“From whence we came”: A young Singaporean’s response

On 9 May 2011, TODAY reported MM Lee Kuan Yew as having made some indirect comments on the results of the General Elections 2011: “2011 has seen a generation that does not remember from whence we came, but that is to be expected. But I do, and those amongst you who are over 50 will remember.”

As a young Singaporean and first-time voter, I can only assume that MM Lee was referring to my generation when he spoke of those who do not remember “from whence we came”. He seems to suggest that this is the reason why so many of us voted for alternative parties instead of the PAP.

I would just like to respectfully disagree.

Ever since we started with Social Studies in Primary 4, we have been taught Singapore’s history (of course, the accuracy and bias of this history that we learned is up for debate). We were taught about how Raffles came and “founded” us, turning us into a bustling port. We were taught about the Japanese Occupation during the Second World War, and how the people suffered all sorts of abuse and deprivation. We were taught about our fight for independence from British rule and we were taught about our separation from Malaysia. We were taught about how the PAP, together with the people, worked hard through all sorts of problems to build Singapore up into the fast-paced, successful city that it is today.

I did not only learn about this from textbooks in school. I also learned this from my grandparents, especially my grandfather, who always has wonderful stories to tell. As a child I was enthralled by the stories of “Old Singapore” that my elders had to tell; stories about how they grew up and what they did and what the city was like.

I have not forgotten “from when we came”. In fact, it is because I remember “from whence we came” that I voted the way I did.

I remember that our first leaders (MM Lee himself being one of them) were strong, brave people who were not afraid to speak out against the status quo, who were able to inspire and motivate Singaporeans to be brave, to take a leap, to fight for change.

These leaders were not preoccupied with “track record”, and neither were they arrogant, nor did they take the people for granted. They were good leaders who were able to bring the people through difficult patches and make decisions that would benefit the country. The people had faith in them, and together everyone worked hard to build Singapore up.

These leaders were unafraid to speak out against repression, and to stand for democracy and freedom.

Repression, Sir is a habit that grows. I am told it is like making love – it is always easier the second time! The first time there may be pangs of conscience, a sense of guilt. But once embarked on this course with constant repetition you get more and more brazen in the attack. All you have to do is to dissolve organizations and societies and banish and detain the key political workers in these societies.

Then miraculously everything is tranquil on the surface. Then an intimidated press and the government-controlled radio together can regularly sing your praises, and slowly and steadily the people are made to forget the evil things that have already been done, or if these things are referred to again they’re conveniently distorted and distorted with impunity, because there will be no opposition to contradict.

This is “from whence we came”. And I voted for leaders who I felt had this strength, this vision and this devotion to serve Singapore and Singaporeans. I voted for leaders who honoured this legacy.

While I remember all the good things that Singapore received from the leaders in the past, I also remember the bad. I remember the shock and the horror that I felt when I first read about Operation Coldstore and Operation Spectrum.


I read about the people who were detained without trial for conspiracies unproven. I was scandalised by what had happened to Chia Thye Poh, who was imprisoned for 23 years without trial, then under house arrest for another 9 years. I listened in horror as these people, now released, spoke about how they were tortured and abused while detained. Vincent Cheng spoke about his experience recently during one of the SDP’s rallies:


This is “from whence we came”. Democracy was undermined and subverted when these people were detained and not given a fair trial. When they were beaten and tortured while in custody and made to sign false confessions. It was a sad day for justice and human rights when these things were allowed to happen. So I voted to lend my voice to the many others who also voted to make sure that these things would never happen again, that never again would we allow such blatant acts of injustice and abuse be carried out in our name.

So you see, I did not forget “from whence we came”. I remembered it, and voted so that not only would we be able to honour the good things we received “from whence we came”, we would also be able to make sure that things will be better where we are headed.