SINGAPORE - As World War II becomes an event in the distant past and fewer survivors remain to tell its stories in the years to come, how the importance of Total Defence is conveyed will have to be changed so as to hit home for future generations, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.
Dr Ng was speaking on Wednesday (Feb 16) at the National Museum of Singapore, after he visited Dislocations: Memory And Meaning Of The Fall Of Singapore, 1942, an exhibition marking the 80th anniversary of Singapore's fall to the Japanese during World War II on Feb 15, 1942.
Feb 15 is commemorated as Total Defence Day in Singapore, when Singaporeans are reminded that every sector of society has a part to play to ensure the nation's security.
Pointing towards 2042, which would be 100 years after Singapore's fall, a display at the end of the exhibition reads: "It will be a landmark anniversary in a sense that almost an entire generation who lived through the Battle of Singapore and the Japanese Occupation will no longer be around to witness the event...
"Whether these memories will continue to be remembered 20 years later in 2042, however, will depend on whether they are still meaningful or relevant in the lives or interests of new generations."
Said Dr Ng: "We have to prepare Singapore for another generation that not even vicariously... (is) able to hear these stories."
The Government is planning ahead to make the Total Defence message relevant to younger Singaporeans who may not remember or relate to the events of WWII, he said.
The Government will also need to adapt to the changing demographics, which may include more marriages made up of at least one naturalised Singaporean spouse, as well as young Singaporeans who are very well travelled.
Dr Ng described Total Defence as a two-way process that cannot be contrived.
On the one hand, people who have actually lived through the experience, and those who have heard directly from people who had or have read about these events, come to believe in the need for Total Defence.
On the other hand, opportunities must be created - the National Museum's current exhibition being one such example - so people can learn from past events that impact Singaporeans, he said.
Different people come to believe in the need for Total Defence through lived, shared or a vicarious experience.
"I also believe that younger Singaporeans are educated; they see for themselves what's happening to other countries, present-day examples, and they come to their own conclusions," Dr Ng said.
Referencing the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, he said: "It is a salutary lesson on how lives can change when your external environment changes."
He added: "Ultimately, whether people believe that Singapore can be defended is what they individually believe. You will defend your family. Yes, country is important, but you will do it for family and friends."
Dr Ng said polls of operationally ready national servicemen during reservist training showed that messages on the importance of Total Defence are getting through. "When we ask: Should Singapore (need to) be defended, will you defend Singapore? It always scores very high," he said.
He added: "We want Total Defence Day to continue for as long as Singaporeans believe in it."