What he said also applies to the narratives that collectively make up the history of S’pore. Victors write the “right” narrative, expecting, hoping it will be accepted, forced down or spun as history.
But the internet (and the new media) makes this more difficult.
History is important, as a BBC commentator says, because there are so many perspectives: history is shaped by continued research. And, of course, it’s also shaped by political will. Last year’s anniversary of World War One’s outbreak and continuing responses to the conflict give us a chance, not only to remember that handful of cataclysmic, world-changing years, but also to witness an ideological tussle between those who feel war is best remembered as the shedding of blood and those who feel it’s best represented as an outbreak of flowers. If history were like arithmetic – two plus two always being four – we’d have a chance to keep it simple and definitive, but it’s so large, it has so many perspectives. It offers so many opportunities to play with our sense of self and our emotions. Manipulated history can offer us clumsy impostures like Piltdown man, or the vile fantasies involved in Holocaust denial. History as a vital, exacting discipline, can show us how whole populations of normal people can be persuaded to behave horrifically, if they’re overwhelmed by histories of past glory, of injustice and suffering at others’ hands. Attack is so much easier to sell, if it’s packaged as pre-emptive defence. Part of growing up involves realising that nation’s futures, good and bad, can leap from their perceptions of the past.
Grumbling about propagandists is easy, but if I look at my own past – especially when I let that be all about me – I’m consistently guilty of propaganda campaigns. If I’m feeling cheerful, the last time I met my gentleman of choice he was pleased to see me, possibly even impressed. Which makes me more cheerful, which makes other memories of him more rosy. If I’m glum, our last encounter dreadful and all is lost. He isn’t just there, being himself but in the past tense – he’s a tall expression of my convoluted ego.
Or as one Harry said, in a less long wided manner,The final verdict will not be in the obituaries. The final verdict will be when the PhD students dig out the archives, read my old papers, assess what my enemies have said, sift the evidence and seek the truth.
- Interview with the New York Times, September 2010
Despite all this, Harry wanted to “shape” history’s judgement of him and S’pore*. And so does the PAP. “The Straits Times story is one important strand of the Singapore story.” said PM of the PAP’s unofficial house paper recently https://atans1.wordpress.com/2015/07/22/pm-visiting-from-bizarro-spore/.
But today of all days, we must remember the alternative narratives that do not fall into the “right” category.
In Harry’s version of history, detained Barisan Sosialis leaders Dr Poh Soo Kai and Fong Swee Suan were communists who had to be detained without trial.
But former Barisan leader Dr Poh Soo Kai, among those arrested, insists this was not true.
“There may have been some communists in our party, but we were not following their orders. We did not want terrorism, we were committed to constitutional reform,” the 83-year-old says.
Another Barisan leader, Fong Swee Suan, was also imprisoned in 1963 and then lived in exile until the 1990s. He maintains he was never a communist, and also denies the charge that he instigated deadly riots among striking bus workers.
“I want people to be aware that my father has made a positive contribution to Singapore,” says his son Otto Fong, speaking on his elderly father’s behalf.
“He helped workers organise their unions. He only wanted to speak up for their needs, and make the relationship between employees and employers better.”
Then there are the narratives of people like Mrs Seow Peck Leng – Mountbatten’s first MP. A woman ahead of her time, she championed gender equality and was among those who made the Women’s Charter a reality: http://www.theonlinecitizen.com/2015/08/mrs-seow-peck-leng-spirit-of-mountbatten/
And never forget Counterfactual history, also sometimes referred to as virtual history, is a form of historiography that attempts to answer “what if” questions known as counterfactuals.
Modern Singapore: prosperous and peaceful, and led by charismatic working-class hero Lim Chin Siong. His political rival, Lee Kuan Yew, is living in exile and ignominy.
This scenario – ludicrous to Singaporeans celebrating 50 years of independence led by Lee – was dreamt up by local artist Sonny Liew in a new book which imagines an alternative history.
This graphic novel reminds us that the “right” narrative is written by the victors, and is often accepted, taught or spun as history.
*I’m reminded of “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it”.
Related article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/3626376/History-as-written-by-the-victor.html
The above explains why LKY had been spinning his version far and wide.