According to news reports, plans are underway to build a “Founders’ Memorial” to commemorate Singapore’s founding leaders. Mr Lee Tzu Yang, chairman of the Founders’ Memorial Committee (FMC), has claimed that the memorial will reflect the dilemmas that Singapore’s first generation leaders faced by exemplifying the values and ideals of Singapore. When specifically asked on whether or not the memorial will include anecdotes from the Singaporean diaspora, or dissenting and opposing narratives, Professor Tan Tai Yong, a historian and president and professor of humanities at Yale-NUS College who is part of the Founder’s Memorial Committee said that the intention of the committee is not to “gloss over the complexities” of Singapore in the post-war era. According to him, “It is not our intention to black out or white-wash some parts of history.”
This is not an answer to the question asked at all! Rather, it is a neither here nor there attempt to gloss over the question. The question asked is a direct one that can be simply answered by a yes or no. You are either going to include opposing narratives or you are not. What does “not glossing over the complexities” even mean?
For a Founder’s Memorial to have meaning, it needs to be an accurate representation of our country’s history. Besides the obvious commemoration of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who else will be honoured? Further, will it honour the contributions made by people who are not members of the Peoples’ Action Party (PAP)?
For example, will it honour the contributions of David Marshall who played a significant role in working towards the independence of Singapore? How about the part played by Mr Lim Yew Hock who was instrumental in obtaining self rule from the British which in turn paved the way for eventual independence from the Colonial rule? Both of these players were not people who always saw eye to eye with the PAP. Will they be written out of the memorial? Weren’t they leaders of Singapore in their own right?
Unless the memorial makes a comprehensive commemoration of all the key players in our nation’s history (whether they be PAP members or not), the memorial will always be viewed with suspicion.
If the FMC is serious about not blacking out or whitewashing some parts of history, then it will need to deal with some of the less salubrious bits of our history as well. Perhaps, they can start with Operation Cold Store. Can it and will it do that? Just looking at Lee’s non answer, it is hard to tell what he means.