A famous line from an Apple commercial in 1997 reads: “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
The man behind those words is the late Steven Paul Jobs, known for co-founding and building one of the most successful brands in the world. For many young Singaporeans, Steve Jobs has been an inspiration for his incredible drive and vision for the future. But let’s not forget another man closer to home, whose same ardour and fortitude brought us into first-world brilliance against all odds.
Lee Kuan Yew was born into a well-off Hakka-Peranakan family in 1923, surviving the Japanese occupation as a teen in the 1940s. He studied law in London as a young adult and came back to Singapore in 1950, with his mind set on helping the former colony gain independence from the British and turning his homeland into a blooming city as part of a merger with our neighbour Malaysia.
When the merger failed to work out, the already Prime Minister had his heart shattered along with his dashed dream of cross-country integration. Agonised, demoralised, drained, he still had the welfare and livelihood of almost 2 million people on his tired shoulders. That was still not enough to bring a man like him down.
On paper, there was simply no way a country as small as Singapore could survive alone. Not without natural resources or an army to defend against countless other established powers who may want a piece of vulnerable meat. Singapore, 50 years onward, would be in a very different place if not for one man’s grit, intelligence, and sheer belief in the unity of a country.
On the noon of 9 August 1965, Mr Lee held a televised press conference at the old broadcasting house and addressed the nation that had just been booted out of Malaysia.
“There is nothing to be worried about it. Many things will go on just as usual. But be firm, be calm. We are going to have a multi-racial nation in Singapore. We will set the example. This is not a Malay nation; this is not a Chinese nation; this is not an Indian nation. Everybody will have his place: equal; language, culture, religion,” said Mr Lee, his resolve not breaking despite shedding those famous tears.
And with that speech laid the foundation of the National pledge, the words that ring through the halls of hundreds of schools every school day morning.
Our heartfelt appreciation for the sacrifice you have made to make Singapore the first-world country we live in today will never perish. Thank you for being “crazy enough” to try to change our world. With a unifying fist to our chest, let us in honour of our great leader, pledge ourselves as one united nation regardless of race, language or religion.
Rest in peace.
(Photos courtesy of the Remembering Lee Kuan Yew Facebook Page)