Was sauntering around town today trying to look intelligent when I stumbled into a book shop and ended up browsing through an biography of Goh Keng Swee, Singapore's former Minister of economics, defense and many other things. Dr Goh, along with Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr S. Rajaratnam is considered to be one of Singapore's core group of "Founding Fathers." The book was facinating to say the least. Like the USA, which was founded by men like Washington and Jefferson, Singapore was blessed with leadership by brilliant men.
As the writer of this biography rightly pointed out though, Singapore's founding father's have for the most part dissapeared into the memory of history. I've not asked AC Neilson about this, but I'm quite sure that if you grabbed any randome Singaporean of the street, they'd have a problem naming one, other than Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.
I remember three-years ago, when two former presidents died (Wee Kim Wee and Devan Nair). The media was covered with eulagies galore. This was especially true for Devan Nair, who left the presidency amidst accusations of alcoholism. - A friend's wife (Who was working at Temasek Holdings) remarked, "I didn't know he did so much for Singapore, all I remember was stories about his alcoholism." She hit the issue on the head with an iron fist. I grew up with jokes like Nair standing for "No Alcohol, I Resign." It was only at his death that I realised that this man was actually instrumental in making Singapore's Labour Movement what it is today. A year later, S Rajaratnam died and we realised that this man actually wrote the pledge and provided allot of the intellecual backbone to Singapore's rulling system.
I think it was PN Balji amongst others who made this point - "Why do we say so much about them when they are dead? Why didn't we appreciate these men while they were alive." Now, that's a question worth asking and trying to answer.
Generally speaking, Singapore History seems to be centred around one man - Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Mr Lee as Modern Singapore's founding Prime Minister is an extraordinary man and no one should denny that it was his leadership that brought Singapore to where it is today. However, the idea that Singapore's success is due soley to him insults Mr Lee and his cadre.
What made Singapore? I think it was the hard work of her people. Barefoot entrepreneurs from China, India and elsewhere set foot on this island with nothing other than a burning desire to make a better life for themselves. However, these men needed leadership and Singapore was blessed with men with a passion for Singapore.
Dr Goh was particularly interesting character. This mild mannered economist set up the Ministries and Statutary Boards that provide Singapore's businesses with the government support that they need. However, this man was more than just an economist. Suddenly, when we became an independent nation, Singapore needed a military force and it was Dr Goh who set up the SAF. The story of how Israeli advisors were brought in has been well doccumented and how he overcame the cultural antipathy towards soldiering of the majority Chinese population is also well doccumented. What is under doccumented is what made someone like Dr Goh so successful at what he did?
I believe that the main motivating factor for men like him was a passion to create a stable and prosperous society in a region filled with chaos. He and his colleagues did what they had to do. It's impossible for those of us who have grown up in a world where we've never really had to struggle to understand passion but personally I'm greatful to men like Dr Goh and Messers Rajaratnam. Pillay, Nair, Ong and gang. They did the jobs they had to do without the infrastructure we take for granted and with challenges we can't imagine today. Then, when the job was done, they stepped down and moved into the twilight, allowing the rest of us to forget about of them. - Truely this relinquishing of office, influence and power with such good grace is a demonstration of men who really loved Singapore by allowing future generations to grow.