SINGAPORE – Exposing the communist threat and their goal to capture power in self-governing Singapore lies at the heart of 12 radio broadcasts aired in 1961 by then-prime minister Lee Kuan Yew which have been compiled and reissued as a book that was launched on Thursday.
The reprint of “The Battle for Merger”, a compilation of those speeches and originally issued in 1962, aims to “provide a reality check” to recent attempts by historians to recast the role played by communists and their supporters on the issue, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said in a speech at the book’s launch at the National Library.
“They portray the fight as merely a peaceful and democratic disagreement over the type of merger,” he said of the revisionist efforts by some academics and others.
“They ignore the more fundamental agenda of the communists to seize power by subversion and armed revolution.”
Mr Teo, who is Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs, pointed out that the Communist Party of Malaya’s (CPM) armed struggle and the Communist
United Front’s (CUF) efforts to destabilise Singapore over the period have been well-documented by various academics and writers.
They include top CPM leaders such as Chin Peng and Fong Chong Pik.
These multiple accounts, Mr Teo pointed out, support a key argument that Mr Lee made in the Battle for Merger speeches over 50 years ago: that there was a communist conspiracy to take power being played out over the merger issue – and which Mr Lee sought to expose in his broadcasts.
The Communists and their supporters opposed the PAP’s vision for merger with Malaya and the concept of Malaysia, fearing their activity would be clamped down on. Thus they tried to capture the PAP and the Singapore Government in July 1961.
Mr Lee began his talks on the subject of merger on 13 Sept 1961, and continued to deliver 12 talks altogether over Radio Singapore up till 9 Oct 1961, writing and delivering each in English, Malay and Mandarin.
The Battle for Merger, comprising the transcripts of these talks, was first published in book form in 1962.
Through these talks, Mr Lee offered a blow-by-blow and first-hand account of the Communists’ power play and their attempts to frustrate merger with Malaya.
In doing so, he helped persuade Singaporeans to support merger.
His efforts paid off. In the merger referendum in September 1962 there was support from 71 per cent of voters for the PAP’s position.
Mr Teo on Thursday described the broadcasts as a powerful account of Singapore’s past, capturing the “flavour and intensity” of the turmoil then.
He recalled how he had heard the talks as a child, and said he was lucky to own a copy of the first edition of the book that belonged to his father.
The reprint also comes as the Government barred from public screening the documentary “To Singapore, With Love” by filmmaker Tan Pin Pin over its one-sided portrayal of CPM members who had condoned violence and subversion in Singapore – a bar Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong defended last Friday.
But officials say the reprint had been planned much earlier.
In his speech, Mr Teo outlined the tense global and regional environment against which the broadcasts took place, and how the communists persisted in their violent attempts even after independence.
Had Singapore fallen under communist rule in the 1960s, he said, Singapore would probably not have survived “as a small communist outcast in South East Asia as the Cold War raged”.
“We should respect the personal conviction and determination of those who held different views then and fought on the side of the communists,” he said.
“But we should, even more, acknowledge and give our respect and appreciation to the Singaporeans who had the courage and wisdom to reject the CPM’s ideology and tactics,” he added.
“Then as now, Singapore has little room to manoeuvre. The wrong decision, and it would have gone the other way, and Singapore would have turned out very differently.”
The reprint contains a fresh four-page foreword by Mr Lee, and an essay by National University of Singapore historian Albert Lau, as well as a timeline of major events and footnotes.
The book, published by the National Archives of Singapore and Straits Times Press, will be available at major bookshops at $32.50 before GST and will also be available at public libraries.
It also comes with a DVD containing recordings of the talks, which can also be accessed at http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/public/audiovisual_records/TheBattl...
An exhibition to accompany the book is being held at the National Library on Victoria Street until November 30, after which it will travel to four other libraries across the island.