Historical narratives must foster unity, strength

Mr Kwan Jin Yao has suggested that alternative historical perspectives be presented and taught to Singapore's students ("Review what students are taught in history class"; Wednesday).

The adage "history is written by the victors" is a well-known truism. When textbooks are written in absolute terms, whole populations will not be able to discern the many points of view on the events of the day.

We lionise the victors, commemorate the events of significance to them and pay homage at monuments and edifices constructed for their cause, while the followers of a lost cause are doomed to be disparaged and disgraced.

Yet, until there is a revision of historical narratives, what is taught will have to stand, for what it is worth, partially objective and partisan, malleable and manipulated as the truth often is.

It is important to know our history, but it is far more significant to discern and discriminate how and why it is written.

It is important to know our history, but it is far more significant to discern and discriminate how and why it is written.

This is true of all knowledge.

Still, national history must foster unity and strength in togetherness.

Perhaps it is not so important to derive a multi-angled perspective of our nation's heritage, which is fraught with as much inaccuracy and partial truth as a unified version is.

What is more essential is for us to recognise our common future destiny and our need to pull in one direction, despite different interpretations of the past.

Yik Keng Yeong (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 21, 2015, with the headline 'Historical narratives must foster unity, strength'. Print Edition | Subscribe