Saturday, August 13, 2005

Lessons from the Past

It takes all of fifteen minutes to travel from the north to the south end of our sunny island - on coach, that is. I was out the whole day on Friday, visiting World War II battlegrounds, and it was some trip. You never know that there could be value in such a short history of a young nation. There is so much to be learnt.

In a war, having the strongest and fittest force may not ensure victory. Strategy counts too. In the case of the Japanese, they practiced the Sun Tzu’s Art of Warfare - know yourselves, know your enemy and know the terrain and you will win a thousand battles. They also practice the Fifth Discipline (by Peter Senga): Personal mastery, Shared vision, Team learning, System Thinking and one more which has slipped my mind. They followed the modern strategy (conjured by none other than Alexander, the Great) of finding the weakness of our island - the north-west sector where only seven hundred of Australian regiment (ably supported by the local volunteer corps) are stationed. In contrast, the north-east sector comprised of a sixty thousand strong troop - the Ang Mohs (British) never thought that the Jap (or do they called them "Nippon"?) would bash through the swampy area to confront the Australians. The irony is that although this was essentially a British war, most of the people who died were Australians, Indian, and the local. The fall of Singapore was a bluff in fact; the Japanese had ran out of ammo by the time they fought from north gate (Bukit Timah/Bukit Batok) to the south gate (Pasir Panjang), but the British never knew, such is the state of their intelligence. But the Jap had captured the reservoirs- thus cutting off the water supply- and the British was running out of ammo and petrol. It was under this situation that the gentlemanly British's downfall in our island was plotted and that the unconditional surrender was staged at the ford factory, with which, the era of the British Empire was gone - such is its significance.

One damning, deathly fact about war is that the true victims are actually the commoners. With about twenty-five thousand dead soldiers, there were about fifty thousand of town, kampong and fishing village dwellers massacred. In the battle fiercely fought by the First and Second Battalions of the Malay Regiment at Pasir Panjang Ridge, the Jap suffered heavy losses. The Jap was so fired up by the death of their comrades that they charged down the hill to wipe out the then Alexandra Hospital, killing the doctors, nurses and patients - children included - in total disregards of the Geneva Convention.

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