The British were the lesser of the two evils

Mr Gopinath Menon's point ("War teaches that one foreign coloniser is no better than another"; Feb 15) cannot be disputed. While I agree with him that foreign rulers can never have the same concern for the welfare of the local population as their own government, I disagree with his contention that the British were not "more benign" than the Japanese as rulers.

Arguably, the two biggest "sins" of the 140-year British rule in Singapore were racial discrimination and economic exploitation.

But these were nothing compared with the Sook Ching Massacre and the reign of terror and brutality during the short 31/2 years of Japanese rule.

For all their shortcomings and inconsistencies, the British generally ruled by the law, in accordance with their democratic institutions.

In fact, the rule of the law is one of several key institutions that we inherited from the British.

In contrast, the Japanese militarists, who were from a totalitarian regime, ruled arbitrarily with an iron fist in frequent disregard of the law. The lives of the locals were often at the whim of the lowest-ranking Japanese soldier, who could hardly be charged in court for ill-treating the local population.

The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew wrote in his memoirs that when he experienced the harshness of the Japanese soldiers, he wished the British were still in charge.

Unsurprisingly, when the Japanese surrendered, the local population genuinely welcomed the return of British rule, even though they were now beginning to aspire to self-rule.

Malcolm Tan Shih Lung

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 17, 2017, with the headline 'The British were the lesser of the two evils'. Print Edition | Subscribe