18.4.06

the tiger and the trojan horse

Watching the television "conversation" between the Minister Mentor and a group of 20somethings (mostly journalists), I cannot help but pity the young people in that recording studio. All their years added together cannot match his. As they sought to ask what they had imagined were difficult, awkward questions about his arrogance, his political longevity, the PAP's obliteration of the opposition, did they seriously think that the MM would be trapped by their questions, that he would stumble in his answer, unwittingly reveal a weakness? Or did they imagine that they would be depicted and viewed as anything else but arrogant, disrespectful youths?

If they did, they would do well to read Dennis Bloodworth's The Tiger and the Trojan Horse. The late correspondent from The Observer (Bloodworth died last June) writes a prose as serpentine and faceted as the political drama he observes and records of Singapore's modern history. At times immediate, at times the distance feeds an appropriate irony.

The tiger in the title refers to the Communist United Front in that famous line from the now MM - "We were riding a tiger and we knew it." And the trojan horse refers to the PAP which, of course, denies such strategy - "...Our party does not intend to be the Trojan Horse of the Malayan Communist Party."

Ah, such poetry.

If the characters in the drama had indeed spoken the words Bloodworth accorded to them, then these were men and women who certainly knew their poetry - quite literally.
It was both a bond and a breaking point between coloniser and colonised. When Corridon came to arrest Devan Nair for the second time and was greeted with 'You f..king mercenary!' by the future President, the gap between cop and pre-communist closed as he retored, 'Mercenary? Yes, but don't forget they "saved the sum of things for pay".' For Nair knew his Housman too. One Chinese detainee asked Corridon for the works of W.H. Auden, adding contemptuosly, 'but you'll never have heard of him.' The ever-surprising Corridon promptly recited a few lines to put him in his place. 'You bloodly imperialist,' shouted the anti-colonial subversive, tears starting in his etes. 'How dare you quote from my favourite poem!'(p53)
And just in the page before, the now MM had successfully won an acquittal as legal adviser to the Socialist Club accused of sedition for their anti-colonial article that labelled Malaya a police state in 1954 -
An accompanying photograph shows the acquitted students and Lee Kuan Yew drinking a toast to Pritt and 'freedome of speech'. None saw the irony of celebrating a victory that had been won just because law and liberty had been upheld in a colonial court. For the values of the colonialists were the natural moral environment of these sworn enemies of colonialism - the measure, as Goh Keng Swee might have said, of what was decent.(p52)
So history, too, deals with a deft hand and a crooked smile - those who have dethroned the powerful succeed by the latter's own administration and machinery; so when those who were once the rebels themselves have assumed the throne, they will inherit the same means of exacting control as their retreating oppressors. There will always be tigers to be feared or tamed, and trojan horses to construct. But meanwhile, there are zoo-keepers.

Bloodworth also highlights to his readers the youthfulness of these anti-colonial and/or pro-communist lawyers, doctors, journalists, civil servants and unionists. They were 24, 28, 32... not any older or younger than the participants on last weekend's televised "conversation". But those young persons seemed to be constituted differently - or as the circumstances demanded. So it is clear that what we have today is not a time for political change, when a striped creature and a machine horse might emerge, much less to cross paths. The social democrats (though I think this is no longer the ideological banner under which the ruling party governs?...of course, ideology is dead) have done well to keep their span wide in the right, but ensuring that the social goods are always delivered, grounded in pragmatism and communitarianism. The violence, disorder, injustice and ineptitude of, variously, the Japanese occupiers, communist guerillas and British colonisers are absent. Of course, there are other forms of violence and disorder today - but that is not for this narrative.

As the MM reminded his fellow "conversationalists" on last weekend's television programme - the grand narrative has already been written, their job is only to try to understand it and its reasons for being. Me? I much prefer the enjoyable read Bloodworth produced - written in a style as one would fiction.

5 comments:

said...

funny, there's a book sale thing at work, and i picked up this book!

ampulets said...

good choice ;> hope you have fun reading it...i'm only at chap10, but already learning lots!

l&g said...

hmmm... i like your writing! shall try picking up the book too.

orangeclouds said...

yes i actually read the book in secondary school! i remember it quite captured my imagination... n was probably one of my formative influences. it made me see that history was not linear but incredibly multi-faceted. N that in good hands, it was not dry n musty but the stuff of great yarns :)

R u another one of my twins, Ms Ampulets? i have a few of them around, all small brainy types with eerily similar reading, music n filmic tastes.

ampulets said...

yes, I can be your twin (small brainy type is exactly right) so we can both claim another birthday in the year :>

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