The National Day Rally speech yesterday was future-oriented, but no country can build for the future by forgetting its past, hence the announcement of a package of benefits for the Merdeka Generation. The Pioneer Generation had helped to lay the material and social foundations of contemporary Singapore. Like them, although less so, the Merdeka Generation lost out because they arrived before the country's economic take-off and political stability broadened access across the board to higher standards of education, health and employment opportunities. The details of the Merdeka Generation Package, to help this group meet their medical expenses, will be announced next year, but Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong set the tone for according that generation national recognition by making them a centrepiece of his speech.
The generation is, indeed, worthy of special notice. The 1950s and the early 1960s constituted a make-or-break era. Many things could have gone wrong in that remarkable period, particularly from 1959 to 1965, an era marked by the advent of self-governance, the split with the communists, Merger with Malaysia, and Separation and Independence. In fact, many things did go badly wrong during the 1950s and 1960s as divisions appeared and hardened within Singapore along ethnic and ideological lines. Those tensions erupted in the Maria Hertogh riots of 1950, the Hock Lee bus strike and riot of 1955, and the race riots of 1964. A lesser nation and a lesser people would have given up the struggle for peace and prosperity in the face of communal violence and insurgent communism.