Let others have their heroes

Singapore is behaving like a petulant child again, throwing a temper tantrum over the Indonesian Navy’s decision to name a warship after two Indonesian marines whom Singapore hanged. Harun Said and Osman Haji Mohamed Ali bombed MacDonald House on 10 March 1965. Three people died and many more were injured.  The frigate KRI Usman Harun is named after them.

pic_201402_04That was the time when Indonesia was waging Konfrontasi — a sort of low-level conflict — against Malaysia, of which Singapore was then a part. Indonesia saw newly-formed Malaysia as a neo-colonial project, designed to block the advance of “progressive nationalist” forces. Depending on how you want to read history, there is some truth to that. Even today, an outspoken political observer might call Singapore a bastion of robber-baron capitalism, complete with regressive social policies and fascist tendencies, always eager to kowtow to America.

When Usman and Harun were caught, they were not in uniform. Under interrogation, it was reported (by our government-friendly media — credibility alert!) that they gave conflicting accounts of their military status. Our government then chose to ignore the obvious and treated them as civilian murderers, and chose to hang them.

I am told that even then, within government, there were voices arguing against the move, but then-prime minister Lee Kuan Yew hated the idea of appearing soft (and I think he still does).

Indonesia accorded the two marines hero status; they are both buried at Jakarta’s Kalibata Heroes Cemetery.

pic_201402_06Every country has heroes. Most times, those heroes are heroes because they fought some foreign power. George Washington, so beloved of Americans, was a traitor to the British crown, destroying the first British Empire. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, so beloved of Indians, was another extremely disloyal British subject who through leading a campaign of civil disobedience detached the jewel, India, from the second British Empire. Jose Rizal (left), hero to Filipinos, fought the Spanish and was eventually executed by firing squad. Genghis Khan, inspiration to all Mongolians, conquered China. Charles XII of Sweden was a scourge to Denmark, Poland and Russia.

A town in Cambodia is called ‘Siem Reap’, which means ‘Siam Vanquished’, celebrating a victory in that area by Khmer King Ang Chan over the Siamese. Trafalgar Square in London commemorates Lord Nelson’s defeat of the combined French and Spanish navies during the Napoleonic Wars. Waterloo Street in Singapore likewise rubs salt into French wounds, being named after the place where Napoleon was finally defeated. Mountbatten Road is named after the chap who was Britain’s chief of Combined Operations against the Germans and the Japanese during the Second World War.

Should the Spanish ambassador in Manila never set foot on Rizal Park? Should the German and Japanese ambassadors to Singapore never drive on Mountbatten Road? Should the UK refuse a port call by the American aircraft carrier USS George Washington? We’d say they were childish if they all did that.

But Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen might not think so.

In an impassioned speech to the Singapore parliament on Tuesday, Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen said the Indonesian ship, which is still being prepared at a British shipyard, would be barred from its ports and naval bases.

“Singapore will not allow this military ship named Usman Harun to call at our ports and naval bases,” Ng said as quoted by AFP. “It will not be possible for the SAF [Singapore Armed Forces] as protectors of this nation to sail alongside or exercise with this ship.”

He added his office and the SAF were “disappointed and dismayed at this inexplicable move.”

“Even without ill intent, how can the naming of the ship after two bombers build good ties or enhance mutual respect and regard with both our countries?” Ng said.

– Jakarta Post, 20 Feb 2014, No ill intent or malice over ship’s name, Marty stresses. Link.

Oi, how can temper tantrums over tiny details build good ties?

* * * * *

pic_201402_05

We should never have re-opened this matter. In May 1973, six years after hanging the two men whom we refused to recognise as prisoners of war, Lee Kuan Yew was made to lay flowers at the graves of Harun and Usman. Astute observers would have read this act of contrition as the price Singapore had to pay to normalise relations with Indonesia post-Konfrontasi.

By bringing this up again, current prime minister Lee Hsien Loong not only looks thin-skinned, but risks being made to make another trip to visit the graves on his next official visit to Indonesia.

The trouble with Singapore is that every time we throw a fit like this, we look terribly immature and petty as a country, and paint ourselves as too self-important by half. Our government does us no favours.

* * * * *

Even more sickening through this whole episode was the behaviour of our mainstream media. Lengthy columns were generated to re-milk every last drop of anguish over our victimhood. A two-page spread appeared on Sunday, the eve of Ng Eng Hen’s bombastic parliamentary announcement. Perhaps this editorial focus was at the behest of the government, for it occurred to me that the thumping of old news stories also served to drum up nationalistic solidarity.

I am highly suspicious of government-orchestrated nationalism. Such flag-waving is often meant to rally people behind the ruling party, or distract citizens from the real issues of the day. Such efforts too sacrifice the longer-term interests of the country (peace and good relations with neighbours) for the short-term boost to party popularity.

Did the People’s Action Party see the Indonesian Navy’s naming decision as a godsend? If so, then, for such foolish, self-serving short-sightedness, let the man lay flowers on graves again.

44 Responses to “Let others have their heroes”


  1. 1 Anon Lwry 21 February 2014 at 07:43

    You forgot to mention Petain Road in Singapore.

  2. 2 ;Annonymous 21 February 2014 at 09:29

    The timing of this barrage of propaganda is not without political significance. Trust in the government is at an all-time low. The impending demise of their demi-god is sending shivers down the spines. In case you have not noticed, the electoral boundaries have just been altered and new election officials have been appointed. With the revised electoral rolls being finalised and the expected goodies from the Budget, the signs of an early election are becoming clearer. The latest actions against the WP are no accidents. Notice also the high profile being built for the paper general being touted as the next PM.

    • 3 The 23 February 2014 at 11:22

      Spot on.
      They are great at creating distraction when they are under siege.

      Chief of protocol, Foreign Affairs, charged for corruption
      CPIB officer charged for corruption
      PA’s account gotten adverse qualification
      ICA big-time boo-boo in letting car in
      Home team found wanting in riot control
      Numerous MRT breakdowns within first month of new year
      Etc., etc.

  3. 4 wikigam 21 February 2014 at 09:44

    It has” Law of War”! It is diference between hero of the “WAR” and terrorist.

  4. 5 DT 21 February 2014 at 10:37

    A bit weird that you are laying all the blame (reopening the issue and use of nationalism) on the Singapore government while seemingly leaving the Indonesian government out of it entirely.

    And the comparison of the two soldiers with other historical figures? For sure, history is written by the victors and who knows what would have been written if the Confrontasi went in Indonesia’s favour, but elevating them to such high status does seem illogical.

  5. 6 Anonymous 21 February 2014 at 11:23

    The two marines were conducting a military operation specifically targeting civilians. Perhaps Washington and Gandhi would be remembered differently if they had orchestrated acts of terrorism against British civilians.

    I am disgusted by the PAP’s attempt to fan nationalistic sentiments, but that does not mean i have to condone the lionizing of men who inflict violence on innocent civilians. Those two are quite separate issues, i think.

    • 7 Richard Lee 24 February 2014 at 13:43

      Er.rrh! What were Hiroshima & Nagasaki then?

      The two men were Marines conducting a miltary operation. They almost certainly knew that, as they would not be in uniform, they would be executed as spies if caught. That they went through with it is indicative of a certain level of courage.

      If there should be criticism, it should be directed at whoever ordered the attack. But Indonesia is perfectly justified in honouring two brave men .. if somewhat naive about its petulant neighbours.

      Well said, Mr. Au.

  6. 8 lobo76 21 February 2014 at 11:55

    What are your views towards the Japanese memorials that includes war criminals? I see something of a parallel between the two, and not the examples in your article. The latter bunch fought ‘clean’ fights/wars or fought by inaction (Gandhi). i.e cilivians weren’t deliberately targeted.

    Japanese war criminals were well… criminals because they caused a lot of civilian casualties, outside of the fighting required by War. While the Indonesian duo killed much less people, their target was civilian.

    By extension, are you okay with the current bunch of radical terrorists being feted as ‘heroes’ by whatever communities they identify with?

  7. 9 SingaporeWTF (@singaporewtf) 21 February 2014 at 13:32

    Thought experiment:

    Would Israel allow a German Ship named SMS Hitler or SMS Himmler to dock on their harbor?

  8. 10 Andrew Toh 21 February 2014 at 13:33

    Meanwhile, with the return of the haze looming, where they are directly harming the health and well-being of our people, we say we can do nothing.

  9. 11 Dy 21 February 2014 at 13:33

    Agree with you that the Govt has over-reacted and that the MSM media was clearly a conduit to that over reaction. However, I’ve to disagree with your seemingly belittlement of the event that happened. The fact is that a bombing took place on here and civilians were killed. While we have moved on, we should not forget that.

  10. 12 Sompar 21 February 2014 at 14:22

    You should compare and contrast this with their silence on the visit of Japanese PM Abe to yasukuni shrine. The Sook Ching massacre recorded deaths of up to 100,000 young men in Singapore, making Konfrontasi a child’s act.

    Why the PAP is so willing to let go of the Japanese but not the Indonesians? Ask ex PM LKY and ex President Nathan who did they serve during WWII and how did our war hero Lim Bo Seng died, but without a warship named after him?

  11. 13 yuen 21 February 2014 at 16:25

    I dont think the event would increase PAP’s vote % in the next election; in fact if the press harps on the issue, the effect would be opposite

    I am inclined to believe the government judges a hardline gesture is needed with the current phase of diplomacy – whether the judgement is correct is a separate issue from motivation – just as laying flowers at the monument might be an appropriate gesture at that time and in the future

  12. 14 JayF 21 February 2014 at 16:40

    Genghis Khan conquered much of the known world in a time when most of the peoples and governments around today didn’t exist. China, much to Mongolia’s displeasure, regards him as the founder of a Chinese dynasty while Mongolia would point out he never Sinicized.

    Germany and Japan had both to a certain measure renounced their conduct and admitted fault for World War 2.

    Ghandi and Rizal both fought against governments that had renounced their colonial past and behaviour.

    Napoleon and Charles the 12th were both figures of Europe’s bloody past that most of Europe barring the former Eastern Bloc and the Balkans are eager to get behind.

    Singapore on the other hand did no such thing with our history as part of Malaysia.

    A closer, more apt comparison would be if Saudi Arabia had erected a monument and given a hero’s burial to Khalid al-Mihdhar.

    Name doesn’t ring a bell? Neither do those two Indos whose pictures you’ve posted above. Perhaps World Trade Center on September 11 would. He was one of the hijackers.

    Leaving out the US, most of the other nations whose nationals died in that attack would raise a diplomatic stink at the very least over such an affront the memory of their dead.

    Frankly, that you’d compare such historically significant figures with a couple of unlawful combatants whose only claim to fame was bombing an office building then being caught when their boat engine failed is an insult to those others you mentioned.

    Lastly, I have no idea how you’d ever be able to argue that a couple of non-uniformed bombers acting in a country not at war against on a civilian target can claim POW status in any modern court or military tribunal.

  13. 15 Rabbit 21 February 2014 at 18:36

    May be, someday our Malaysia counterpart decided to name their warship after LKY out of respect or in memorial of him. What if this ship bearing our PM’s name came attacking Singapore during war between us and Malaysia? Should we welcome “LKY” warship to attack us because it bears our “founding father” name. Than indonesia saw Singapore being attacked and decided to send these two “heroes” warships to our rescue, should we turn them away to sacrifice Singapore because these names killed a couple of Singaporeans in history?

    Similarly, why is our govt so supportive of JAPAN and their Japanese products when the number of citizens killed during Japanese occupation is even more massive. If we are to squabble with indonesia on ship naming, we should also refrain using Japanese products out of respect for the deceased’s families..

    In a bigger scheme of things, ASEAN should support each other and let their ships (in whatever name they chose) as long as they collectively serve ASEAN’s common purpose of protecting these region. This is very important when China is seen to expand their sea territory in these region of the world.

    You are right, our leader has no foresight and love petty politics. Everything about this govt is superficial

    The above is my 2cts of thoughts too.

  14. 16 thinkgb4posting 21 February 2014 at 18:36

    Based on that, it would be ok to celebrate terrorists as heroes, maybe one day afghanistan could name a ship Osama? shld we then also say that lets not begrudge them of their heroes?

    • 17 Hawking Eye 22 February 2014 at 14:25

      For America , Osama bin Laden was a real terrorist because it suffered grievously through his hands. Likewise for us, the two Indonesian Marines were real terrorists because they bombed and killed and injured our civilians. There may be thousands of silent Arabs and Muslims who may regard Osama a hero and martyr for inflicting a bloody nose on Uncle Sam as much the people who matter in Indonesia hold the two Marines as heroes. The terms terrorists and heroes are interchangeable depending on contexts and which side of the divide you sit in.

  15. 18 Hawking Eye 21 February 2014 at 23:27

    This is a refreshingly different take from a different perspective.

    If I am a nationalistic German, I would say Hitler is my hero, whatever the rest of the world may call him. So it may be for some Italians in respect of Mussolini or Yamashita for the Japanese. Well we have been tutored by the British to whack a square peg into a round hole – master’s enemy is my enemy!

    We protested the naming of the frigate by the Indonesians and rightly so. We could have avoided going over the top to register our anger stretching over extended days. We made the Indonesian people angry needlessly.

  16. 19 George Lam 22 February 2014 at 00:29

    At first they hide behind the relatives of the victims – the govt was purportedly concerned about their feelings being hurt by the Indonesians’ move. But when it was pointed out that if the govt is really so concerned about the victims’ feelings, why did Lee Kuan Yew, the PM in charge then and who was responsible for the hanging of the marines, actually made a trip a few years after Konfrontasi to sprinkle flowers on the graves of the two marines HE EXECUTED at the heroes’ cemetery, to show his respect for them? Since it was just 6 years after the MacDonald House bombing, feelings must most certainly be even more raw than now several decades later. From this one can judge how MANIPULATIVE and hypocritical the PAP is capable of.

    IMO, the LHL govt has bitten off more than it can chew, and I am quite sure retribution cannot be too far round the corner, esp. after SBY’s presidency. And it fully deserves it. Mark my words.

  17. 20 Disappointed 22 February 2014 at 01:03

    Even if our nation’s founding was designed to block the advance of “progressive nationalist” forces, as you’ve said and which you sounded as if you abhor, it doesn’t lend an ounce of legitimacy to the Indonesian offensive in Malaysia and Singapore during that time. Just because one has issues with new neighbours doesn’t give one the right to go over bombing/ terrorising/ killing them. The Indonesian course of action during the Konfrontasi was deplorable. Period. And I’m disappointed that instead of taking umbrage at their current naming of the frigate, you’re instead using this as an opportunity to take a cheap shot at the PAP.

    If “heroes are heroes because they fought some foreign power” as you claimed, Hitler would have been one of the greatest German heroes. By the same token, China and Korea ought to stop bugging Japan whenever its leaders decide to make a trip to Yasukuni to commemarate their heroes. What do you say about that?

    Washington, Gandhi and Jose Rizal were up against oppressive foreign powers, instead of merely “foreign powers” per se, and unlike the 2 Indonesian marines who had targetted unarmed civilians. Genghis Khan is revered by the Mongolians because he united the various warring Mongolian tribe and founded the Mongol Empire. He never managed to conquer China, it was his grandson who achieved that.

  18. 21 yawningbread 22 February 2014 at 09:39

    Whether or not civilians had been killed plays little part in how countries measure their heroes. If this were that important then US World War II leaders who ordered and led carpet-bombing of Cologne, Dresden, Tokyo, and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — leaders including Dwight Eisenhower, Curtis LeMay and Harry Truman — would not be held in the high esteem they are held today. There wouldn’t be two more nuclear aircraft carriers named Eisenhower and Truman, if killing civilians cast a veto.

    Moreover, who are chosen by state and cultural memory to be heroes have a lot of victor’s justice in that decision, no use trying to apply objective criteria.

    My point is not whether Usman and Harun were worthy heroes, my point is that we should not be making such a big fuss over Indonesia’s decision. It is not, in the light of wider history, such an absurd decision that we must call it out, and more importantly, it is not in Singapore’s best interest.to kick up a fuss over it.

    • 22 yuen 22 February 2014 at 12:18

      to take things back a bit, soldiers get killed in battles; they do not usually get ships named after them; Usman and Harun got honoured for a reason – indonesian government considered them to have been martyred, because they were executed as criminals rather than treated like prisoners of war;

      it really comes down to one country believing that a state of war existed over britain forming malaysian federation including borneo, and the other side believing the hostile actions were mere terrorism

      now SG might disagree with the views of its neighbour; whether it is necessary to publicly protest may depend on the state of diplomacy, or political expediency; I doubt it is merely a matter of petulance

    • 23 Hawking Eye 22 February 2014 at 13:31

      Blessed may you be. The depth of your knowledge and Socratic thinking and articulating them so succinctly without fear or favour makes you one of a kind in Singapore. Our Ministers are also very deep thinking and articulate but they are on a different track altogether. They serve and you awaken society!

    • 24 ;Annonymous 22 February 2014 at 17:16

      You could have included Ariel Sharon, mourned recently as a hero in Israel and by our leaders but a bête noir by the Palestinians. He was adjudged to have been guilty of abetting the killing of thousands of Palestinians by an Israeli Commission.

    • 25 George Lam 22 February 2014 at 18:58

      Yes, I am also amazed by this decision to create ill feelings with the Indonesians. I wonder what is the ulterior motive or agenda of the PAP govt. The timing cannot be more significant than the fact that SBY is close to finishing his terms. The only ‘good’ reason has to be a coming early GE. This issue and the rest unfolding like the $8 billion for the ‘pioneers’, nitpicking the Ajunied GRC TC accounts, etc are all part and parcel of an overall plan to soften and ‘sweeten’ the ground. The PAP knows that to continue to lose Aljunied GRC at the next GE spells doom to it dominance of Singapore, You can say it is a desperate last ditch attempt to right an already listing PAP ship.

    • 26 DT 24 February 2014 at 00:04

      Flawed comparisons. Those you named are held in high esteem because of their contributions to their countries in other areas. What have the two done? It may be better if you stick to your point that “it is not in Singapore’s best interest”.

      Furthermore, the above point did not come across clearly in your original article. Both groups of comments who supposedly agree or disagree with you have interpreted you as criticising the PAP government; with the opener that you had, it can hardly be interpreted in any other way.

      It is also illogical that you accuse the Singapore government of throwing a tantrum, of reopening the matter when it seems clear that it is the Indonesian government who reopened the issue? And your point that the Singapore government is using nationalism for its own purposes seem surprisingly too parochial; Indonesia is having their elections in April this year while Singapore is not due for elections till 2016 and there isn’t any present crisis in Singapore for the government to divert attention from.

      In addition, what “fuss” did the Singapore government kick up besides expressions of unhappiness and banning of the warships from Singapore territory? Personally, I feel these to be fair and restrained. You may have perceived these to be “kicking up a fuss” but others may feel that doing nothing is a sign that Singapore can be pushed around.

      Taken with the fact that Indonesia are having their elections in April this year, they may have named the warship on purpose with the calculation that Singapore would have protested and then they could have come in to, in your words, “drum up nationalistic solidarity”. If that is the case, the Singapore government can be lauded for not falling for such a bait by issuing such a measured response (in my view).

      There can be alternative perspectives to this issue but I really felt that your tone in your original article is simply overly-critical and your viewpoints to be too narrow. I hope that you are not allowing your misgivings with the PAP to distort your perceptions too much.

    • 27 lobo76 24 February 2014 at 10:33

      They did carpet bombing in an era when there were no smart bombs. Compare this to 2 people who CAN choose where to place their bombs.

      Atomic bombs were used when conventional ones wasn’t enough to force a surrender (that would reduce in lives lost, at least that was the aim). I didn’t think the Macdonald house bombing resulted in a net saving of lives…

      In short, killing civilians outside the “requirements of War” (because there is always collateral dmg) and killing civilians for the specific purpose of doing so, is the difference.

      • 28 Hawking Eye 2 March 2014 at 11:26

        Another version from a Japanese friend: Japan already knew that it was losing the war and hence sued for peace. A telegraphic message was sent to the Americans conveying this but the Americans denied having received them.

        It appears the Americans were not interested in entertaining the overture from the Japs. They found that it was an opportune time to test the efficacy of their atomic bomb and the enormous destructive power it can unleash in real time (the bomb dropped on Hiroshima was uranium based whilst the one dropped in Nagasaki was plutonium based). The Americans should have been more concerned with war at the European continent, which is closer home, than with far flung Far East. In that sense the natural target should have been Hitler and his Germany. But they spared Germany and went for Japan. I wonder if ‘race’ factor had a part to play in that decision.

      • 29 Anon 6l5g 2 March 2014 at 23:29

        Directed mostly at Hawking Eye. There may or may not be racist considerations in America’s decision to drop the atomic bombs in Japan, but it most likely wasn’t to “spare the Germans and went for Japan”.

        Hitler died April 30 1945. The design specifications of the first usable atomic bomb, Little Boy was completed on February 1945. Assembly of the bomb completed on July 1945. Time-wise, it doesn’t add up. The only enemy left by that point in time are the Japanese.

        Also, the Japanese didn’t actually make overtures to the Americans. They made it to the Russians, who they thought would help them negotiate more favorable terms.

        The distinction matters because by then the Russians and the Americans are squaring off to face each other in what would become the Cold War. I do not know if the Russians honored the overtures the Japanese made to them, but it is highly unlikely, because the Russians invaded the Japanese held Manchuria not long after.

        Also, the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki together killed about 250,000 people, a ghastly number for sure. But the numerous air-raids and firebombing before that killed anywhere from 240,000 to 900,000, not to mention destroying numerous cities.

      • 30 yawningbread 3 March 2014 at 10:27

        Yes, the Japanese in the final months of the war made overtures to the Russians who largely stayed mum. When the Russians suddenly attached Manchuria, the Japanese realised that it was truly hopeless.

  19. 31 patriot 22 February 2014 at 14:02

    My late father escaped from Japanese capture by jumping from a moving Japanese military vehicle. According to him, he witnessed the execution of many Chinese Civilians by the Japanese Imperial Armies.
    Yet, we have also learnt that the First Sin Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and an Ex-Sin President Name Nathan were working for those Japanese who targetted mostly the Chinese Civilians in the Whole of Asia and South East Asia for killing.
    How did and does Singaporeans view this working relationships between the Two Locals with the Japanese Imperial Armies who slaughtered fellow countrymen as well as fellowmen of the Same Race?

    patriot

  20. 32 RTL 22 February 2014 at 23:39

    I find it hard to believe that the pragmatic govt would be so dumb as to make a fuss out of this. Surely the legions of civil servants in MFA and Mindef (or common sense) would have advised them that there was no way the Indon Govt could have backed down even if they wanted to after Singapore made such a stinker abt it, not especially when Indon elections are around the corner.

    Anyway, so now that we have made such a stinker about it and the Indons told us to go mind our own business, it just makes Singapore look silly – like a brawling child asking for attention but the parents totally ignoring him. And so what have we achieved? Nothing except look silly – and maybe have a bunch of sheep-brained Singaporeans feeling nationalistic.

  21. 33 Anon 5hcf 23 February 2014 at 11:20

    We can FORGIVE and we cannot FORGET the act of TERROR which cause life.

  22. 34 Cynics 23 February 2014 at 16:54

    IF the gahmen says what Indonesian gahmen has done damages the bilateral relations between the two countries, then does anyone remember how SG gahmen treated her neighbours when she hosted the Israeli President Herzog many years ago?

    http://www.apnewsarchive.com/1986/Israeli-s-Visit-Irks-Singapore-s-Moslem-Neighbors/id-3898f57ce4d7f5050299ddcd0d08a8d7

    That president came to SG despite protest by Malaysian and Indonesian gahmen. So does this act of SG gahmen not also damage relations? My point is: SG gahmen don’t be double standard, you can do to others and yet others cannot do to you?

  23. 35 SIMPLE 24 February 2014 at 03:25

    What makes the great hoohaa by the Singapore ministers less credible is the underlying self-serving ulterior motive of trying to manipulate public’s feelings by making this into a nationalistic affair. In reality most Singaporeans after all these decades no longer care, or even remember, about the bombing or who the bombers were and their names. We also hold no animosity towards Indonesia or its government today. Don’t forget that then rogue President Soekarno was deposed by a military coup led by General Suharto who then became the next president and a very good friend of LKY and his government.

    It is ironic that LKY’s act of peace and friendship decades ago for the greater economic good of Singapore is being so quickly undone by his son and company in a disproportionate display of egoistic chest-thumpng and power-play. Singapore enjoyed abundant economic gains from our friendship with Indonesia in those days and even today.

    Our government is accusing the Indonesian government of approving of terrorism by the naming of the vessel. How so? Who arrested Mas Selamat and handed him over to us? Who has now apprehended and imprisoned his son ? Yes Indonesia.

    In the new order of military power, perhaps the little red dot thinks it is now the abang in the “abang-adek” relationship with Indonesia.

    • 36 lobo76 26 February 2014 at 15:46

      “In reality most Singaporeans after all these decades no longer care, or even remember, about the bombing or who the bombers were and their names.”

      And I would be one of them. To be honest, I had no idea about this ‘incident’ at all.

      Having said that, I don’t think meekly turning the other cheek is the right response. So far, what the govt has is ok by my books.

      p.s I have never voted for them, and hope they lose power. But, that doesn’t mean I have to disagree with everything they do…. which I suspect some of posters here might be guilty of.

  24. 37 Anon pVs8 24 February 2014 at 15:46

    What a stupid article glorifying terrorists and trivializing the damage and harm they had caused! These two ‘heroes’ were not in uniform when they orchestrated this atrocity, and they had specifically targeted a civilian building! The konfrontasi was not even a declared war! Even in war, care must be taken to prevent civilian casualties. If these two were so heroic, they should have donned their uniforms and came to Singapore guns blazing at legitimate military targets (oh yah, there was no legitimate military targets as it was an UNDECLARED WAR) instead of hiding behind a civilian disguise and attacking a civilian building! I don’t think they would be so willing to carry out their mission if they had to attack a military target and face the risk of attacking someone who can actually shoot back!

    I am a Singaporean borned in the 80s and even I am deeply angered by the actions of these two men when I first knew about it as a kid. Yet you, a person who is so much older and had lived thru those turbulent times can be so flippant about it! This was an unprovoked attack on our country and the government is right to strongly protest against the naming of the ship after two terrorists! Do you think for a second that Indonesia would not kick up a big fuss if they were in our shoes! What do you mean it is not in Singapore’s best interest to kick up a fuss over it? So we should just roll over and die everytime some big country (which is like just about every other country in the world) decide to provoke us cos it is not in our ‘best interest’?

    By the way, just to let you know (in case you think I am a fan), I had stumbled onto your article by mistake and felt so strongly against it that I had to leave this comment! Judging from this article, I wouldn’t bother reading anything else you had wrote!

  25. 38 Passerby 26 February 2014 at 20:39

    It’s how the game is played. Politicians protest against other countries’ transgressions and take symbolic actions, all for the local audience, while never really allowing permanent damage to long-term diplomatic relations to happen. Indonesia is not going to stop trading with us and we’re also not going to stop investing in them.

    Besides, Singapore has to register displeasure at the naming of the warship. Just like interpersonal relationships, you have to tell the other party that your feelings are hurt when they have said or done something that you feel aggrieved by. Do not go overboard in protesting, of course, and in the case of the warship, I don’t think Singapore has crossed the line.

    I also do not agree that Singapore has “lost face” because Indonesia is going ahead with the naming. I doubt anyone in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expected the Indonesians to acquiesce to our demands, but the complaint has to be lodged.

  26. 39 Caleb Yong 28 February 2014 at 04:09

    While I usually enjoy reading Yawning Bread posts, this post suggests a deep lack of moral judgment. Simply claiming that one is acting in a military capacity is not sufficient to justify imposing lethal harms on others. In particular, a military action which aims at civilian deaths (rather than having civilian deaths as a foreseeable consequence), is clearly unjust and amounts to murder: this is a simple consequence of accepting the principle of non-combatant immunity from direct attacks. As far as I can tell, bank clerks are not soldiers and are not legitimate targets in war. The two Indonesian marines committed an act of murder, and should be scorned, not glorified.

  27. 40 harry 1 March 2014 at 14:28

    I agree with u that the government has to be careful not to push this thing too far or they will be perceived as exploiting it to further their own agenda. However, u cannot fault a little Island with majority Chinese in a sea of Muslim countries for behaving in such a paranoid way. We have to or we will be easily swallowed. There is certain truth in the saying that only the paranoid will survive.

  28. 42 Russel Tan 3 March 2014 at 02:26

    I am rather perturbed by the way our ministers tried to create a sense of nationhood by fretting over an incident that most Singaporeans would not know anyway. The outbursts are unnecessary and the conditions then and now are so different that most people do not care anyway.The childishness of our leaders and more specifically our young ministers begs the question, can we trust them to hand over power to them one day. Such bad judgement!

  29. 43 Hawking Eye 3 March 2014 at 23:44

    We cannot remain meek and silent at such provocations, hence we have to register our protest. Whether we overplayed our hands is arguable. But what was the underlying motive in resurrecting a bygone issue and give it a new lease of life by naming a new frigate Usman-Harun, the two Marines (clearly terrorists or saboteurs to us but heroes to the Indonesians) who were put to death by Singapore in 1968 after being convicted of bombing MacDonald House in 1965 that killed and wounded several of our civilians

    Perhaps War Studies scholars can provide some insight as to what prompted the Indonesians to act the way they did beyond the simplistic reasoning touted that it was to gain political capital for some interested parties with an eye on the upcoming presidential election.

    Singapore may see looming threat to its existence in the long run as our neighbours catch up with us and become militarily and economically stronger. Never forget we are in the midst of the Malay Archipelago and we may never know when they would attempt to turn the Red dot to Green dot. Our continuing defense build up, population expansion program and strategic defense and economic ties respectively with US and China appear to be meticulously planned to counter these threats. We have to ensure that the Americans and the Chinese do not let us down at any time in the distant future.

  30. 44 Singaporean Male 4 March 2014 at 13:42

    Alex, I’ve always enjoyed reading your posts and find them insightful and well researched. However, I cannot agree with this post. It does not matter that I, like many other Singaporeans, either do not know or have forgotten about these 2 men before this latest incident came to light. The fact still remains that these 2 committed an act of terrorism on our soil, killing and injuring innocent civilians in peace time. Thus, naming of the vessels after these 2 men is rubbing salt on an old injury and we are within our rights to complain.


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For an update of the case against me, please see AGC versus me, the 2013 round.

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