I thought then that wealth depended mainly on the possession of territory and natural resources, whether fertile land with abundant rainfall for agriculture or forestry, or valuable minerals, or oil and gas. It was only after I had been in office for some years that I recognised that performance varied substantially between the different races in Singapore, and among different categories within the same race. After trying out a number of ways to reduce inequalities and failing, I was gradually forced to conclude that the decisive factors were the people, their natural abilities, education and training. Knowledge and the possession of technology were vital for the creation of wealth.
The three and a half years of Japanese occupation were the most important of my life. They gave me vivid insights into the behaviour of human beings and human societies, their motivations and impulses. My appreciation of governments, my understanding of power as the vehicle for revolutionary change, would not have been gained without this experience.
Yet, throughout the 50 years since the end of the war, successive Japanese Liberal Democratic Party governments, the majority of leaders of all Japanese political parties, most of their academics and nearly all their media have chosen not to talk about these evil deeds. Unlike the Germans, they hope that with the passing of the generations these deeds will be forgotten, and the accounts of what they did buried in dusty records. When they refuse to admit them to their neighbours, people cannot but fear that it is possible for them to repeat these horrors. It was only when a non-LDP government took office in 1992 that a Japanese prime minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, gave an unqualified apology.
It was a competitive display of selflessness that swept a whole generation; the more selfless you were, the more you impressed the masses, and the more likely you were to be promoted within the organisation from the Anti-British League to the MCP, a communist party in the middle of a revolution.
In contrast, when we had to find workers, it was a real problem. We recruited volunteers from the unions and from among friends, but they all wanted to go home in time for dinner, for some function or other, or for a private appointment. There was no total commitment, no dedication as on the other side
I used to be quite depressed by the long-term implications of all this. I failed to realise then that they could not keep it up for long. Revolutionary zeal could only carry them thus far. In the end, they had to live and bring up families, and families required money, housing, health care, recreation and the other good things of life.
One odd thing about them though, was that when they abandoned communism, as some young Chinese middle school student leaders did, they often became extremely avaricious to make up for lost time. They seemed to feel that they had been robbed of the best years of their lives and had to make up for what they had missed. It was a preview of what I was to see later in China and Vietnam. When the revolution did not deliver utopia and the economy reverted to the free market, cadres, with the power to issue licences or with access to goods and services at official prices, were the first to be corrupt and exploit the masses.
Each student had to take three subjects…. and economics, because I believed it could teach me how to make money in business and on the stock market – I was naive!
Earlier, in January, Raja had drafted a PAP statement, which I then issued, proposing a general amnesty for the MCP. It was reasonable and logical, but in retrospect, naive and unworkable.
I had been naive in putting the few English-educated activists that I had into contact with the Chinese-speaking cadres of the MCP.