Perspectives on Singaporeâ€™ History
In recent months, Singaporeâ€™s history during the tumultuous years of merger, separation and independence in the 1960s has once again come under the spotlight. Much of this stems from the attempted release of director Tan Pin Pinâ€™s film To Singapore with Love, which was classified as â€śnot allowed for all ratingsâ€ť by the Media Development Authority (MDA), indicating that the film was not allowed to be screened in public, or distributed. This was due to concerns that the film undermined national security and had â€śdistorted and untruthfulâ€ť accounts by various individuals on â€śhow they came to leave Singapore and remain outside Singaporeâ€ť, depicting â€ślegitimate actions taken by security agencies to protect the national security and stability of Singapore as acts that victimised innocent individualsâ€ť.
Adding on, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said that the film contained â€śuntruths about historyâ€ť that allowed Communist sympathisers to â€śre-cast their past actions as the expression of a peaceful and democratic difference of ideology and viewsâ€ť.
This decision to disallow public distribution of the film has fanned controversy and produced a backlash amongst certain segments of Singaporeans, such as the film-making and arts community who appealed against the decision and saw it as an attempt to restrict discussion on Singaporeâ€™s early history.
In any case, whatever oneâ€™s stance on the issue, it has nonetheless stirred up renewed interest amongst younger Singaporeans in the complex history of our nationâ€™s early years, which is an important and heartening development. Contrary to what generations of Singaporeans who have experienced only prosperity might think, our nationâ€™s history in the early years was anything but smooth or simple. The path from self-government in the late 1950s to merger with Malaysia from 1963-65 and then subsequent independence from 1965 needs to be taken in the context of a climate of extreme uncertainty, marked with external and internal threats such as the Communist-led Malayan Emergency from 1948-1960, the Communist threat from the Barisan Sosialis in the early 1960s, Konfrontasi with Indonesia from 1963-66, and the British East of Suez withdrawal in 1971. As such, as we approach our nationâ€™s 50thbirthday in 2015, it is important for Singaporeans to understand the complex nature and multiple perspectives surrounding the challenges that our nation overcame in order to attain the level of development which we all enjoy today.
Given this, especially timely as well was the recent re-publication of â€śThe Battle for Mergerâ€ť, a collection of 12 radio talks delivered by then Prime-Minister Lee Kuan Yew between September 13 and October 9, 1961, in a bid to convince Singaporeans of the necessity of merger with Malaysia. This, together with its accompanying exhibition at the National Library, provides yet another crucial perspective of our early years and would hopefully, as current Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean puts it, â€śawaken interest among younger Singaporeans in the events of this crucial period in our historyâ€ť.
History, as a famous historian once put it, is â€śan unending dialogue between the past and the presentâ€ť. At its heart, it is all about perspectives. Contrary to popular opinion, nothing is truly â€śfixedâ€ť in history, as it is a constant symbiosis between the evidence and the historian, such that new interpretations will inevitably arise over time. Therefore, as our nation arrives at our 50th birthday, it is apt that younger generations of Singaporeans once again explore the complexities that surround our nationâ€™s early years, and judge for themselves how it is that we came to be the way we are today.