“God is on the side of the big battalions.” – This quote has been attributed to a number of people, from George Bernard Shaw to Voltaire and even (wrongly, as it turned out), Napoleon Bonaparte. It means: Whoever wins gets to determine the truth. The loser can say what he likes, he is forever an also-ran, to whom few people would pay much attention, life goes on, who cares what he has to say.
Would this be the common fate of the so-called 1987 Marxist Conspirators as well as democracy as we generally know it, that is, a system which allows free competition of ideas and policies and free elections to choose a new government every number of years? If you are wondering what I am talking about, I am referring to two interesting comments made by Prof Tommy Koh and Straits Times Associate Editor Chua Mui Hoong.
Prof Koh wrote in his Facebook on “Operation Spectrum” in 1987 which resulted in the detention of 22 individuals who were allegedly part of a Marxist plan to topple the government: “I congratulate my friend, Dr Shashi Jayakumar, on the publication of his monumental book on the history of the PAP, from 1985 to 2021. It took Dr Jayakumar 10 years to write the book because of his meticulous research and scholarship…According to Shashi the government found evidence of the connection between the 22 detainees and the Communist Party of Malaya. However, we are not shown this evidence.”
Prof Koh actually commented on three different topics. Apart from the Marxist Conspiracy issue, he touched on the policy of linking votes and the priority of HDB upgrading, which he described as a mistake made by Goh Chok Tong, and on his disagreement with Lee Kuan Yew on linking ministerial salaries to top private sector earners. There were some pretty articulate and inside baseball reactions to all his remarks, including from ex-ST editor editor Leslie Fong who said (on the HDB upgrading): “I recall that the linking of votes to upgrading was inflicted on Potong Pasir first. The idea came from Mr Lee. I published a column saying that was not right. I paid a price for that.”
But, somehow, it appeared to me that the reactions to a major blot in the history of post-independent Singapore were rather muted. This despite Prof Koh admirably resuscitating it as a matter of principle as public conscience and saying unambiguously that Singaporeans have not been shown any evidence of a connection between the 22 detainees and the Communist Party of Malaya, as alleged. Hence, I support ex-TODAY editor PN Balji’s suggestion in Prof Koh’s Facebook that a Truth Commission be set up. We need to settle the issue of why the lives of so many promising young Singaporeans had to be so cruelly disrupted.
Chua Mui Hoong’s column (“The ongoing battle over democracy”, ST Jan 7) is a superb distillation of the main arguments in a current world-wide debate over what democracy is, at a time when even autocrats and authoritarian regimes can claim to be “democratic”. She asks: Is Singapore a democracy?
I am glad she says (about China): “On the basis of China’s political system – no electoral mandate and based on supremacy of the Chinese Communist Party which brooks no competition – makes it unlikely that its self-interested rhetoric will have much traction beyond is own borders.”
That’s a way of saying Singapore (generally regarded as a country with an authoritarian government) is much better than China.
Chua thinks “Singapore is a functioning democratic state and is a continuing work in progress”.
She chooses her words quite carefully:
(a) “functioning democratic state”, meaning, not necessarily the full-blown Western-style democracy but with enough of the mandatory electoral participation features
(b) “continuing work in progress”, meaning, we are not perfect, but we will do better as we move along.
Now I come to my point.
Are we happy with ourselves? Are we satisfied with whatever the powers that be tell us?
If we are, then there is no need to question the Marxist Conspiracy arrests anymore. There is also no need to question the way our sovereign funds are run.
That is, if God is always on the side of the big battalions.
Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.
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