Memorial to honour Singapore’s founding generation of leaders.
According to the Cambridge dictionary, to found means to bring something into existence while founder refers to someone who establishes an organisation. Singapore was founded by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819 and has existed for 196 years already. Since Singapore’s 1965 leaders neither brought Singapore into existence nor established Singapore, it would be wrong to commemorate them as founders since they neither fit the definition of found or founder in any sense of the words.
There will of course be those who would play around with words and argue that 1965 was the year that independent Singapore came into existence or was established. But in so far as independent Singapore is concerned, only independence was established in 1965, Singapore itself was established much earlier in 1819.
The independence of an organisation is not the same as its founding just as the independence of a person is not the same as his or her birth. For example, Frasers Centrepoint became independent from the F&N Group in 2013. But that doesn’t mean Frasers Centrepoint was established or founded in 2013. The history of Frasers Centrepoint goes back twenty years earlier to 1983 with the opening of the Centrepoint Shopping Centre.
We shall not even bother with ancient Singapura which was all but destroyed by the Portuguese in the 1600s. Singapore today did not originate from that ancient city. Instead, Singapore today can be traced all the way back to Raffles.
There is another definition in the form of the founding father. Cambridge defines it as “one of a group of men who started the United States as a country and wrote its constitution”. This definition cannot be transplanted to Singapore without first understanding the act of founding that led to the birth of America.
George Washington and Gandhi are America’s and India’s respective founding fathers because they were instrumental in delivering their respective nations from the yoke of foreign power subjugation. It was in gratitude of their momentous contributions that they are hailed as founding fathers by their respective peoples.
With this in mind, we have to ask ourselves what did Lee Kuan Yew or his colleagues do to win our independence in 1965? The answer is – nothing. In fact, Lee Kuan Yew didn’t even want independence. He cried bitterly on national television on the occasion of our independence and stated in no uncertain terms that he didn’t want independence; instead he wanted Singapore to be subjugated under Malaysian sovereignty. This is in such stark contrast to what the founding fathers of America did it would be silly for us to remember him as founding leader when he did the exact opposite of what founding leaders do.
Our independence was thrust upon us against the wishes of Lee Kuan Yew when Tunku Abdul Rahman kicked us out of Malaysia. It was the Tunku, not Lee Kuan Yew or his colleagues who gave us our independence. The mere act of receiving independence is too cheap to be considered an act of founding. All Lee ever did was to swap British sovereignty for Malaysian sovereignty in 1963 which was no act of independence either.
Road to independence
It is important to recognise that our independence wasn’t obtained in a single stroke in 1965. Lee Kuan Yew himself said that Singapore was already ¾ independent (tiga suku merdeka) back in 1959 when Singapore was elevated to the status of a state with our own state flag and anthem that are still in use today. So rightfully, it is three times as important to celebrate 1958/59 as it is to celebrate 1965. 1958/59 didn’t just happen out of nowhere but was the culmination of a long road to independence that began soon after the end of the Japanese Occupation with the political awakening of the people.
Our 1965 leaders will fail any conventional definition of what a founder or founding father or leader is. Unfortunately, Singaporeans die die must credit our 1965 leaders as their fathers, mothers, founders, founding leaders, founding prime minister because they falsely believe it was they who delivered Singapore’s prosperity.
How sadly misinformed they are. Suppose the Leftist Chinese didn’t foolishly sacrifice themselves to fight for independence and Singapore remains a British Crown Colony till this day, Singapore would invariably have ended up like another Hong Kong – different but prosperous just the same.
Suppose Barisan had won power instead, we would have business magnates like Lee Kong Chian, Tan Lark Sye and Tan Kah Kee who would undoubtedly have turned Singapore into an economic powerhouse just the same but perhaps more entrepreneurial like Hong Kong.
More importantly, the economic strategy that Singaporeans always credit our 1965 leaders for actually came from someone else – Dr Albert Winsemius. He is the single most important person Singaporeans should credit for our economic success today
It’s obvious from Lee Kuan Yew’s accounts that while he recognised what bravery was, he didn’t exhibit bravery and while he recognised bestiality, he didn’t resist bestiality. Throughout Singapore’s hour of need, Lee never thought of fighting for the land of his birth but thought only of self-preservation. He obviously could have escaped into the jungles of Malaya to join the resistance there but preferred to work for the Japanese instead. He planned to leave Singapore only when he knew that the Japanese were about to lose.
This is in stark contrast to Lim Bo Seng or Lt Adnan who fought and died for Singapore. Lee Kuan Yew even discredited Lim Bo Seng’s sacrifices by saying it was out of Chinese nationalism rather than Malayan patriotism.
The immortalisation of Lee Kuan Yew as our founding leader would not only be a grave injustice to those who fought and died for Singapore, it would also set a very bad example for future generations of Singaporeans. How can someone who only cared for his life but not for the land of his birth and who readily accepted the cruellest of conquerors as new masters be worthy of our respect as founder or founding leader?
That would be like celebrating Marshall Petain of Vichy France who was branded a traitor after the war instead of Charles de Gaulle who continued to fight after France’s fall. Incidentally Lee once expressed admiration for de Gaulle but was quite clearly the opposite of de Gaulle.
If Singapore is invaded again and Lee Kuan Yew can get up from his grave as he claimed he can, do you think he will fight for Singapore? If Singapore falls again and Lee Kuan Yew can get up from his grave, do you think he will join the resistance to carry on the fight in the jungles?
Singaporeans who still do not see the answer must be really daft. Singaporeans who see the answer but still choose to revere Lee Kuan Yew must have moral compasses similar to Lee Kuan Yew’s. If the people of Singapore by and large have no qualms about self-preservation over the defence of their land of birth, it’s not hard to imagine them putting up token resistance to save their own skins in times of war, and we can’t blame them because their so-called ‘founding leader’ didn’t even try. While it is one thing to choose self-preservation over sacrifice for the nation, it’s a completely different thing to glorify someone like this as founding leader.
The Singapore that we know today has one and only one founder – Sir Stamford Raffles.
The closest to the definition of a founding father that Singapore has were those who fought and eventually won us our ¾ independence – mainly the Leftist Chinese.
Our 1965 leaders fit neither definition of founder or founding father or leader.
The one person whom we should be most thankful for our prosperity today is Dr Albert Winsemius.
But most of all, we should simply be thankful of our own fathers and grand fathers because they were not the stupid ones who had be to led by the nose towards success. Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea became successful too but because they enjoyed much greater democracy they know that prosperity did not come from any single party or leader.
Lee Kuan Yew didn’t fight for Singapore during Singapore’s hour of need but chose to work for the enemy instead. That in most countries is considered treason. To hail Lee Kuan Yew as Singapore’s founding leader is to raise treason to the highest form of honour in Singapore.
The American founding father put his life on the line to fight off the enemy while the soon to be crowned Singapore ‘founding leader’ worked for the enemy to save his own life. How much more stark must the comparison be before Singaporeans finally get it?
Ng Kok Lim