72 years ago to the day, Singapore was ceded to the Japanese. The unconditional surrender came after a week of battle. It was the start of a horrific chapter in our nation’s history.
Our eyes are so affixed on the here and now these days, with our online newsfeeds on our mobile devices constantly buzzing with who’s done what right this moment, that we have become such self-absorbed individuals. So much of our online utterances are filled with outrage at how screwed up other people are, how governments are failing us or why we’re not getting the life we deserve.
As I stood at the Civilian War Memorial in the heart of the city waiting for the military parade to begin, I took some time to recall all the stories I heard about Singapore during World War 2: how my teacher’s dad was rounded up along with hundreds and hundreds of men who were brought to the beaches where they dug their own graves before being shot in the back, and bayonetted as they lay on the sand. Her father escaped by feigning death. 25,000 to 50,000 people were killed in Singapore and Malaya during the three years of the Japanese Occupation. Fathers, brothers, sons.
Can you imagine how many families were broken apart, and how many promising lives were cut short? My heart grows so heavy at the thought and rage slowly starts to fill it. I try to contain myself.
A minute’s silence was observed.
As the monument grounds fill with soldiers and their families, there is a sense of renewed, steely resolve not to ever let this happen to us again. A pair of grandparents I spoke to told me how proud they were of their grandson. Along with the rest of his fellow recruits, he would be receiving his rifle at the parade today. They smiled as they said that the little boy they knew had now grown up to take his place as a man.
It has been more than a decade since I was their age, and it felt surreal to watch these young men forcefully claim their rifles out of their commanders’ grasp; that defending our way of life would fall also on the strength of these youths. My mind instinctively thinks “they’re so young”, but the ache in my knees reminds me of how time has flown by. In the course of the next 2 years, these young men will be made ready.
We all hope that our children may know only days of peace, prosperity and happiness. But our hope is tempered with the reality that hard-nosed vigilance is our defence. We resolve not to let history repeat itself on our watch.