For good times to last, reflect on times past

EVEN as Singapore celebrates the national contributions of its Pioneer Generation on the 50th anniversary of Independence, it is important to spare a special thought for Home Team Pioneers, without whom the other path-breakers would not have had a safe journey. Hailing from a time when Singapore was a paradise for kidnappers, saboteurs, drug-traffickers and other criminals, those who enforced the law are a reminder of how much the city-state has progressed. Today, its instinctive association with personal safety and public order owes much to the courage, dedication and integrity with which the Home Team's early fighters chased rampant lawlessness off the streets.

The Government's decision to honour about 2,000 such pioneers this year, for their contributions to Singapore's safety and security, attests to the enduring memory of times that tested the fledgling nation to its core. No fewer than 37 bombs went off from 1963 to 1966, a figure that would be incomprehensible to many today. Back then, however, the blasts were part of a way of life in a society torn between the promise of a multiracial and democratic Singapore and the supranational and ideological convulsions converging on it from its surrounding region. The attack at MacDonald House, which killed three and injured 33, was a part of a trend where violence was normal, not aberrant. The efforts of Home Team personnel, undertaken often at extreme personal risk, turned back the claim of lawlessness to redefine normality.

It might be asked why bad times that have passed into social oblivion should be remembered, since Singapore has made a successful transition to a society ordered by the law. The answer is that, just as the bad times did not last, the good times might not. The latest phase of terrorism is inspired by twisted religious sentiments facilitated by global information networks lying beyond the control of any state. When a Singaporean youth can entertain thoughts of killing the President and the Prime Minister to further his warped religious agenda, it is obvious that the country is not safe from the intrusion of violence into the public domain. Once, the violence took the secular form of communism; today, it is inspired by deviant readings of religion. But now, as then, there is an urgent need for the police and security forces to prepare themselves for contingencies.

Young Singaporeans must guard against complacency towards a legacy of peace and progress. Not only terrorism, but also any erosion of law and order born of taking peace and security for granted, could wipe out Singapore's hard-earned achievements. Home Team Pioneers symbolise a spirit ready to defy the odds that would help Singapore in the future.

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