Dr Thum: Kumar’s writings did not contradict my thesis and I welcome opportunity to have a debate

Tenured Associate Professor Kumar Ramakrishna from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) at NTU wrote an opinion piece on ST yesterday (‘Operation Coldstore and the perils of academic misinformation’, 4 Apr) attempting to discredit Dr PJ Thum.

In his article, he said that it was inaccurate for Dr Thum to say that no historian has come out to contradict Dr Thum’s research.

He added that back in 2015, he has already launched his book – “Original Sin”? Revising the Revisionist Critique of the 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore – to debunk Dr Thum’s work.

“The book essentially critiqued the notion by Dr Thum and similar ‘revisionist’ historians that Coldstore was mounted for crass political reasons rather than legitimate security ones,” Kumar described his book which was launched at the National Library on April Fools’ Day in 2015.

“In other words, it is simply untrue that his (Dr Thum’s) scholarship has been unchallenged.”

He also added that Dr Thum was at his book launch and did not challenge him then or after.

“My critique of his ‘central contention’ has been in circulation for almost 3 years now. What is doubly curious is that Dr Thum was present at the launch, something that can be attested to by the almost hundred attendees present,” he said.

If Dr Thum thinks that his critique is flawed, “scholarly convention is to acknowledge and debunk the critique, not ignore it outright,” he said.

He then suggested that Dr Thum is not an objective historian, arguing that an objective historian should be someone who takes into account of arguments and interpretations of other historians who have examined the same documents.

Kumar previously did not accept invitations to debate Dr Thum

Writing on his Facebook page today (5 Apr), Dr Thum responded to Kumar’s allegation.

Dr Thum said that while Kumar’s book did challenge his work, it did not contradict his central thesis. In fact, Dr Thum has found contradictions in Kumar’s own book.

“In pages 84-95, Prof Kumar accepts that there is no evidence that the detainees of Operation Coldstore were involved in a communist conspiracy to subvert the government of Singapore, and quotes Dr Goh Keng Swee, Lord Selkirk, DPM Toh Chin Chye, and Malaysian CPM expert CC Too as accepting there was no evidence,” Dr Thum noted what Kumar wrote in those pages in his own book.

“Instead, Prof Kumar’s argument, starting in page 89, is to redefine security in a ‘maximalist’ way (page 91) that explicitly includes potential political outcomes unfavourable to Lee Kuan Yew as a threat to security, and approvingly quotes Dr Goh saying, ‘The real nature of the threat was that they could be in a position to take over the state in a future general election.'”

“In other words, Prof Kumar not only accepts the fact there there was no evidence that the detainees of Operation Coldstore were involved in any communist conspiracy to overthrow the government, but his argument supports my point that political considerations were the primary reason for Operation Coldstore,” Dr Thum concluded.

Hence, through Kumar’s own writings, not only he didn’t contradict Dr Thum’s contention but even supported Dr Thum’s point that politics was behind Operation Coldstore. Dr Thum then reproduced the relevant pages of Kumar’s book on his Facebook page for all to see.

Dr Thum added, “I note that Prof Kumar was given privileged access to the Singapore Internal Security Department Archives for this book. I urge him to make his sources public so that the people of Singapore can decide the truth for ourselves.”

He also revealed that Kumar has previously not accepted invitations to debate him but would still welcome the opportunity “to have an honest academic debate” with Kumar.

Kumar says Lim Chin Siong’s statement not to ‘pah mata’ means to ‘pah mata’

Incidentally, according to another historian Dr Hong Lysa, Kumar has previously interpreted Lim Chin Siong’s Hokkien speech at Beauty World in 1956 NOT to ‘pah mata’ (beat the police) to mean ‘pah mata’ – that is, he had encouraged the crowd to beat up policemen.

In fact, according to British archive, on 25 October 1956 Mr Lim gave a speech to an angry audience, actually urging them to calm down and that their enemy was not the police, but Lim Yew Hock and the British colonial masters. Among those who attended the rally were Lee Kuan Yew, Toh Chin Chye and Devan Nair.

Later that night, a riot began after police and protesters clashed outside Chinese High, and escalated into an islandwide riot with 13 deaths. After the riots, Mr Lim and close to 300 others were arrested with Mr Lim being accused by the Lim Yew Hock government for inciting the audience in his speech to ‘pah mata’.