By chance, my arrival in Singapore yesterday was on the day the city-state remembered the 75th anniversary of the fall of the island to the Japanese in World War Two.
One of the books I’ve been reading on my travels is a study of the events leading up to the invasion and subsequent surrender (The battle for Singapore, by Peter Thompson). It’s a sorry tale of British arrogance and incompetence, of casual racism and an inability to face facts. The book exposes the myth the the islands mighty naval guns could only fire out to sea. In fact, some of them could and would be turned landward to shell the Japanese troops by the Johore Strait, but as the only ammunition they had was armour piercing shells, they were of limited use. The book also reveals that, whilst Gen Arthur Percival ‘took the rap’ for the fall, he wasn’t solely to blame. The whole military/civilian structure was, including the Governer. Despite warnings that the island was wide open to invasion through Malayia, less senior officers reccomendations that defences should be built along the Johore Strait, were turned down as “defences are bad for morale” (seriously)!
The fall should have come as no surprise. The island was woefully under-prepared and the re-enforcements it asked for were turned down. It had no tanks, few aircraft and many of the soldiers sent from India and Australia to defend the island were raw recruits with no training. Many hadn’t even been taught how to fire a rifle. The Chinese militia that were formed (far too late) to bolster the army were equally poorly prepared.
The siege was brutal, with thousands of civilians being killed by bomber aircraft which attacked the island with impunity. Worse was to come when the island fell as the Japanese were brutal masters. They slaughtered tens of thousands of Chinese for supporting the motherland in its war against the Japanese invader.
75 years on, Singaporeans are well rid of their former colonial masters. The city-state is a prosperous, modern, multi-racial country where standards of education (and civility) are streets ahead of little England. It’s not paradise (where is?) but it looks positively to the future whilst remembering the past without it being baggage.
How different to England…
The old qoute that ‘those who refuse to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them’ couldn’t be more appropriate for Britain. 75 years on from the fall of Singapore and the attitudes that led to it can be seen again in our political leaders, sections of the media, and (sadly) some ordinary Britons: Arrogance, racism and a refusal to face facts are the ‘new black’. We call ourselves a mature democracy, yet we’ve let the leaders of the Brexit campaign buy many of us with their money, lies and fearmongering about foreigners (call them what you will, immigrants, refugees, economic migrants, it matters not). Folk talk of the ‘will of the people’ but it wasn’t the people who are pressing for us to crash out of the European Union and single market. Many people didn’t really understand what it was they were voting for, but that’s hardly surprising when they’ve been drip fed made-up stories about ‘bent bananas banned by the EU’ or stories about immigrants ‘flooding in’ to the UK.
The tragedy of the UK at the moment is the political paralysis at the top. Few seem willing to bite the bullet and say “look, this is madness. Brexit will ruin our country for nothing”. So, our leaders lead us over the edge of a cliff, whilst many privately admit that no good will come of it – others exhibit the same levels of ignorance, denial and incompetence as a previous generation of British politicians and generals (educated at the self-same public schools that many of the present generation were) who led Singapore (and Malaya) to disaster.
Singapore has a bright future. It’s recovered from the wounds others inflicted on it 75 years ago. Will the UK ever recover from the wounds it’s about to inflict on itself?