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S R Nathan was not a revolutionary nationalist just like other Asian national figures

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The following is a post by Facebook user Benjamin Peck, in response to an article published in TISG titled, ‘Nathan supplied food to Japanese Imperial Guard in WW2‘.


The comparison of Mr S. R. Nathan to Mr Lim Bo Seng is generally out of context, given the typical stance of the Japanese towards different ethnic groups during the war. The favorable treatment of Mr Nathan during the period of the Japanese occupation is not indicative of his partiality to the oppressors, but merely a reflection of the significant disparity between the treatment of the Chinese diaspora (in the spirit of hostile Sino-Japan relations) and other indigenous ethnicities or immigrants that were not stigmatized.

While I would not qualify Mr Nathan as a revolutionary nationalist, many Southeast Asian national figures did indeed side with the Japanese, such as Manuel Roxas (who belonged to the ethnic elite that benefitted through collaboration with the Japanese) and Aung San (who himself resisted colonial British influence on the side of the Japanese).

Only by working with the Japanese, many Malayans survived the ordeal. My own maternal great-grandfather, who taught Japanese despite being a Chinese school-teacher, to ensure his family survived the harrowing times.

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While Mr Nathan did not have nationalistic and anti-Japanese aspirations that grants Mr Lim the exalted status in our Singaporean story, he may, like many other Malayans subjugated under Japanese rule, sought noble action with the intention of protecting his family.

While on hindsight, it is easy to view those who thrived under Japanese rule as traitors to our national cause (which in reality only begun to exist in the 1950s), this is a poor article that juxtaposes martyrs to those who had better predicaments in times of hardship.

Whether he is indeed a political ‘yesman’ is not very salient in this anecdote of his life, and a personal judgement of character is rather unsuitable.

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