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Nation-building in Singapore: AY 2014-5

HY 2229/SSA2204: Lecture 4
SINGAPORE A Nation Forged by War?


How war forged a nation: The Australian Experience


Did war forge a nation? The Singapore Experience


In The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18, war was seen
as a major force in the forging of the Australian nation. As Charles Bean
wrote, The Australian nation came to know itself through the
participation of some 300,000 of its men in the First World War.
Prior to it, Australia is a country with 6 different factions
First world war forge the bonding in these countries in a common effort to
defend themselves

In Singapore, the Japanese occupation during the Second World War, in

particular, has been often been portrayed as a defining moment in the
making of the Singapore nation.

Why did Japan invade Singapore?

China did not care about the rising power of the western countries, believing that there is
nothing to learn from the wwest (stick to traditional methods)
Japan on the other hand aims to catch up with the western nation in order to break free of
western rule
With modernization, Japan then aims to colonise asia
Japan attacked korea and chase China away (1894)
Japan defended its control in korea by winning the war against Russia when they
invaded korea
Japan also gained control over china
WWI Japan was added in some seats (1914-18)
Depression Severely affected by it due to the heavy dependence on trade
o Lack of funds to draw in raw material for production
o Turn towards colonization to solve their problems
o This is further reinforced by the poor response to the economic situation
which results in the growth of military power (they are focused on
expansion of land)
Etablishment of Manchuria (1931-32)
Chinese nationalism aims to over throw the Japanese rule in china
o This threat was noticed by japan hastening the conquer of china

o Sino japansese war (1937 1945) Japan took over most of the important
parts of china, namely the industrial and costal regions
o Fall of china was due to the lack of help from external forces
US did not need to help due to the lack of investment in china
European people rather be on good terms with japan due to
investment in china and the lack of ability to protect eeastern areas
o US helped China in forms of loans to build train to supply war material for
the fight against Japan
o War in Europe Germany invaded France and Netherlands
o Someone forced the train to stop transporting


Japans rise to power was brought about by the interplay of a series of

international and regional forces (from the latter half of the 19 th century and
continuing into the first half of the 20 th century) that propelled Japan, through
a programme of modernization and colonial expansion, to become the
paramount power in East Asia through the extension of its influence and
control to Korea (1894, 1904-5), Manchuria (1931-32), and China (1937-45).


By 1938, however, a series of diplomatic crises in Europe culminated in

the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe from September 1939. This
started a process that impelled Japan to turn its ambitions southwards to
Southeast Asia.


Taking advantage of the Wests distraction in Europe, Japan initiated a

number of steps to consolidate its position in East and Southeast Asia by
first declaring first the establishment of its new order in East Asia (1938)
and subsequently the formation of a Greater East Asia Co-prosperity
Sphere (1940) to include the Southeast Asian states as the resource
bases for the East Asian industrial heartland of Japan, China and

Japan also concluded the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy (1940)
and Neutrality Pact with Russia (1941) to position itself for a southward
advance into Southeast Asia the former to ensure US inaction (unless it
was prepared to declare war also on Germany and Italy) and the latter to
ensure that Russia would not attack Japanese positions in north China as
they campaigned south.

Japans moves brought her into conflict with the US, the other major Pacific
power. The US saw Japanese expansionism in Asia as linked to German
expansionism (rise of 2 huge power would threat US position) in Europe and

responded by imposing economic sanctions on Japan, culminating in a full

trade embargo in 1941. Both side continue to dig further in April 1941
Neutrality Pact with Russia for them to advance downwards. Japan was
heavily affected by the embargo, mianly due to fuel (10% from local sources,
10% from Indonesia (Netherlands control) 80% from US). Due to the stop of
input (resources, oil will deplete) they believe that they have to go to war as
soon as possible to have a chance to win. The military side wanted to conquer
and attack Pearl Harbour, claim dominance before negotiating with the US


However the polical part of Japan wanted to negiotiate with the US to lift the
embargoment in exchange of them giving up their conquest southward.
Hoever, US at that point was no longer in the mood to negotiate and will ony
settle for a retreat of Japan to 1931 borders. Unwilling to return to the 1931
borders, which would imply accepting national humiliation, Japan chose war
and targeted the destruction of the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on 7
December 1941.

Why Fortress Singapore fell


The Local School (Prominent in 1940s and 1950s)


Main argument: Local factors, particularly those associated with the

Malayan campaign Time frame (1941-42), played a decisive role in the
fall of Singapore.
Leadership failures by the British
Fail to implement Ops Matador To invade Thailand to defend the north
Fail to construct defenses
Fail to position forces correctly (Guns pointing towards the sea specializes
in sinking ships and not killing people)
Fail to mobilize local manpower wanted to show that they are in
control and sufficient

11 The Strategic School


Main argument: Britains inability to provide adequate resources to

Malaya (1939-41) led to its swift defeat.
First priority to defend their own country
Second priority , the struggle in the middle east
Third priority to supply Russia (war against Germany)
We are their last priority
The Naval Base School

Main argument: Britains neglect of its imperial defences during the interwar period (1919-1939), a consequence of economic overstretch after the
First World War, was decisive in the development of the flawed
Singapore strategy based on the building of a naval base at Singapore

and the arrival of the British fleet from its permanent deployment in
Atlantic waters, to protect its eastern empire during times of crisis.

The Japanese Occupation and the making of the Singapore Nation


The Transformation Perspective

This view argues that the Japanese Occupation was a major turning point
that transformed the history of the region. It had destroyed the myth of
western invincibility, precipitated the rise of new anti-colonial elites, and
transformed the nature of nationalism that made possible the subsequent
dismantling of western empires in the region.
a. Rethinking [De]colonization
The war also led to the emergence of new mindset. This view has
been widely supported by many of Singapores post-war leaders
(like Lee Kuan Yew, S.R. Nathan, S. Rajaratnam, Said Zahari,
Fong Sip Chee), who traced their political awakening to the
Japanese Occupation.
b. Redesigning British Malaya: A separate Singapore nation?
The war led to the launch of the Malayan Union scheme in its
aftermath that resulted in Singapores severance from its Malayan

Reinventing Nationalism: A new Singapore nationalism?

The war not only produced new Singapore heroes but also created
new conditions that unleashed a territorial nationalism in its
aftermath spearheaded by a new set of nationalist leaders.


Relearning lessons of the War

The war provided valuable lessons for Singapores subsequent
nation-building process, particularly in the importance of asserting
its own responsibility in defense and not depending on outsiders to
defend its sovereignty.
New Singapore heroes
New nationalist leaders
New environment
New nationalism


The Continuity Perspective


This view argues that the Japanese Occupation was not really as
transforming an event as it was made out to be. It would be disingenuous
to generalize that it transformed the region. The myth of western
invincibility was not really destroyed in some cases, old elites continued to
be in power, and the nature of nationalism remained essentially

The role of the Japanese Occupation in forging the Singapore nation

therefore requires greater clarity as to the nature and extent of the


Rethinking Decolonization
Decolonization was not inevitable after the war. In fact, the British
returned to Malaya and Singapore as colonizers, not decolonizers.
Is there really a change in mindset? (took 17 years for


Reinventing Nationalism: A new Singapore nationalism?

It is not at all certain Singapores wartime heroes were fighting for

an independent Singapore.
Did they fight for an independent Singapore?
o Lim Bo Seng was pro Chinese government
o Pro Malaya? Communist?
c. Redesigning British Malaya a permanent legacy?
Perhaps the only lasting legacy of the war is Singapores
separation from the peninsula. Only factual claim

The war produced its own share of contradictions. No one could possibly have
foreseen that an independence movement would emerge in its aftermath and that
this would culminate in the island achieving self-government in 1959 and then
independence in 1963.

Assoc Prof Albert Lau

2 September 2014