(On January 1, 2015, I challenged myself to read twelve history books this Jubilee year to fill in the gaps in my knowledge, and blog about them.)
March’s read was The 1963 Operation Coldstore In Singapore: Commemorating 50 Years by Poh Soo Kai and April’s read was The Fajar Generation: The University Socialist Club and the Politics of Postwar Malaya and Singapore by Poh Soo Kai, Tan Jing Quee, and Koh Kay Yew. (Yes, I’m late in putting these mini-reviews up!)
“Operation Coldstore,” a security operation during which 111 leftist activists, newspaper editors, trade unionists, and university students were arrested and detained, including key members of the opposition political party Barisan Sosialis, was touted as an anti-communist sting. In fact, the following day’s Sunday Times reported that Operation Coldstore was “aimed at preventing subversives from establishing a ‘Communist Cuba’ in Singapore.”
In The 1963 Operation Coldstore In Singapore, Coldstore detainee and Barisan assistant secretary-general Poh Soo Kai, presents a collection of accounts of this event by ex-detainees, interspersed with academic essays that provide context to the historical events and a critique of history writing in Singapore. Operation Coldstore remains the most contentious event in the history of postcolonial Singapore, as the establishment argues that the arrests was rightly justified as a security measure that saved Singapore “from subversion and imminent outbreak of violence,” and ex-detainees who maintain that it was to prevent the opposition forces from winning the 1963 general election. Reading The 1963 Operation Coldstore In Singapore has prompted me to read a new “establishment” book, Revisiting Operation Coldstore: Deconstructing the “Original Sin” by Kumar Ramakrishna, Associate Professor and Head of Policy Studies at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
The Fajar Generation: The University Socialist Club and the Politics of Postwar Malaya and Singapore is similar in stricture (personal accounts and academic essays) by members of The University Socialist Club in the University of Malaya (University of Singapore) who advanced an agenda of anti-colonialism, democracy, multiculturalism, and social justice. The events in this book predate the events in The 1963 Operation Coldstore In Singapore, but the many players were the same. Reading The Fajar Generation has prompted me to read The May 13 Generation: The Chinese Middle Schools Student Movement And Singapore Politics in the 1950s by Tan Jing Quee, Tan Kok Chiang, and Hong Lysa. On May 13, 1954, a group of Chinese students delivered a petition for exemption from military conscription to the acting colonial governor of Singapore; it was a pivotal moment for the struggle against British colonialism in Singapore.
Again, both books are definitely good and necessary reads, though they assume readers already have a lot of background information about these eras in Singapore politics. I found myself Googling quite a bit while reading, and discovered just how disputed these narratives are by the State.
FYI, I purchased The 1963 Operation Coldstore In Singapore at the new 草根書室 (Grassroots Book Room) and borrowed The Fajar Generation from NLB.