'Bitter but valuable lessons' for Singapore from Japanese Occupation: Ng Eng Hen

The Civilian War Memorial along Beach Road, commemorating those who died during the Japanese Occupation during WWII.
The Civilian War Memorial along Beach Road, commemorating those who died during the Japanese Occupation during WWII. ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

SINGAPORE - Singapore's commitment to maintaining a strong defence force is the result of the lessons learnt from the Japanese Occupation, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said on Tuesday (Feb 14) as the country prepares to mark the 75th anniversary of the fall of Singapore.

The 3½-years of brutal Japanese rule during World War II after the British surrendered Singapore, which was then a British colony, taught "two bitter but valuable lessons".

"One, you cannot depend on others to defend you and two, the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must," Dr Ng said in a video message on his Facebook page.

This is the reason the pioneer generation of Singaporeans introduced national service to keep the country safe and independent, he said as he thanked the more than one million national servicemen who had served their duty since the institution was launched 50 years ago.

"Today, we have a strong and capable Singapore Armed Forces because our national servicemen are committed and dedicated to military defence," Dr Ng said in the video, which was filmed at the former Ford Factory in Upper Bukit Timah Road.


The site was where the British formally surrendered to the Japanese on Feb 15, 1942. And the day is now commemorated as Total Defence Day.

The World War II museum at the former factory has been revamped and renamed Syonan Gallery. It will be officially opened on Wednesday (Feb 15) and people can start visiting it from Thursday (Feb 16).

In his video message, Dr Ng reiterated the importance of the five pillars that make up Total Defence: military, civil, economic, social and psychological.

Every Singaporean has a part to play in Total Defence, he added.

"Indeed, when there is a terrorist attack or a natural disaster, civilians will have to take the initiative to save themselves and others first, before the security forces respond," he said.

On the economic front, Singapore cannot afford a prolonged slowdown.

The country need to keep its air and sea ports as well as businesses functioning even under trying circumstances, he said, citing the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003 and the severe episode of haze in 2015.

Singaporeans also need to stay united against those who try to sow discord among the different communities or seek to test the resolve of the country, he added.

"We must, as one people, resist external pressures to weaken Singapore's sovereignty and independence. But no country can know all the dangers that may come its way.

"The stronger our Total Defence, the more certain we can be that no challenge will overwhelm Singapore," Dr Ng said.

Other war memorial events that will be held on Wednesday (Feb 15) include the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry's annual memorial service at the Civilian War Memorial in Beach Road, and a ceremony at the Kranji War Cemetery to remember the war dead.