There is a lot of cynicism in Singaporeans today.
It is understandable.
They find the place they grew up in changing faster than they can imagine. Faster than they can cope. Faster than they like.
Until they cannot recognise their country, the place they were born in, grew up in, the only home they know.
Languages are lost, fading away as the last speakers of dialect grow silent. Replaced with new bewildering, unfamiliar, unintelligible ones, surrounding them on the trains, on the bus, in the shopping mall, in the food court, and coffee shops, and in the hawker centres.
And in the hawker centre, the food is not as good as they remembered, and old favourites disappear, never to return, replaced by new, unfamiliar foods. Or the names may be the same, but the taste is not – a pale shadow of the bright shiny memories they hold in their heads, or on their tongues.
And the crowds. The unavoidable, inevitable, undeniable, irrepressible, unrelenting crowds. Everywhere.
And of the crowd, 40% of them are not citizens. And even among citizens, 1 in 3 (?) were not born here.
So some NSmen have been asking, “why NS? what am I defending? What am I fighting for? Why should I fight for foreigners?”
IMHO, they are missing the point.
When I read this “tribute” (below), I thought of the NSmen who had asked those questions.
Excerpts from a short note written in 2000:
On May 5, 1945, the Germans signed a treaty of defeat in Hotel De Wereld (“The World”) in Wageningen, The Netherlands. Earlier that day, the last German troops had been driven across the Dutch-German border by the Allied Forces and the Dutch army. A five year siege ended. People rushed out into the streets and squares of our country, and celebrated their regained freedom, together with the soldiers that drove the enemy away. The Kingdom of the Netherlands was an interdependent state again.
At the Dam Square in Amsterdam, a ceremony is held every year. The Royal family attends it – they place a commemorative flowerpiece at the National Monument, after which the two minutes of silence are announced by a military trumpet anthem. Usually, some 100,000 people are assembled at the square. There is complete silence for two full minutes. It is a very sad, yet serene moment.
But mostly, I tend to think about all those British, American and Canadian soldiers that were shipped to Europe. They had nothing to do with this war. I’m sure most of them were terrified when faced with the knowledge they were to be put in a war zone to fight the Germans. But for better or worse, they realised that liberating Europe was indeed in everybody’s interest. From D-Day onward, they slowly but surely forced back the German troops and finally made their way to Berlin. The rest, as they say, is history.
Many young men lost their lives, leaving many more family members and friends behind back home. They paid with their lives for something that wasn’t even going to be theirs: my freedom.
Five years ago, I was a student at the University of Maastricht. Maastricht, being in the utter south of the Netherlands, was the first city to be liberated. In 1995, the 50th Anniversary of the Liberation was celebrated. For this occasion, many WWII veterans from the US, Canada and England came over to parade through our streets once more. In full army uniforms, in their original vehicles. As I was watching the parade, it halted for some reason. A Canadian Jeep stopped in front of me, an old war veteran on the passenger seat. He was visibly touched by the mass attention the parade drew: a mixture of amazement, joy and sadness was written over his face. I stepped up to the Jeep and extended my hand. So did he. As we shook hands, I told him my feelings. I could only use the simplest of words, as there are no words in any language to express my (our, really) gratitude towards these heroes: “Thank you Sir, for liberating my country and giving us back our freedom”.
We looked each other in the eye for a few moments more, and then the parade got moving again. But we both knew that some things span generations. Some sentiments, because of their traumatic and historical nature, are embedded in each of our cultures. World War II, and the consequent Liberation, are among those.
I was born in 1973. Yet, the celebration of our Liberation always has a great impact on me. I will make sure, that my kids will learn to be thankful for their freedom too. And I will also make sure they know who to be thankful to.
If any of you have a father or grandfather that fought for the liberation of Europe: do me a favour and tell them one thing. Tell them, that they are nor forgotten. Nor will they ever be. We will remember, so that this will never happen again.
In WWII, British, American and Canadian soldiers fought and died to free Europe. They did not ask for whom they were fighting. Or for what they were fighting. But one thing for sure – they were fighting to free foreigners, fighting for the freedom of foreigners.
Perhaps life was simpler then. Perhaps the world was a simpler place then. Perhaps people and soldiers were easier to lead, then. Perhaps there was more trust. More faith. Less cynicism? Perhaps soldiers were stupider then?
The questions of Singaporeans today are valid. Because we live in times where questions are inevitable. And certainly those questions have to be answered, at least for ourselves.
And yet, this line from the post stays with me.
“They paid with their lives for something that wasn’t even going to be theirs: my freedom.”
Why did they do it? If not exactly willingly, at least with grudging acceptance?
I know what some people would say. We are the products of our society. If we ask, what’s in it for me, it is because we have been taught to ask that by our leaders/PAP.
And I wonder if they realise the irony of railing against the selfishness/ self-serving principles of the PAP, even as they shamelessly use the PAP to excuse their selfishness and self-serving behaviour.
It is a clichè often seen in the movies – the “enemy” has won, when you become the enemy you hate. But Singaporeans (or some of us) seem oblivious to this clichè.
But back to the point – why should we fight for a home we no longer recognise?
For some the answer very simply is, we should not. Or why should we. And they will leave if they can. They will give up their SC if they can get citizenship elsewhere. And they will migrate.
Quitters? I don’t have the right to judge and I think we should not judge people for their choices. We do not know the specifics of their situation, or their circumstances. Perhaps if we were in their shoes, we would make the same choice.
I don’t think the answer is so simple.
And if you are still reading, the answer for you is probably also not so simple. The answer is not “we should not fight for a home we no longer recognise”.
I don’t have an answer for everyone. Just an answer for myself. Just my rationalisation. Which I will share for your consideration/ contemplation.
The writer of that “tribute” was born in 1973. almost 30 years after the end of WWII. His parents might have been born by then, but there is also a good chance that they were not, or were very young anyway.
And the sacrifices made by the Allied troops were not just for the people living then. But also for the generations later.
So why should we defend Singapore? What are we defending?
The future and whatever it brings.
The future as decided by our children/ the next generation.
The future and the opportunity it affords our children/ the next generation to do with it what they will.
The future, whether we think it will be great or not.
Chances are, it will be different. Chances are, we won’t like it. The flats will be too small. The cars (and everything else) will be too expensive. The food will lack soul. The familiar places will all be gone. Or mostly gone. What is left will be pale shadows of their shining glory. The children would be disrespectful. Rude even. They will have no sense of history, or context, or understanding. And the new Singapore would be too bright, too shiny, too harsh, and not enough “humanity” (however you define it). People won’t have the same personal relationships we used to have.
And we would have become our grandparents.
In other words, if we have to defend Singapore, if you are willing to defend Singapore, it is not just the Present Singapore you are defending. It is the Future Singapore. It is the Singapore of our Children, of the Next Generation, that you are fighting for. And you are fighting for that simply because they are too young to fight for that future.
You are fighting for a Singapore in which you can raise your family and you can shape their future, and you can have a say in shaping their environment.
But understand that “having a say” does not mean you have the power to create the environment you want. You simply have a say. You can participate as much (or as little) as you like in trying to influence national policies to the best of your ability.
The alternative is to go to another country, become a citizen (if necessary) and try to shape their national policies there. This is not better or worse than being in Singapore. If you can find a country with more policies (and practices) that you can agree with than in Singapore (all else being equal), then it is simply logical and rational to move there.
But back to my point about defending Future Singapore, and less about defending Present Singapore. One thing for sure, we are not defending Past Singapore. It (however you define it) does not exist anymore.
So those lamenting the loss of Old Singapore, the loss of the Singapore they knew and loved in their childhood, as the reason why they would not defend Singapore, they are either stupid or dishonest.
If they do not wish to defend Singapore, that is their decision. But please, spare me the misplaced (misguided? dishonest?) nostalgia.
Will not defending Singapore bring back the Old Singapore? Will migrating to another country bring back Old Singapore? Are the invaders promising to restore Old Singapore?
Not defending Singapore is “punishment” for losing Old Singapore? Who EXACTLY are you punishing?
By all means run TOWARDS another future. We all have the right to decide how best to live our lives. We have the right to decide what is best for our children and to try to do what is best for them, even if means moving to another country. There is no shame in doing so.
But if you feel the need to justify your running AWAY when it is time to defend your country, and you feel the need to dissemble, and make excuses, or use the loss of Old Singapore as your justification for not defending Singapore, you don’t have to.
This commentary was written by El Lobo.
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