Remembering the impact Lee Kuan Yew's speeches made

Remembering the impact Lee Kuan Yew's speeches made
DPM Teo Chee Hean holding up a copy of The Battle For Merger which he owned when he was young.

I am lucky to own a copy of the original The Battle For Merger printed in 1962. It belonged to my father. I remember hearing these radio broadcasts as a child. Although I was too young then to understand them, I could sense the magnitude and gravity of the events that were swirling around us.

But Singaporeans of my father's generation, and those just a little older than me, will certainly remember those tumultuous days and Mr Lee's radio broadcasts.

It was a time when momentous decisions had to be made for Singapore. A wrong decision then would have been calamitous and Singapore might still be trying to shake off the dire effects today.

Mr Lee's broadcasts electrified the population and were crucial in making Singaporeans understand what the battle was about and persuading them to support merger with Malaysia.

The battle for merger

Some may wonder: Why should The Battle For Merger be reprinted now? In 2015, we celebrate Singapore's 50th anniversary. This is a significant milestone, especially when we consider our precarious and tumultuous beginnings.

While we became an independent nation only in 1965, our road to independence began earlier, with our attempt to forge a shared destiny with the then Federation of Malaya. Our hard-fought attempt to gain independence by merging with Malaya was, in fact, a battle for the future of Singapore.

On the surface, it was a battle for merger. But this was only on the surface. Below the surface was another deeper, more momentous, more dangerous battle - that between the communists and non-communists in Singapore.

At the heart of this battle were two contrasting visions of how society should be ordered and how we should govern ourselves. It was not simply a fight to get rid of British colonial rule; rather, the communists and their allies had a larger agenda. Their objective was to impose a communist regime in Malaya and Singapore through all means, including subversion and, ultimately, armed revolution. They never gave up on this larger agenda.

That is why the communists continued to pose a security threat to us long after both Malaya and Singapore had gained independence in 1957 and 1965, respectively; and even after all British forces had left in 1971. In one incident in June 1974, the Inspector-General of Police in Malaysia was gunned down in broad daylight by a communist hit squad.

The events vividly described in The Battle For Merger bear testament to the resourcefulness, will and spirit of pioneer Singaporeans, led by Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his colleagues in the Government and the PAP. Our pioneers were confronted with difficult challenges and dilemmas, and had to make critical choices not just for themselves, but also for future generations of Singaporeans. This is why, despite the vast changes that have taken place in the world and in Singapore over the past 50 years, this crucial turning point in our history continues to be relevant to us today.

Singapore in 1961

What was Singapore like in 1961, when Mr Lee Kuan Yew made these radio broadcasts? What was the broader strategic environment? The Cold War between communism and the free world was at its height. The Berlin Wall, which for decades signified the divide between the two contending sides, had just been built.

In fact, construction started on Aug 13, 1961, exactly a month before the first of Mr Lee's broadcasts on Sept 13, 1961. Proxy wars and ideological battles were being fought in many countries. South-east Asia was a hot spot. Malaya and Singapore were not spared.

There were grave security concerns over the growing communist influence in Malaya and Singapore.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, communism was in the ascendant in Singapore. The Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) had waged a violent armed insurgency since 1948 and fomented urban strife in its attempt to establish a communist Malaya (which included Singapore).

The CPM targeted those who opposed them, including civilians and security and police personnel. In Singapore, between 1950 and 1955, CPM hit squads carried out at least 19 known murders, as well as numerous acid attacks, arson and other acts of violence.

When the CPM's violent, armed guerilla war and its intimidation of the civilian population failed to turn Singapore and Malaya "red", the communists switched strategy to place more emphasis on subversive Communist United Front (CUF) tactics instead.

Through the CUF, the CPM intended first to drive out the British from Singapore and then to topple the Malayan government. From 1954 to 1963, the CPM penetrated student bodies, labour unions, political parties and cultural and rural organisations in Singapore to spread their ideology and influence, attract supporters and mobilise activists to mount a campaign to destabilise and take over Singapore.

The CUF organisations instigated unrest and dissatisfaction among the population by exploiting unhappiness over socio-economic issues and particular government policies. Singapore went through a period of great upheaval and civil unrest. Protests, sit-ins, strikes and demonstrations were frequent.

The trade unions and student bodies were the front organisations for these confrontations. But they were controlled and manipulated from behind the scenes by communist hands. Some of these events resulted in the deaths of innocent Singaporeans and security personnel. The result, which was intended, was tension, anxiety and instability in Singapore.

More about

Purchase this article for republication.



Your daily good stuff - AsiaOne stories delivered straight to your inbox
By signing up, you agree to our Privacy policy and Terms and Conditions.