SINGAPORE - The sense of solidarity and collective responsibility that the pioneer generation embodied during the Japanese Occupation serves as a guide to how Singapore should deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, Education Minister Lawrence Wong said on Monday (Feb 15) on the anniversary of the fall of Singapore.
Drawing parallels between the pandemic and World War II, he said the pandemic can be a defining moment in Singapore's history, where Singaporeans were tested but overcame the "toughest of circumstances" with resilience and resolve.
The country's pioneers, who endured the hardships of war, were a generation who got things done, served with honour, and helped built Singapore, said Mr Wong, who also co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling the pandemic.
"They have taught us that there is no trouble we cannot endure; no calamity we cannot overcome as a people."
While the Japanese Occupation of Singapore lasted more than three years, said Mr Wong, it is unclear how long the pandemic will last, although "at some point, it will be over".
"At that time, I hope we can look back and say that this has been a defining moment in our history. We have been tested in this crucible, but we have overcome the toughest of circumstances together with resilience and resolve, and we have prevailed and forged a stronger sense of solidarity and unity.
"Ultimately, that's the best homage we can pay to our forefathers and our pioneers, to uphold their conviction and values of our nation, to take on the responsibility that they shouldered, and to commit to building a better Singapore together," he added.
The minister was speaking at the 54th War Memorial Service to commemorate the civilian victims of the Japanese Occupation, as well as Total Defence Day, which marks the day Singapore fell to the Japanese in 1942.
The event - organised by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry; and Nexus, the department responsible for Total Defence and National Education in the Ministry of Defence - is held annually at the War Memorial Park in Beach Road.
Mr Wong said Singapore has had to impose certain necessary, but also painful and difficult, measures to cope with the pandemic, which he added was perhaps the biggest challenge for the world since WWII.
"And we're very glad to see Singaporeans taking these measures in their stride, cooperating with them, and embodying the spirit of Total Defence during this time, sacrificing for the common good, pulling together with tremendous resilience and fortitude."
For instance, front-line workers were on duty round the clock, businesses adapted to find new ways to pursue their livelihoods, neighbours reached out to help the vulnerable, and Singaporeans adhered to safe distancing measures and passed on factual and accurate information.
"I'm hopeful and optimistic that Singapore can emerge stronger from this crisis, just as we did after the Japanese Occupation," said Mr Wong.