Monday, May 17, 2010

A Nation Should Honour Its Heroes

In Chinese funerals, the wake typically lasts for 3, 5 or 7 days, always an odd number, the length being an indication of the family's financial standing. His wife had said she wanted a private funeral, but she had to defer to a request from the Government. When Goh Keng Swee's father died in 1971, he too had insisted on a private funeral, and newspapers were requested not to report on the event. But George Yeo claimed a state funeral will allow Singaporeans to "pay their respects to a founding father of the nation", a public ceremony which was denied the former President Ong Teng Cheong. That means at least 9 more days before the hard-working Goh Keng Swee will be allowed the final rest he so richly derserved.

In Lee Kuan Yew's memoirs it was claimed the life of a boy shot in the riots could have been saved if the communists had not insisted on parading his body around, making political mileage out of a personal tragedy. "Instead of taking him straight to the hospital, however, the other students put him on a lorry and paraded him around the town for three hours, so that by the time he was brought there he was dead from a wound in the lung." (The Singapore Story, page 203). But what is one life if another martyr could stoke up the fire of politics?

Since Friday, when Goh passed away at the age of 91, the local papers and and television media have broadcasted an endless parade of political personalities who trotted out to file past his lifeless body, and the photo opportunity. Goh was incapacitated for a whole decade after suffering a stroke, one wonders how many of those featured called on him while he was still alive? Neighbors of his Dunbar Walk residence could only recall the solitary evening walks with his wife, before he was confined to a wheelchair. Many who knew of his identity dared not speak to him, "We don't feel like we can just approach him," said one. Just another lonely senior citizen forgotten by society at large.

The accolades were piled on, the gratuitous as well as the well deserved. Credited for creating more acronymns than ever printed in one single article - EDB, DBS, POSB, MAS, MOF, GIC, MOE, SAF, JTC, SIA, JSL, etc - if Al Gore hadn't beaten him to it, they would have said he invented the internet as well. And there were the crocodile tears. After stepping down as Deputy Prime Minister in 1984 (the official spiel is that he "retired for personal reasons"), Goh Keng Swee the undisputed architect of Singapore's economic powerhouse, was not given a cabinet position or senior minister/mentor role, despite his invaluable wealth of information which will surely exceed the capacity of the largest thumb drive currently available. Instead he was despatched to China to help Zhao Ziyang with economic reforms. Yes, that Premier Zhao Ziyang who later fell out of favour with Deng Xiaoping and secretly recorded his memoirs on children's cassette tapes while under house arrest. 1984 was also the time when ministerial salaries started its exponential climb to astronomical heights, which must have left Goh and the other Old Guards like Rajaratnam and Toh Chin Chye gasping in sheer disbelief.

Dr Toh Chin Chye, possibly the last of the Mohicans, also spends his retirement days quietly, away from the public eye. The Straits Times featured Toh twice in 2005 and 2006 respectively, once on May 2, 2005 to pay his last respects to former president Wee Kim Wee. In February 2006, Toh was featured again in The Straits Times paying his last respects to the late former Deputy Prime Minister S. Rajaratnam at his home in Chancery Lane. In the 2009 launch of their Men In White book, the authors mentioned that when they took Dr Toh out for a drive, he did not know the building with the spiky roof is the Esplanade. Singapore has to have a better way to treat its real heroes.

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