Monday, 17 February 2014

TD 2014: Total Defence 30 years on

Singapore must remain a 'shining red dot', says PM Lee
Only then will others know it's a serious, capable country that knows what it's doing
By Andrea Ong, The Sunday Times, 16 Feb 2014

Singapore must remain a "shining red dot" - small, but a capable and serious country - to maintain its place in the sun, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on a day that marked 30 years of Total Defence.

Because the country is strong and special, it is successful and respected in the world, and able to stand tall and hold its own beside much bigger nations, he added yesterday at a Chinese New Year dinner in his Teck Ghee ward.

"If we are small and unsuccessful, small and weak, I think people may be polite with you, people may say the right thing to you. But you can be sure people will also be able to take advantage (of) you," he added.

"But if you are small but a shining red dot, that's different. Then they will know this is a serious country, may be small but it's capable, may not be huge but it knows what it is doing.

"It can succeed, it can look after itself, it can contribute and cooperate with the others," he said.

This was why others are willing to work with and befriend Singapore, and why it must stay special - a word Mr Lee repeated six times in his speech.

He noted the unusual choice of topic for the festive event but highlighted that yesterday - Feb 15 - was Total Defence Day and over 70 years since Singapore surrendered to Japan in 1942.

His remarks also came in the wake of diplomatic friction between Singapore and Indonesia over the latter's naming of a navy ship after two marines executed for bombing MacDonald House in March 1965 during the Confrontation. Three people were killed and 33 injured in the incident, which happened during a period when Indonesia opposed the newly- formed Malaysia, which Singapore was then part of.

Earlier yesterday, Mr Lee changed his Facebook cover photo to one which depicted the Singapore flag flying high on the Orchard Road building, adding: "With strong Total Defence, we have come a long way since 1965."

In his speech, Mr Lee stressed that Singaporeans should learn from the pioneer generation who lived through the nation's formative years that included the Japanese Occupation and Confrontation. Those experiences taught the pioneers "that it was our own responsibility to defend Singapore and we must do it and nobody else will do it for us", he said.

That was why, after independence, Singaporeans supported the Government's building up of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and introduction of national service, so that Singapore would remain safe, secure and at peace with its neighbours.

Being strong is the basis on which Singapore can make friends, Mr Lee said, and also why it has enjoyed peace for 50 years.

But he cautioned that vigilance must be kept up, as there will be external challenges from time to time. When that happens, the nation must be able to handle the challenges with confidence and be "united as one people", he said.

One crucial reason it has been able to do so and build up the SAF is because Singapore maintains "very special standards". "People know that we are determined to fight for our interests, to defend our place in the sun," he added.

He also listed three reasons Singapore is special: people know that it strives for excellence, Singaporeans are willing to work together and cooperate for the common good and not be divided by external forces or difficulties, and Singapore tries "very hard" to cooperate with friends and neighbours around the world and also in the region.

Last night, Mr Lee paid tribute to those from the pioneer generation in the audience, asking them to stand to hearty applause from the 2,000-strong crowd.

Listen to survivors' life stories: Ng Eng Hen
By David Ee, The Sunday Times, 16 Feb 2014

Succeeding generations of Singaporeans need to stay cohesive, united and strong if the country's way of life is to be secured, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen yesterday.

The small country will always be vulnerable and "that will not change" but a collective spirit and unity against any challenge is what defines Total Defence.

He was speaking at an event held at the National Museum to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Total Defence. It was attended by members of the public, including survivors of the Japanese Occupation during World War II and the attacks during Konfrontasi.

In his speech, Dr Ng took time to share accounts from these victims and urged Singaporeans to listen to their stories as a way to realise "what happens when our defences fail".

He noted - without elaborating - that interest in Total Defence has risen this year "arising from some episodes in the past weeks".

"I don't wish for these episodes (to happen) so that people will listen. But it's a very serious message," he added.

The media also plays an important role in reminding Singaporeans of this message by helping people remember the country's past, he added.

In his first public comments on the issue, Dr Ng also said that "old wounds have been reopened" by Indonesia's decision to name a warship after the saboteurs who bombed MacDonald House in 1965 during Konfrontasi.

Relations between the two countries have become strained as a result.

Dr Ng is expected to speak more about the issue in Parliament this week.

Dr Ng also made a point of remembering the soldiers who were deployed during Konfrontasi, including Lieutenant-General (Ret) Winston Choo, a former chief of defence force, who was stationed in the south of Sabah in East Malaysia for border patrols.

These witnesses to conflict are always ready to tell their stories "to those who would listen", said Dr Ng.

At the event, some of those affected by the MacDonald House bombing also shared their experiences with reporters.

Madam Janet Ng, 69, was one of them. She lost her mother, Ms Elizabeth Choo, who was then 36, in the same blast. The blast killed three people and injured at least 33.

Total Defence Day falls on Feb15, which is also the day Singapore fell to the Japanese in 1942 during World War II.

Over 1,000 gather at memorial
By Janice Tai, The Sunday Times, 16 Feb 2014

The wreath which Mr Teo Hong Mong dedicated to his father yesterday carried a simple message.

"I grew up not knowing my father and not experiencing the love of a father," wrote the 73-year-old, the youngest of three children.

In 1942, his 26-year-old father of three boys, who volunteered to fight with the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force, was caught by Japanese soldiers and taken away in a lorry to Changi to be shot.

"I pray that such cruelty and slaughter of civilians will never happen again," said the former engineer, who also brought along the certificate of commendation his dad received for serving the country during the Japanese Occupation.

He was among the more than 1,000 people who attended the 47th War Memorial Service yesterday morning to remember civilians who died during the Japanese Occupation.

At the War Memorial Park in Beach Road, representatives - including those from schools and religious organisations - took turns to lay wreaths at the foot of the 67m-tall Civilian War Memorial.

They said prayers, observed a minute of silence, and paid their respects to the dead.

Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong was the guest of honour at the service, which was organised by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI).

Singapore fell to the Japanese on Feb 15, 1942. The Japanese occupied Singapore for more than three years before surrendering and returning Singapore to British control in 1945.

Built 25 years later, the memorial has four vertical pillars symbolising the shared war experiences of the four main races here.

Underneath lie the remains of unknown war victims. Among the civilians killed were numerous Chinese targeted by the Japanese under operations called Sook Ching - to purge.

It is not clear how many lives were lost, but estimates put it at 50,000.

"Although we choose to forgive, we cannot forget... We need to share the message, especially with the younger generation, of how we cannot take peace for granted," said SCCCI president Thomas Chua.

Mr Cheong Kin Xing, 79, has attended almost every service since the monument was first erected. His father, too, was taken away by Japanese soldiers to be killed.

"The sadness is gone because I have come to accept it, but I will always remember that fateful day this time every year," he said.

Defending the totality of Singapore
So long as Singapore exists in the mind, there will be a need to defend it in the flesh. As the country marks 30 years of Total Defence this year, Asad Latif points out why the country will continue to celebrate Total Defence and the people involved in it..
The Straits Times, 15 Feb 2014

I ARRIVED in Singapore from India on Dec 8, 1984. The 29th anniversary of my arrival was greeted by the riot in Little India last year.

The violence, which erupted in unexpected fury after more than four decades of calm, shattered my stupor. In the immigrant narrative, Singapore is a country where bad things do not happen. That is why I had come here, become a permanent resident and then a citizen.

Of course, Singapore is not paradise, for then, it would not exist on earth. Yet, even in imperfect Singapore, peace was the default mode of existence and violence belonged to the wild fringes of exceptional chance.

On a berserk Sunday, however, violence went mainstream in Little India. The unexpected became normal till order was restored - but only after state workers had been attacked and government vehicles destroyed.

What the riot proved was that Singapore was not - as it never had been and never would be - immune to the possibility, and even the probability, of things going wrong. For a while on that day, Little India was almost not a part of Singapore.

Its violent departure raised the question: Would a time come when larger swathes of the island would secede metaphorically from the idea of Singapore, in the sense that strife among races, classes, natives and immigrants would rend the city-state asunder?

Would internal disorder invite an external attack? The thought is far-fetched, but it cannot be ignored because the unexpected is, after all, merely what has not occurred till now.

This is why Total Defence is necessary. Ironically, the quest for it is essential precisely because defence can never be total. Every citadel has its gates; every gate is only as good as the wall that keeps it in place; and every wall is only as strong as the sinews that built it. Take away the will for defence, and there is no defence.

What does this defence consist of? It has two parts. The first is hardware. That hardware comprises at least two components: economic and military. Without the strength of the economy, the currency, and the reserves, defence would be compromised because defence costs money.

Without the deterrent strength of the Singapore Armed Forces, the economy, the Singapore dollar, and the reserves might still be valuable, but they would belong to someone else. Thus, the hardware of Total Defence, its first part, rests on the hard facts of economic and military life.

The second part is software. Why should citizens care for Singapore beyond its GDP per capita and its F-16s? After all, just as Singapore can change hands after a successful invasion, people can change lands as well.

Why not prepare to emigrate? Why invest a whole lifetime of work and expectation in an island city-state when our education and skills equip us for life elsewhere? The simple answer is that this whole island is ours, whereas we would merely be islands elsewhere. In Singapore, we are free to chart a collective destiny in spite of all differences of race, creed, class and age. Elsewhere, we - I mean Singapore citizens - would be subsumed by the nation-building projects of others.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with them. Australia, New Zealand, Canada and America all have worthwhile nation-building projects. But they are not ours. Here, each Singaporean is in the majority by virtue of being a Singaporean. In other countries, no Singaporean by definition can ever be in the majority (unless we emigrated en masse to an uninhabited atoll in the South Pacific).

The software of Total Defence lies in the truth that only in Singapore can the existence of Singaporeans be total. Defending that totality is a duty that we owe ourselves.

Am I being naive and sentimental? I do not think so. On a train recently, I saw two national servicemen in fatigues. They were looking at each other's elbows. One of them had a badly scratched elbow. The other had an elbow whose skin had come off, revealing a round and reddened piece of flesh. The two boys examined their wounds with nonchalance tinged with just a hint of pride, as if they had received certificates for excellence in training.

I wanted to put a protective arm around them. These two Chinese youngsters defend Singapore for strangers like the 56-year-old India-born Singaporean who is me. By asking for nothing in return, they place the existential burden of being Singaporean on my weak shoulders.

The two servicemen do not play a part in Total Defence: Total Defence plays its part in them.

The future

TIME-TRAVEL plays no part in Total Defence, but it is tempting to ask how the programme might commemorate its 100th anniversary in 2084. Singapore certainly would be more high-tech than it is now. Technology would give it more means of defence, but also of being attacked.

Globalisation would have become passe: Perhaps "galaxisation" would denote the workings of a single galactic economy. Many diseases would have been eradicated, and some invented. Perhaps even war would have become obsolete, but conflict would take other forms no less lethal than killings.

But Total Defence would still have a role. In the final analysis, it is an act of will that expresses itself in solidarity with others who form the human community called Singapore. So long as Singapore exists in the mind, there will be a need to defend it in the flesh.

And for every riot, there will be at least one youngster who will display his national wound, as red as one half of the Singapore flag. The other half will be you and I, or those we leave behind.

Total Defence 30 years on
Editorial, The Straits Times, 15 Feb 2014

THOSE who lived through the Fall of Singapore in 1942 hardly need to be reminded of the need for credible defence. The Japanese invasion of Feb 15 and the occupation that followed tested every sinew of society here. The brutal treatment of the Chinese, in particular, revealed just how precarious racial existence could be once colonial masters changed.

Colonial beliefs were shattered, like the Impregnable Fortress notion of the British and the idea of Japan as a liberator of Asians from European imperialism - discredited forever by Japanese rapine. What was reaffirmed was the truth that Singaporeans themselves need to defend their country from predators of every kind.

The comprehensive ambit of Total Defence - covering the military, civil, economic, social and psychological aspects of national life - extends external security to the domestic sphere. The concept has served Singapore well over the 30 years since it was introduced. The deterrent capability of the Singapore Armed Forces has protected the country's borders to the point that Singapore's sovereignty and territorial integrity have become facts of life in South-east Asia.

These facts stand in dramatic contrast to the Republic's experiences in the 1960s during the Konfrontasi, or Confrontation waged by Indonesia against Malaysia, of which Singapore then was a part.

However, the domestic dimension, too, is important. Riots and revolution are not the only challenges to stability: Being able to overcome economic recessions as one people and standing up to terrorism and religious extremism also are markers of national cohesiveness. Total Defence has acted as a backdrop to Singaporean actions in these matters.

The mentality encouraged by Total Defence helped Singaporeans respond to the Sars epidemic which, unlike man-made crises, was difficult to confront because it was a natural one. The same mindset was apparent in the way in which public-spirited individuals came forward during the haze crisis created by forest fires last year.

Total Defence will remain relevant to the young because Singapore will continue to face challenges in the fields it ranges over. But there is some danger of alertness slackening, as evident in a report that more than half of young people in Singapore fear being hit in a terrorist attack here, but few are likely to help prevent one. This habit of leaving everything to the state is unhealthy.

In commemorating Total Defence, they can take a leaf from the book of the self-dependent pioneering generation. In the run-up to the 50th anniversary of independence next year, it is worth noting their courage and initiative in coping with ultra-nationalism in the region, terrorism and internal threats.

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