Who would have thought that the 1994 caning of then 18-year-old American Michael Fay for vandalism would come to be regarded as a key defining moment for Singaporeans - one of several events which shaped their shared memories of how crises were overcome as a nation. Yet it did, according to a report by the Institute of Policy Studies' Social Lab which looked at historical events and how these shaped social perceptions.
In the case of Fay, Singaporeans applauded the country standing up to the United States - a close economic and security partner - even under pressure, and the refusal to let one of its citizens escape the ambit of the law here. The study, which examined the impact of 35 events, such as the collapse of Hotel New World in 1986 and the Sentosa cable car accident in 1983, found that these were critical in the discourse of national resilience and identity. Researchers said these incidents encapsulated the collective sentiments experienced at the national level and captured moments where Singaporeans "closed ranks and mourned", or stood firm and established a moral compass and attitudes as a nation. Even if the inclusion of the caning incident came as a surprise to some, every generation needs to scrutinise the range of significant and other developments in its lifetime.
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