Lest we forget…
On the night of 8 February 1942, Japanese forces began the invasion of Singapore. By 15 February, it was all over. Next week, we remember the fall of Singapore by commemorating Total Defence Day. It is a reminder that we should not take our peace for granted. And that we must ourselves defend our own home because no one else will.
When we failed then, the consequences were tragic. To this day, it is unclear how many perished during the occupation of Singapore. We all know of the cruelty and atrocities committed by the Japanese. My grandfather was rounded up to be executed. It must have been part of the Sook Ching. But he was released at the last moment because a ‘local’ Japanese knew him. My father, who was only a boy then, to this day, remember the horrors of seeing dismembered bodies due to the bombings.
Over the years, there have been other threats. A date that has been recently thrust back into our consciousness is 10 March 1965. On that day, Indonesian Marines Harun Said and Usman Hj Mohd Ali planted and detonated a bomb at MacDonald House, killing three Singaporeans and injuring 33. This was part of the Konfrontasi where Sukarno sought to undermine the formation of Malaysia by stirring racial tension as well as targeting key installations and fomenting fear via an indiscriminate bombing campaign.
I know of this event from a young age because my father worked in Metal Box and his office was in MacDonald House. He told me that he hardly ever took medical leave but happened to be off that day. When he heard the news over the radio, he was shaken but hugely relieved as the bomb had gone off in an area where he could have been at.
While these seemed like fascinating stories when growing up, as I got older, I began to realise that we should never let these things happen to us again. As Dr Toh Chin Chye, then Deputy Premier said: “…this incident should make us realise that our own survival must depend on our determination and resolve to protect our own independence.”
The two Indonesians were caught, tried and executed. Their hanging on 17 October 1968 sparked off an attack on our Singapore Embassy in Jakarta by a mob. They then attacked our consul’s residence and the homes of two other Singaporean diplomats. They also burnt our Singapore flag. In 1973, then PM Lee Kuan Yew visited the graves of the two marines. It was a gesture of reconciliation that brought closure and allowed both countries to forge a close relationship. Over the many years of interaction, I myself have found many friends in the Indonesian military and have also worked closely with them while providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief in Aceh, in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean Tsunami.
Remarkably, the Indonesian Navy is now naming one of their ships KRI Usman Harun, in honour of the two.
When Elizabeth Suzie Choo, 36, died, 6 young children no longer had a mother. Mr and Mrs Goh lost their only child when Juliet Goh, 23 died in the blast. Mohammed Yasin Kesit, 45, did not awake from his coma and left behind a widow and 8 children. Many more Singaporean lives have been permanently scarred.
It is one thing to remember your heroes from your wars of independence, or those who have built your nation. But it is another thing altogether when you celebrate those who had acted in a brutal and cowardly manner. There is nothing heroic about killing innocent civilians.
Our neighbours have insisted that it is their right to name the ships as they see fit. That may well be so. But it is also our right to state categorically that this very act reflects callousness and disrespect.
As neighbours and friends, we can and should forgive.
But by the naming of this ship, the message is clear. We should also never forget.
Taken from Mr Tan Chuan Jin’s fb page & published in the Straits Times today.
The writer is the current Acting Minister for Manpower