The NDP is here again, and the Singapore Story will be ritualistically retold tomorrow evening. The Singapore Story emphasizes the progressive nature of Singapore’s history since independence. In other words, out of nothing, something. This is not a wrong interpretation, because post-independent Singapore was tremendously concerned about its survival and viability. This interpretation must be read in such a context. The Singapore Story offers a romantic view of the triumph of a tiny city-state, and this view is still beloved by many Singaporeans.
But loving a particular perspective devoutly and unquestioningly is never good. We tend to overlook some issues and underestimate the importance of others. This is especially so when we ask ourselves about the origins of modern Singapore. For example, some born after independence have a notion that Singapore was just a swamp or fishing village in 1965. This is clearly untrue. Singapore was in fact a largely urban country by 1965, with growing importance as a supply depot-cum-military base to the British, who were fighting the Emergency in Malaya.
Why do some, or maybe many, of us have such an inaccurate portrait? According to the Singapore Story, everything which happened after 1965 was progressive. So after building primary schools, we build secondary schools, then universities ah? Obviously not. NTU and NUS didn’t pop up, like, “Oh, we’ve built many secondary schools, now we need a university, so let’s build one now!” Both universities traced their origins way before 1965; NTU used to be Nanyang Uni, founded in 1955, while NUS was never called as such in the first place – it used to be Raffles College, University of Malaya and University of Singapore.
Responsibility must lie with the popularization and perhaps ineffective communication of the Singapore Story. As we know, when a person or story is popularized for commercial means, the veracity of the actual event decreases. What we then know is what is sold to us, which is very superficial. NDP celebrates the independence of Singapore, but it has perpetuated an extremely simplified representation of the Singapore Story (as if this isn’t already quite simplified). Successive generations have watched or participated in NDP, and they are fed a simplistic view of the Singapore Story’s progressive narrative. Hence I bet not many of us have a good understanding of historical, or even contemporary, events.
This is further complicated by the fact that the Singapore Story may be seen as propaganda, especially since it is taught in secondary school social studies. This has two outcomes: people do not question it and accept it; and others reject it and simply do not bother. Both outcomes are not ideal. Well, the Singapore Story is not exactly propaganda, but neither can it claim to be solely the word of God. Maybe this whole social studies should be scrapped, to be replaced by a proper history class. I don’t know, but when I was studying in school, I didn’t really care. Probably what’s more important was the grade than anything. If they said that Merlion is real, I’d have written it as such and get that one point, regardless if it’s an artificial creation or an actual animal.
My dream for Singapore on its big birthday? To be a more environmentally-conscious society! But the Mobile Column seems to be producing loads of CO2… I’ll enjoy watching the NDP, albeit in the comfort of the medical centre (-: