On the Second Day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew

7-day Period of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew:

Last Day of National Mourning for Harry Lee Kuan Yew – State Funeral Procession

On the Sixth day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew, and the Wilful Blindness of Man

On the Fifth Day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew

On the Fourth Day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew

Third Day of National Mourning: Long Snaking Queues to Pay Last Respects to Lee Kuan Yew

On the Third Day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew

On the Second Day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew

Farewell and Good Night, Harry Lee Kuan Yew – 7 Reasons for Respecting LKY

On the second day of national mourning for Lee Kuan Yew, I happened to be the Singapore General Hospital when I looked past the doors near Bengawan Solo at Block 7 and saw a large pile of cards and flowers under white tentage.

balloons, cards, flowers at the Singapore General Hospital after the death of Lee Kuan YewIt was a remarkably sad scene – amidst the expired “Get Well Soon” cards and balloons, there were messages of condolences from Singaporeans and people who identified themselves as coming from many other places around the world. Several older folk were weeping openly in their wheelchairs or were, supported by their children, bowing to images of the man.

I have no political affiliation and, like some families, have relatives who might not have benefitted from the so-called iron-fist rule, but I do respect the guy.

It was interesting to observe the re-emergence of naysayers after a day. These hostile responses all seem to riff on 3 ideas:

  1. woohoo, the human rights-trampling dictator is dead and cowed and fearful Singaporeans are free!
  2. what mourning period? How dare you curb my freedom of speech to say what I want and when I want to!
  3. he’s not as great as you think ok – stop all this myth-making.

Just a few cents to stop all this from rattling around in my head:

Hostile Response 1 (human rights, iron fist, dictator, defamation suits) is a little boring in that while so many wag their heads about it, I have yet to read a single commentary that has anything concrete to say:

  • there are the ones with clumpy thinking – that is, they conflate all sorts of ideas without any necessary logical or causal link between them. “Lee Kuan Yew was powerful, therefore he must be rich, and all rich people obtain their ill-gotten wealth through corruption.” Well, there’s nothing to suggest he was corrupt (in fact, there’s evidence to the contrary). If he was paid well, heck, any country in the world would have cobbled together to double his salary. And if he’s saved up a tidy sum – maybe the lack of home renovation, upgrading of technological equipment, expensive cafe-hopping and restaurant-hopping, purchasing of designer goods might be a factor.
  • there’s a lack of clarity in use of terminology – we young ones have grown up believing that once someone labels anything or anyone as being anti-democratic or in violation of human rights, that person is to be damned. I may not be an expert in this but having written about human rights as my final year thesis and also having helped organise an international conference on the topic, I know that human rights are never absolute and however they may be defined, those rights are always balanced against other rights within a society. A similar question might be asked about the concept of democracy. So there is a spectrum of understanding as to what constitutes human rights, whether human rights are even right, and whether democracy (whatever it is) is the best model for the government of a society.
  • so there are also baseless assumptions – that iron-fisted-ness = dictatorship and dictatorships are always bad. (i) Dictators aren’t always a bad thing for a nation. I think dictators were actually appointed by Roman democracies in instances of emergencies, because have you ever tried getting anything done by committee? Just ask a group of people where they want to go for dinner or what movie they want to watch…(ii) To be ruled absolutely by an intelligent person who cares for the good of his people and is able to plan rightly for the future? Why should any one mind? (iii) According to S Dhanabalan, in the decision-making process, there was consultation and sparring and disagreement amongst the ministers, so it wasn’t an LKY dictatorship.
  • what we want is meaty discussion about possible alternative solutions. LKY himself was perfectly candid about having to lock people up without trial (the Marxist Conspiracy). He explained the dangers he saw and the necessity of doing so. He sued opponents for defamation because he understood that he needed moral authority to rule and could not do so if he did not vigorously dispute what he saw to be lies and impeachments on his character. Assuming this is his thinking, we must then focus not on calling him names but figuring out what he could have done differently. If he did his best, then what can we learn from the mistakes he might have made – what would be a better way to address those concerns then and how might we be able to do so in the future?

flowers, balloons, cards at the Singapore General Hospital after the death of Lee Kuan Yew

Hostile Response 2 (don’t trample on my freedom of speech). Well, do go ahead darling, but you see, there is really a time and place for everything – it’s good manners, and it’s just the way people show their humanity and their empathy. What comes out of the mouth just demonstrates the heart of the speaker. See, for example, ex-Opposition Chiam See Tong’s condolence letter – that is an example of a man of good character.

  • Also, what do you mean by free speech? To have a proper discussion about this, it might be better to understand this concept in relation to other concepts that fall under the nebulous category of human rights. There isn’t a country in the world where you have a complete right to free speech, because it must always be balanced with other people’s right to protect their reputation (from lies, slander – yes, defamation) and people’s right to live in peace (because most violence is incited by the hateful, spiteful words of others).
  • Different countries would also necessarily have different boundary markers for free speech, because the racial, cultural make-up of each country is different, and there are a host of other national concerns that must be considered.
  • The proper use of free speech (just like the proper use of democracy) occurs when those speaking are keen to contribute to the good of society or humanity. In this regard, Hostile Response 2 already suggests otherwise, but in any case, outside the mourning period, it would be much more helpful for everyone if we had something concrete to say when discussing these matters. That is, strawman statements may get you loads of “Likes” on Facebook but doesn’t quite support your demand that complete free speech is a necessity.

flowers, balloons, cards at the Singapore General Hospital after the death of Lee Kuan Yew

Hostile Response 3

Again, I think these are eulogies. You don’t speak ill of the dead out of compassion for the bereaved. So in eulogies, you remember the good things he has done. Yes, it is skewed, but no one is writing a definitive history; they are comforting the mourners.

And don’t worry. I’m sure the Catholic Church isn’t going to canonise him anytime soon. Nor has the “state-controlled press” attributed miracles to him, nor were there reports of thousands of crows swopping down on Singapore General Hospital. (Otherwise, you would have seen it on social media, and someone would have accused the gahmen of slacking on pest control.)

And certainly, no one is saying Lee Kuan Yew did this all on his own. He was well aware of the need for a ruling elite (yes, elite) and also middle managers who could get things done. See Transcript of Speech by the Prime Minister at a Meeting with Principals of Schools at the Victoria Theatre on 29th August 1966. And in his speech on The Search for Talent in 1982, LKY credited Goh Keng Swee and Hon Sui Sen for Singapore’s economic development (and also had things to say about foreign talent!).

Farewell and Goodnight, Harry Lee Kuan Yew – 7 Reasons For Respecting LKY

7-day Period of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew:

Last Day of National Mourning for Harry Lee Kuan Yew – State Funeral Procession

On the Sixth day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew, and the Wilful Blindness of Man

On the Fifth Day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew

On the Fourth Day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew

Third Day of National Mourning: Long Snaking Queues to Pay Last Respects to Lee Kuan Yew

On the Third Day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew

On the Second Day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew

Farewell and Good Night, Harry Lee Kuan Yew – 7 Reasons for Respecting LKY

I’m not an easy respecter of persons. No crushes on seniors; have never been a fan of any pop group or personality; constantly set the nit-pick on prominent theologians. But in the last few months, death has claimed two of the few people I’ve respected: Teo Soon Hoe (who was known only to a few within his industry) and today, Lee Kuan Yew (known by a nation, and more globally).

flags flying at half-mast at The Fullerton Hotel, Singapore, 23 March 2015, death of Lee Kuan Yew flags flying at half-mast at The Parliament House in Singapore, 23 March 2015, death of Lee Kuan Yew flags flying at half-mast at The Treasury in Singapore, 23 March 2015, death of Lee Kuan YewFlags are flying at half-mast everywhere in Singapore. And there is a certain sad stillness and muffledness to the day. Perhaps I have never observed this before but the piped-in music in shopping centres and supermarkets seems muted as Singapore starts its 7-day period of national mourning.

Walking past Parliament House, I saw condolence messages being written and put up on boards, and bouquets of flowers being laid in front of the compound:

flags flying at half-mast in Singapore and condolence messages at The Parliament House, 23 March 2015, death of Lee Kuan Yew flags flying at half-mast in Singapore and condolence messages at The Parliament House, 23 March 2015, death of Lee Kuan Yew flags flying at half-mast in Singapore and condolence messages at The Parliament House, 23 March 2015, death of Lee Kuan Yew flags flying at half-mast in Singapore and condolence bouquets in front of Parliament House, 23 March 2015, death of Lee Kuan Yew flags flying at half-mast in Singapore and condolence messages at The Parliament House, 23 March 2015, death of Lee Kuan YewHere are at least 7 reasons for respecting LKY and 7 reasons why his family* should be proud of having a father/grandfather like him. The mix is potent – intelligence and power without integrity gives you a very cunning dictator; integrity and incorruptibility is nice but useless for a politician without intelligence:

He was clear-thinking, straight-talking, and astute in international affairs:

“UK Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher said Lee had a way of “penetrating the fog of propaganda and expressing with unique clarity the issues of our time and the way to tackle them”, while US diplomat Henry Kissinger said no world leader had taught him more than Lee Kuan Yew.” (BBC News, Lee Kuan Yew: Life in pictures, 22 March 2015)

from Lee Kuan Yew Collection

“Lady Thatcher once said that there was no Prime Minister she admired more than Mr Lee for ‘the strength of his convictions, the clarity of his views, the directness of his speech and his vision of the way ahead’. His place in history is assured, as a leader and as one of the modern world’s foremost statesmen.” (UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s statement following the death of Singapore’s first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew)

“He was not at all a charmer. He was not a flatterer. He had developed his point of view. He would present it with great intelligence and eloquence – not in order to get you to do something specific, but to understand the nature of the world in which you were living…Because afterall, Singapore as a country did not represent a major force. It was the intelligence of the leaders and the ability of its population to do standards of performance that exceeded those of its neighbours. Otherwise, it would have been drowned.” (Henry Kissinger, Business Times, 23 March 2015)

He was clear-thinking, straight-talking, and astute in domestic affairs:

““To understand Singapore,” he said, “you’ve got to start off with an improbable story: It should not exist.”

It is a nation with almost no natural resources, without a common culture — a fractured mix of Chinese, Malays and Indians, relying on wits to stay afloat and prosper.

“We have survived so far, 42 years,” he said. “Will we survive for another 42? It depends upon world conditions. It doesn’t depend on us alone.”

This sense of vulnerability is Mr. Lee’s answer to all his critics, to those who say Singapore is too tightly controlled, that it leashes the press, suppresses free speech, curtails democracy, tramples on dissidents and stunts entrepreneurship and creativity in its citizens.

“The answer lies in our genesis,” he said. “To survive, we have to do these things. And although what you see today — the superstructure of a modern city — the base is a very narrow one and could easily disintegrate.”” (The New York Times, Modern Singapore’s Creator Is Alert to Perils, 2 September 2007)

“Younger people worry him, with their demands for more political openness and a free exchange of ideas, secure in their well-being in modern Singapore. “They have come to believe that this is a natural state of affairs, and they can take liberties with it,” he said. “They think you can put it on auto-pilot. I know that is never so.”

The kind of open political combat they demand would inevitably open the door to race-based politics, he said, and “our society will be ripped apart.”” (The New York Times, Days of Reflection for Man Who Defined Singapore, 10 September 2010)

He did not take bribes:

“The Americans should know the character of the men they are dealing, with in Singapore and not get themselves further dragged into calumny… You do not buy and sell this Government.” (as far as we know and at least in this case – see a newspaper article on the Rusk affair)

He had strong feelings for the right people (you don’t need someone wearing his heart on his sleeve):

“People think about him as an austere, logical and cerebral sort of person. I think he has strong feelings about quite a number of things, and also in his personal relationships with my mother, with the kids, he may not show it, but he feels it.” (Lee Hsien Loong, Today, 2012)

by Kwa Kim Li

“He brushed aside the words of a prominent Singaporean writer and social critic, Catherine Lim, who described him as having “an authoritarian, no-nonsense manner that has little use for sentiment.”

“She’s a novelist!” he cried. “Therefore, she simplifies a person’s character,” making what he called a “graphic caricature of me.” “But is anybody that simple or simplistic?”” (The New York Times, Days of Reflection for Man Who Defined Singapore, 10 September 2010)

See also A Love Story (The Sunday Times, Lee Wei Ling, 20 Jun 2010).

And Lee Kuan Yew: The Last Farewell to My Wife (The Star/Asia News Network, 10 October 2010)

And also ‘Without her, I would be a different man’: Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s love affair (Channel News Asia)

And again, The Love of His Life (Today – Special Edition, 23 March 2015)

With the sort of power he had, it was amazing that he was not corrupt and did not line his own pockets:

according to this page, this is what his Oxley Rise living room looks like.

“GROWING up, my family used to bathe using large dragon-motif ham dan gong, or salted egg jars in Cantonese. We would fill them up with water and ladle it out to wash ourselves at our home on Oxley Road.

My parents did this for almost six decades since my father moved into the house in 1945, and my mother, in 1950. It was only after my mother had her first stroke in 2003 that a shower was installed in their tiny bathroom. I think it was in part because they were so set in their ways. But it was also because my father neither cared for material things, nor coveted them.

He lived in a simple spartan way; his preoccupations and priorities lay elsewhere. Some people collect watches, shoes, pens, rare books, antiques or art, but not my father. When people gave him all sorts of gifts, he kept almost none of them. … How would I like my father to be remembered? Well, he never worried about winning any popularity contest. He would speak his mind. He fought for what he believed was best for the country and the people of Singapore. He always had the best interests of the country at heart. And at home, it was always the interests of his children and our mother.” (Lee Hsien Yang, The Straits Times -Special Edition, 23 March 2015)

and this is consistent with him being pragmatic, not for his own power, but for Singapore’s future:

“Singapore’s secret, Mr. Lee said, is that it is “ideology free.” It possesses an unsentimental pragmatism that infuses the workings of the country as if it were in itself an ideology, he said. When considering an approach to an issue, he says, the question is: “Does it work? Let’s try it, and if it does work, fine, let’s continue it. If it doesn’t work, toss it out, try another one.” The yardstick, he said, is: “Is this necessary for survival and progress? If it is, let’s do it.”” (The New York Times, Modern Singapore’s Creator Is Alert to Perils, 2 September 2007)

““I’m not saying that everything I did was right,” he said, “but everything I did was for an honorable purpose. I had to do some nasty things, locking fellows up without trial.”” (New York Times, Days of Reflection for Man Who Defined Singapore, 10 September 2010)

“There are those who believe that development was bought at the price of personal freedom and often cite Lee’s penchant for suing media organisations who disagreed with him.

But Mr Lee stood by his record until the end. “I did some sharp and hard things to get things right. Maybe some people disapproved of it… but a lot was at stake and I wanted the place to succeed, that’s all,” he said in a 2011 collection of interviews.

“At the end of the day, what have I got? A successful Singapore. What have I given up? My life.”” (BBC News, Obituary: Lee Kuan Yew, 22 March 2015)

He was not always thinking about his legacy, which troubles loads of other people, petty actors as they may be on life’s stage:

“Interviewer: How would you want him to be remembered?

PM: He never troubled himself with that question either. But I don’t know what to say. He is a father, he is a father of the nation, and he made this place.” (Lee Hsien Loong, Today, 2012)

Straits Times Special Edition on the Death of Lee Kuan Yew, and ang ku kueh(apparently, ang ku kueh (red tortoise shell cakes) at funerals represent the virtuous life of the ancestors)

Singapore newspapers have put their special features online:

Today Newspaper

The Straits Times: Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

Various obituaries and eulogies and opinion pages from all around the world, from friends and critics:

Henry A. Kissinger: The world will miss Lee Kuan Yew (Henry A. Kissinger, The Washington Post, 23 March 2015)

Lee Kuan Yew, Asian statesman – obituary (The Telegraph, 23 March 2015)

How Kuan Yew turned tragedy into a blessing (Zainuddin Maidin, 23 March 2015)

Can-Do Lee Kuan Yew (Roger Cohen for The New York Times, 23 March 2015)

And of course, there are several Facebook groups:

Remembering Lee Kuan Yew (official website)

Thank You Mr Lee Kuan Yew

Founding Father Singapore

PS: Also, he was a cheeky kid. See Top Performer with a Playful Streak from a defunct Raffles Institution magazine, ONE.

*Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Wei Ling, Lee Hsien Yang, Li Xiuqi, Li Yipeng, Li Hongyi, Li Haoyi, Li Shengwu, Li Huanwu, Li Shaowu etc.)