Lee Kuan Yew's experiences of fear
📷: Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore
“I have experienced fear. People in Singapore were terrified in February 1942 when Japanese troops captured Singapore, and in 1964 when race riots caused panic and fear. In 1968 when Britain announced their troop withdrawal from Singapore… In each crisis, people and leaders shared this worry for their future. This deep sense of crisis helped us rise to the challenge.”
#TIL Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew shared his experiences of fear, when meeting NTUC leaders during the SARS pandemic. At the time, Singapore had been hit by a series of crises following the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. Each time Singapore recovered, new disasters had set us back. Terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon in 2001 affected travel and business. The terror bombing of Bali in 2002, and the Iraq War in 2003 caused great uncertainty. SARS struck Singapore in 2003, tanking travel, tourism and retail industries, increasing unemployment. People had to take pay cuts and unpaid leave.
In response to the gloom felt by workers then, he made these points in his speech:
Use fear productively: Crises cause fear but they also deepen our strength in overcoming difficulties.
- Adapt to “new realities”: Singapore’s economy had to reform to face competition from countries with skilled lower-cost workers, changes to the airline industry with the rise in budget carriers, and relocation of labour-intensive factories to places like China, Mexico and Brazil.
- Meet challenges head-on: Even if this calls for painful measures such as wage restructuring, lifestyle changes, and training. Workers need to build the right skills for the right price to get jobs.
He pointed out Singaporeans had grown accustomed to a higher level of comfort and prosperity, so belt-tightening was uncomfortable and unemployment frightening. But our nation has the cohesion and strength to overcome challenges, proven by how well Singapore recovered, again and again.
“It is the morale and spirit of a people that decide the outcome,” he said. Those words still ring true, as we grapple with the economic impact of Covid-19 and the Ukraine-Russia war today.
Read his full speech here.