Why S R Nathan was 'the man in the arena'

Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, presenting a copy of Remembering S R Nathan: A Mentor For All Seasons to Mrs Nathan at the launch of the book at the National Library Building yesterday.
Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, presenting a copy of Remembering S R Nathan: A Mentor For All Seasons to Mrs Nathan at the launch of the book at the National Library Building yesterday.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

New book of essays commemorates life and wide-ranging legacy of former president

A new book commemorating the life of the late former president S R Nathan describes him as a "mentor for all seasons".

But for Dr Kumar Ramakrishna, one of the two editors of the book, Mr Nathan is also undoubtedly "The Man In The Arena".

Speaking at the launch of the book titled Remembering S R Nathan: A Mentor For All Seasons yesterday, Dr Kumar likened the sixth president of Singapore to former United States president Theodore Roosevelt.

He quoted a notable passage, referred to as The Man In The Arena, from a famous speech given by Roosevelt in 1910: "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

"The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood... who spends himself in a worthy cause."

Dr Kumar - a tenured associate professor and head of policy studies and coordinator of the National Security Studies Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) - said learning about the trials and tribulations that Mr Nathan went through, such as the Laju ferry hijacking in the 1970s, has inspired his colleagues and him to "persevere and press on in the good fight".

This view was echoed by Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, who was the guest of honour at the launch at the National Library Building in Victoria Street. He said Mr Nathan and his generation of pioneer leaders saw every new challenge as an opportunity to do something different and better. "None of them will ever ask, 'Has someone else done this before?' or 'Has there been a precedent for me to follow?' "

This is the kind of spirit that the younger generation hopes to emulate, said Mr Chan, who is also secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress.

The 243-page book is a collection of essays that provide insights into the wide-ranging legacy Mr Nathan left - in the spheres of foreign service; security and intelligence; community building and social welfare; labour and trade unions; media; and research and academia.

Mr Mushahid Ali, a senior fellow at RSIS and also editor of the book, said Mr Nathan did not provide mentorship only to Singaporean subordinates. He cited Mr Kalimullah Hassan, a Malaysian contributor to the book, who recounted Mr Nathan's help in getting him a job as a Straits Times correspondent in Malaysia.

Ambassador-at-large Ong Keng Yong, who met Mr Nathan at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1979, described him in the preface as the "grand Jedi of the special class of Singapore warriors, protecting our society from the dark side", borrowing an analogy from the Star Wars movie series.

The book is published by World Scientific Publishing and is available at Kinokuniya, Popular, MPH and Times at $85 for the hardcover edition, and $36 for the paperback version (both excluding GST).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2017, with the headline 'Why S R Nathan was 'the man in the arena''. Print Edition | Subscribe