Colonisation didn't crush Singapore's fighting spirit

Mr Richard Copus rationalised colonisation when he said, among other things, that "Britain has no problems looking up to its former colony as a role model, and surely Singapore likewise should have few qualms about retaining the memory of Raffles" (Recognise S'pore's history as part of its present; Jan 23).

Colonisation can never be justified and Singapore cannot regard Britain as a role model because it was the coloniser that subjugated the island and used the land, labour and other assets to extend its economic and political influence in Asia.

Whatever Britain did for Singapore was primarily to protect and advance its interests in trade, commerce, banking, insurance, plantation and mining concessions, and other mercantile pursuits which were dominant at that time.

The British profited enormously from their 140-year rule of Singapore. Locals got the short end of the stick, like low-level education, and shortages in housing, jobs, medical care and other necessities of life.

The first tertiary institution, a medical school, came only in 1905 and a national university was officially established in 1949, over 100 years after Raffles landed.

Locals were barred from working in the Straits Settlements Civil Service until the 1900s.

Do all these make Britain a role model?

Nevertheless, colonial rule did not crush our fighting spirit and we built Singapore from a Third World colony into an independent First World nation using our own model.

Yes, colonisation is a chapter in our history, but as Mr Pierre Trudeau, the 15th Canadian prime minister once said: "The past is to be respected and acknowledged, but not to be worshipped."

Particularly our colonial past, I might add, and Raffles was not the star of the show.

Anthony Oei

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2019, with the headline 'Colonisation didn't crush Singapore's fighting spirit'. Subscribe