This year should provide a sobering reminder of the need for Total Defence in the Fall of Singapore to the Japanese on Feb 15, 1942. The disaster 76 years ago occurred during the Chinese New Year period, when the guard was down. While the Chinese bore the ethnic brunt of the Japanese Occupation, the other communities, too, were not spared. From food shortages that marked the hungry passage from day to night, to arbitrary treatment at the hands of the murderous squads of a military dictatorship, Singaporeans of all races received lessons in life and death that they could never forget.
The point of Total Defence is that the total collapse of defence manifested in 1942 must not recur. That challenge requires the strengthening of each of the five pillars of Total Defence: military, civil, economic, social and psychological. Taken together, the pillars uphold the overlapping and mutually-reinforcing energies of state, market and society which enable Singapore to survive and thrive within a single national edifice. Total Defence is not a propaganda ploy to scare impressionable youngsters into believing that Singapore can be hurt again. Instead, it distills the social experiences of an actual surrender in the face of an invasion to tell the generations that have inherited Singapore how to avoid a collective catastrophe and its inglorious aftermath.