Lee Kuan Yew: Forging A Nation 3


Melting gold dust and nuggets in a crucible and pouring the molten gold into an ingot mold. Source: Rio Suerte website

Adversities (Against All Odds): The Crucibles of Leadership

“Our recent research has led us to conclude that one of the most reliable indicators and predictors of true leadership is an individual’s ability to find meaning in negative events and to learn from even the most trying circumstances. Put another way, the skills required to conquer adversity and emerge stronger and more committed than ever are the same ones that make for extraordinary leaders.”

Source: Crucibles of Leadership Written by Warren Bennis and Robert J.Thomas Published in September issue, Harvard Business Review

Play for Keeps

“Whoever governs Singapore must have that iron in him. Or give it up. This is not a game of cards. This is your life and mine. I’ve spent a whole lifetime building this and as long as I’m in charge, nobody is going to knock it down.” Rally speech at Raffles Place, 1980

The Hard Lessons

Economic prosperity can only be made possible when there is national security, political stability, a good Government; when society is safe and when people live in harmony with each other.

For businesses, these are factors to choose who and where to conduct one’s business. It offers lessons on workplace inclusion policy.

Leaders and Adversities

Leaders who have endured adversity are most likely to be the ones with the resilience and resolve to succeed. Very often, the lessons learned from confronting fear and uncertainty, and from experiencing frustration, transform good leaders into great ones.

We call these adverse and diverse experiences “passages,” because they take you from one place to another: You see the world and yourself differently after you’ve gone through the events and emotional states that define each passage. What differentiate these experiences from ordinary difficulties or hurdles are the three elements they all have in common:

  • While they are inevitable, they are random and unpredictable. Adding to the confusion is the fact that you can’t predict how you will respond or where you will end up after you go through the passage. And the more significant the event, the more unpredictable your response and the results. The only certainty is that the way you respond will define your present and future career.
  • These passages are emotionally and cognitively intense. They test and push you. You will have to call on resources you didn’t know you possessed, rely on skill sets you previously ignored, assess your priorities and re-evaluate your basic values.
  • As a result, your sense of yourself will change in some fundamental way. Who you are, what you’re capable of doing and your place in the world will all shift.

As “bad” as some of these passages may sound, it is not the event itself that derails a career, but how you react to it. It is how you handle working for a bad boss, being fired or being acquired that determines whether the impact is positive or negative, and whether you become a stronger leader or remain the same. Similarly, passages such as obtaining your first leadership position would seem to provide great opportunities; however, some people learn and grow because of their approach to the opportunity, while others merely get a new job.

Source: “Adversity: What Make A Leader the Most” Written David L.Dotlich Published in Ivey Business Journal January/February 2005


Japanese Occupation of Singapore 15 February 1942 to 11 December 1945

Japanese Invasion of Malaya 8 December 1941

Lee Kuan Yew Quotes on Japanese Occupation and Colonial Rule

“The dark ages had descended on us. It was brutal, cruel. In looking back, I think it was the biggest single political education of my life because, for three and a half years, I saw the meaning of power and how power and politics and government went together, and I also understood how people trapped in a power situation responded because they had to live. One day the British were there, immovable, complete masters; next day, the Japanese, whom we derided, mocked as short, stunted people with short-sighted squint eyes.”

“… the old mechanisms had gone and the old habits of obedience and respect (for the British) had also gone because people had seen them run away (from the Japanese) … they packed up.

“We were supposed, the local population was supposed to panic when the bombs fell, but we found they panicked more than we did. So it was no longer the old relationship.”

“Here in Singapore, you didn’t come across the white man so much. He was in a superior position. But there you are (in Britain) in a superior position meeting white men and white women in an inferior position, socially, I mean. They have to serve you and so on in the shops. And I saw no reason why they should be governing me; they’re not superior. I decided when I got back, I was going to put an end to this.”


Malayan Emergency 18 June 1948 to July 1960


A British colony, Malaya had come under Japanese control during World War II. When the conflict ended the Malaysian Communist Party (MCP) began to push for Malayan independence under a communist government.

Although not against Malayan independence, the British resisted the notion of a communist government. A state of emergency was declared in 1948 when the militant arm of the MCP, the Malay Races Libration Army, began a campaign of guerrilla warfare.

They found support with the discontented Malayan Chinese population who were not given the same rights and privileges as native Malayans. The situation worsened in October 1951 when the British High Commissioner in Malaya was assassinated.

Hock Lee Bus Labor Strike Riots 12 May 1955

12 May 1955 is also known as “Black Thursday” in Singapore’s history. What started as a peaceful (labor union) strike escalated into a violent riot, in which 4 people were killed and 31 injured.

Excerpts from “Revisiting Operations Coldstore” The StraitsTimes Asia Report 11 April 2015

THE Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) was formed in 1930 and began establishing links with labour unions in Singapore and Malaya. During the Japanese invasion and occupation from 1941 to 1945, it was a key armed resistance force. But after the CPM launched an armed insurgency in 1948, the Malayan government declared an Emergency, arresting leading CPM members and declaring the CPM illegal.

The CPM in Malaya was driven underground. But it embarked on a brutal campaign that took thousands of lives and drew a backlash from the authorities.

The failure of its jungle war in Malaya revived interest in urban struggle in Singapore, and official accounts show the CPM reviving its “united front” strategy of subverting trade unions and student bodies, as well as political parties like the PAP, with the long-term goal of a communist Singapore, and then Malaya.

In his book, Associate Professor Kumar, who is head of policy studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies  argues that the communists did not resort to open, armed revolution in Singapore not out of principle, but because they could not match the strength of the British.

Instead, they adopted the CUF strategy of “peaceful struggle” by infiltrating legal organisations such as student unions and trade unions, gaining significant ground in Singapore in the 1950s.

The goal, in the words of long-time CPM secretary-general Chin Peng, was to fan hatred towards the government and undermine public order by “skilful exploitation of controversial issues and public grievances, genuine or otherwise”.

These include orchestrating riots against national service in 1954, and the Hock Lee bus riots of May 1955, which saw four dead and 31 injured.

Retaliatory strikes by student and trade unions in 1956 to protest against the Lim Yew Hock government’s crackdown on CUF organisations also culminated in riots that led to 13 deaths and 123 being injured. The widespread violence saw two schools burned down, 70 cars destroyed and two police stations damaged.

This led to the banning of both the Singapore Factory and Shop Workers’ Union and its student equivalent, the Singapore Chinese Middle School Students’ Union, and the CPM changing tack to focus on penetrating grassroots organisations and the PAP, which was founded in 1954.

The communists then attempted to seize control of the PAP in 1957, when they won six of the 12 seats on the central executive committee. They also withdrew their support in the Hong Lim and Anson by-elections in 1961, both of which the PAP lost.

These attempts, Dr Kumar says, showed a CUF determined to capture power in Singapore through constitutional means after violence failed: first with non-communists like Mr Lee Kuan Yew as cover, and then later through the Barisan, having hollowed out the PAP through defections when the marriage of convenience became untenable.

This series of events, he adds, demonstrated the CUF’s nature as a “resilient, clandestine subversive organisation”.”The CUF was all too real an entity in Singapore from the 1940s to the 1960s.”

Associate Professor Bilveer Singh, who has written a book charting the history of communism in Malaya and Singapore, also points out that the communist threat here continued even after Operation Coldstore, with 22 incidents of arson and 11 bombings between 1969 and 1976.

He wrote in Quest For Political Power – Communist Subversion And Militancy In Singapore: “The various plots and acts of violence should debunk the notion that Singapore was not a military target, and refute claims that the communists did not do very much in Singapore.”

Part 1: Lee Kuan Yew: Merger and the Stakes Involved

Part 2: Lee Kuan Yew – The Communist Challenge

Part 3: Lee Kuan Yew – How the Communists Operate

Part 4: Lee Kuan Yew – A Lesson for Socialists

Part 5: Lee Kuan Yew – Envoy from The Underground

Part 6: Lee Kuan Yew – Communist Plan for Expansion

Part 7: Lee Kuan Yew – The British Plot

Part 8: Lee Kuan Yew – The Communist Paradox

Part 9: Lee Kuan Yew – The Argument

Part 10: Lee Kuan Yew – Communist Bid to Capture PAP

Part 11: Lee Kuan Yew – Communists Turn on The Heat

Part 12: Lee Kuan Yew – A New Nation Through the Merger

1990 NUS Forum: Lee Kuan Yew on ISA and Marxist Conspiracy


Religious Riots:  Maria Hertogh 11 December 1950

On 11 December 1950, the controversy over the custody of Maria Hertogh between her Malay-Muslim foster mother and her Dutch-Catholic parents sparked off a riot in Singapore. The riots ended on 13 December. A total of 18 people were killed and 173 people injured.

Lee Kuan Quotes on Religion

“Religion must not get mixed up in politics, otherwise a clash of political views can easily turn into a clash of religious beliefs. Then there will be deep enmity between our different religious communities and our society will come to grief.”
~ LKY 1987

“Religion cannot be a force for national unity. Indeed, secularism is essential for inter-religious harmony for our multi-religious community.”
~ LKY 1990

“However different the various religions, this government is in favour of a man believing in something [rather] than believing in nothing. I would rather have a muslim, a devout Hindu, than a permissive atheist. And it is because of the problem of atheism in the West that they are in trouble.”
~ LKY 1977

“I wouldn’t call myself an atheist. I neither deny nor accept that there is a God. So I do not laugh at people who believe in God. But I do not necessarily believe in God – nor deny that there could be one.”

Race Riots 21st July 1964

On 21 July 1964, race riots plunged Singapore into days of rage. They marked the beginning of the end of Singapore’s place in the new Federation of Malaysia – just 13 months later the 2 nations would separate

Lee Kuan Yew on Living with “Fundamental and Primordial” Racial Differences

Lee Kuan Yew Quotes on Race

“In a multiracial situation like this, it is.  Malaysia took the different line; Malaysians saw it as a Malay country, all others are lodgers, “orang tumpangan”, and they the Bumiputras, sons of the soil, run the show. So the Sultans, the Chief Justice and judges, generals, police commissioner, the whole hierarchy is Malay. All the big contracts for Malays.  Malay is the language of the schools although it does not get them into modern knowledge.  So the Chinese build and find their own independent schools to teach Chinese, the Tamils create their own Tamil schools, which do not get them jobs. It’s a most unhappy situation.”  LKY 2010


Konfrontasi 10 March 1965

“KONFRONTASI” or confrontation refers to the period between January 1963 and August 1966 when Indonesia used military, economic and diplomatic means to break up the newly formed Federation of Malaysia of which Singapore was a part. Indonesia broke off ties with Malaysia and went on to instigate its nationals to infiltrate and sabotage key installations in Malaysia and Singapore.

One attack carried out in Singapore was on March 10, 1965, at 3.07pm, when a bomb exploded at MacDonald House, Orchard Road’s tallest building at that time. A lift door was blown off. Windows of buildings 100m away were shattered, as were windscreens of cars across the road. Three people died and 33 were injured. Two Indonesian marines, Harun Said and Osman Mohamed Ali, were caught, tried and hanged for murder.

Other incidents included an explosion on April 13, 1964, which caused extensive damage at 21 Jalan Rebong off Changi Road, killing a woman and her daughter and injuring six. Three days later, on April 16, another explosion completely wrecked a telephone booth at the junction of Jalan Betek, Jalan Timun and Jalan Badarah. Four men and a woman were injured. Indonesian saboteurs are reported to have caused at least 42 explosions in Singapore from September 1963 to May 1965. In August 1966, Konfrontasi ended with the signing of a peace treaty between Malaysia and Indonesia. The toll in Singapore: seven killed and more than 51 others injured.

Withdrawal of British Troops

On 18 July 1967, the British announced its plans to withdraw its troops from Singapore by the mid-1970s. Six months later, the deadline was brought forward to 1971 due to economic problems arising from the devaluation of pound sterling.

The news came as a shock to Singapore because Britain had earlier given their assurance that the pullout would be done in stages. As a compromise, the British agreed to extend its deadline for withdrawal from March to December 1971. The sudden pullout of British forces presented serious problems to Singapore’s defense and economic security.

At that time, the Singapore Armed Forces was in its infancy, and Singapore’s relationship with Malaysia remained tenuous after its separation in 1965.

On the economic front, the military bases were contributing to over 20 per cent of Singapore’s gross national product and provided direct employment to 1 in 10, or 25,000 people in Singapore. A hasty withdrawal would lead to a mass unemployment problem. To counter these problems,

Singapore embarked on a rapid industralisation programme, tightened labor laws to attract foreign investments, and beefed up its defenses through military cooperation with other countries and tripled its military spending.

By the deadline, Singapore had overcome the odds by achieving strong economic growth and near full employment. By October 1971, most of the British troops had moved out of Singapore, leaving a token number behind. It would be another five years before the last of the British troops leave Singapore.

Excerpts from “Lee Kuan Yew’s Other Legacy: Why Singapore Has One Of The World’s Toughest Militaries” Written by Alberto Riva International Business Time 24 March 2015

When Lee Kuan Yew died Monday at age 91, the founding father of Singapore did not leave just his legacy as the prime minister whose authoritarian policies shaped a backwater British colony into the world’s fourth-wealthiest nation. He also left Singaporeans with one of the most formidable armies in the world.

The tiny island state of 5.4 million, with a land area far smaller than New York City’s, has more fighter jets than Spain, Poland or Sweden. Its army has as many tanks as Italy, which is more than 400 times the size. Its navy boasts the only stealthy ships in the region.

The respected defense publication IHS Jane’s called the Singapore Armed Forces “the best-equipped military in Southeast Asia.”

Singapore spends more on weapons than anybody else near it. Its 2013 defense budget was $12 billion,according to an analysis published in East Asia Forum by Michael Raska, a research fellow at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University. That money has bought Singapore advanced American warplanes whose capabilities eclipse anything fielded by other states in the region. For example, it flies the latest version of the F-15, a fighter jet so lethal the U.S. has sold it only to four other nations: Israel, Japan, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.

Singapore’s defense budget dwarfs that of neighboring Indonesia, which spent $7.9 billion that year, but has 250 million people. Malaysia, which lies on Singapore’s other border, spends even less.

Those two neighbors are precisely the reason Lee Kuan Yew decided to spend so much on arms when the nation was established.

When Singapore broke off in 1965 from the Federation of Malaya, Lee wanted the new nation to be able to defend itself from its northern neighbor, which later became Malaysia and with which it had until recently a contentious relationship.

“It had to do with Singapore’s utter dependence on Malaysia for sources of potable water,” Loo said. “Malaysian leaders in the past were not averse to threatening to cut off the water supplies to Singapore, if the latter did anything inimicable to Malaysia’s interests.”

As for Indonesia, it’s one of the world’s largest and most populous countries, and Lee feared its sheer size and aggressive policy of confrontation in the 1960s. That policy has long ended, but it “continues to worry Singapore’s leaders,”  said Bernard Loo, associate professor of strategic studies at Nanyang Technological.

Shooting the Singapore Technologies SAR-21


Separation from Malaysia

Singapore became part of Malaysia on 16 September 1963, Malaysia being a new political entity formed from the merger of the Federation of Malaya with North BorneoSarawak and Singapore.

The union, however, was unstable due to distrust and ideological differences between leaders of the State of Singapore and the Federal Government of Malaysia. Such issues resulted in frequent disagreements relating to economics, finance and politics.  

In 1965, Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman decided upon the expulsion of Singapore from the Federation, leading to the independence of Singapore on 9 August 1965.


Secret Societies in Singapore


Singapore’s darkest time was when it was the land of the lawless, when gangsters, secret societies and kidnappers reined the country. From pregnant gamblers and children informers to being shot in the chest by the country’s most wanted man, the people who survived the bloodied streets of Singapore recount their experiences.


Laju Incident: International Terrorist Attack 31 January 1974

On 31 January 1974, four men armed with submachine guns and explosives attacked the Shell oil refinery complex on Pulau Bukom, a small island lying south of Singapore. The terrorists were two members of theJapanese Red Army (JRA) and two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Their goal was to disrupt the oil supply from Singapore to other countries, especially South Vietnam. On 1 February 1974, a PFLP spokesman made a statement in Beirut that the attack was a warning to all monopolistic oil companies on one hand and imperialism in general on the other – especially the perceived oppression of the Arab masses in the Middle East.

At the beginning of their operation, the terrorists’ boat ran aground on a coral reef. They managed to reach the shore of Bukom after convincing an unsuspecting boatman to tow them towards the island. As they headed towards a gate of an oil tank installation, they fired shots at two passing vehicles although no one was injured. A sentry at a security post managed to escape and raise the alarm.

The terrorists were able to detonate 3 of the 12 explosives they were carrying, but they caused little damage. To escape, they then hijacked the ferryboat Laju at the Bukom jetty and held 5 crew members hostage. This led to a chase and Laju was quickly surrounded by navy gunboats and marine police boats at the Eastern Anchorage.

This was followed by a few days of intense negotiations, during which two hostages managed to escape by jumping overboard in the middle of the night. The terrorists later agreed to release the other crew members in exchange for a party of “guarantors” for their safe passage to the Middle East.

Lee Kuan Yew officially opened the Pulau Brani Naval Base on 26 January 1974. The centrally located base made it possible for Navy ships to be quickly deployed anywhere within the Singapore Strait. He declared: “Singapore has one of the biggest harbors in the world. It is the fourth largest in the world in tonnage of ships calling. It is our intention to develop a flotilla of patrol craft and MGB (missile gun-boats) to help patrol the approaches to our harbor. This base in Pulau Brani is ideally situated. It is sited right opposite our harbor.”

In the Laju Incident, four Navy ships, RSS Sea Hawk, RSS Independence, RSS Sovereignty, RSS Daring were mobilized for the mission.

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