The evolution of Singapore is one of the most fascinating case studies in modern world history. While our generation knows Singapore as a beautiful, fully developed country very few of us know that just a few decades ago in the 1950s, this is what Singapore looked like. The unemployment rate was high, communal riots were erupting from time to time and the land of Singapore itself was one of the largest slum colonies in the world. And not just that..
Unlike other countries, Singapore had some severe disadvantages. they neither had a large population to depend on nor did they have vast lands and most importantly they did not have any natural resource like coal or oil. And yet inspite of these disadvantages, within just 35 years Singapore went from being a slum city to becoming one of the richest countries in the world. The question is- What exactly happened in those 3 decades that it transformed a small country like Singapore.
into the economic hub of the world? And most importantly as the citizens of the largest democracy in the world What can we learn about the principles of building an incredible nation? [EXPLOSIONS] This is a story that dates back to the early 1940s when the WW2 was at its peak. Now, just so you know. The WW2 was fought between two groups of countries. The first group was the Axis Powers and the second was the Allied Powers..
The axis alliance consisted of Japan, Germany and Italy. And they were in an agreement such that the Germans would capitalise on the continental Europe, the Italians wanted domination over the Mediterranean Sea and the Japanese wanted domination over East Asia and the Pacific. And in order to tackle this axis alliance there was another group of country called the allied powers. And this is where we had Great Britian, Soviet Union and the United States. Singapore in 1930 had been a British colony for over hundred years.
and the most valuable, perhaps, the only valuable asset they possessed was its location because Singapore was at the heart of trade route that connected Asia and Europe. Which is why Singapore became the crown colony of the British empire. And while the island became extremely prosperous under the British Raj when the war broke out in 1939, the island was in for a catastrophe. During this time, two major events in history happened. On 7 December 1941, the infamous act of Pearl Harbour happened and this is where the military unit of Japan attacked the US naval base..
And this was clearly an act of war. And secondly during the same time the Japanese troops were sweeping through Asia and they were very keen on capturing Singapore, particularly. But as far as the citizens of Singapore are concerned, they thought since the British Raj was so huge, they would very easily be able to protect the island from the Japanese. But you know what guys? What followed next was then known as Japan’s greatest victory in WW2..
and Britishers’ most infamous act of stupidity wherein less than 10,000 Japanese troops captured the island of Singapore. and took 16,000 British soldiers, 14,000 Australian soldiers and 32,000 Indian soldiers as prisoners of war. And what followed next is regarded as one of the most horrific times in the history of Singapore. The Japanese troops carried out a series of massacres on all the prisoners including the innocent civilians..
Thousands of people were killed in ways that we cannot even imagine and things were so bad that women were raped and shipped under the tag of ‘Military Equipments’ to various parts of the world. And most of these women were aged between 14-18. And in the name of eliminating anti-Japanese people the Japanese army killed around 50,000 people in less than 2 months under something called the Sook Ching Operation. This was the horrific state of Singapore for the next 3 years.
until 1945. This is when on 6th of August 1945 another historic event happened wherein the US military responded to Pearl Harbor by dropping a nuclear bomb in Hiroshima-Nagasaki. And by this time, the German attack had fallen, Hitler was dead and within a month Italy was about to surrender. So, the Japanese had no other option but to retreat from Singapore and the British Raj came back to Singapore on 12 September 1945. that is 10 days after the world war ended. But this time, when the Britishers came back.
Singapore was no longer the same crown colony that the Britishers lost to Japanese. because the island was completely left in ruins. Much of the infrastructure had been destroyed, electricity and water supply lines were broken many of the telephone services were non functional and most importantly the harbor facilities at the port of Singapore had been completely ravaged. And because of this, the economy of Singapore was in complete ruins which eventually resulted into massive shortages in food. The condition of Singapore was so bad that even rice was considered to be a luxury. And when the people of Singapore witnessed these horrifying conditions.
they lost faith in the British government, as a result of which the nationalistic movement began to spark all across Asia. This is where the historic process of decolonization happened wherein Britishers began packing their bags because business was no longer viable in Asia. This is the reason why if you see after WW2, that is, after 1945 onwards most of the Asian countries began to get their independence from the Britishers. In case of Singapore instead of leaving the country straight away, they let the elections be held under the British rule itself..
And this is where the hero of our story enters a young 31 year old lawyer named Lee Kuan Yew along with 4 other people. founded a party called the People’s Action Party which rose to power in British Singapore. Little did they know back then that this party will go on to redefine the destiny of Singapore to make it an iconic case study for the world to learn from. But back then things were not so good Singapore had very less resources of their own.
and they literally had no direction on how to proceed ahead. And this is when they saw a new ray of hope in the form of Malaysia. People, Malaysia back then was a much bigger country as compared to Singapore they had many more resources, they still do. And back then, Singapore badly needed their help. So, Malaysia accepted to admit Singapore in its federation and the People’s Action Party, that was in power back then decided to merge Singapore with Malaysia making it one of the 14 states of Malaysia. This was done with the vision that.
Singapore will be able to create more jobs and will have access to the free market in Malaysia. And in return Malaysia would have access to the Singapore port and the taxes collected from the people of the state. And just when it looked like things were falling in place fo Singapore. Hell broke loose for Singapore again. Within some time, Malaysia started exploiting Singapore by charging them 39.8% share of taxes inspite of the Singapore population being just 17% of the population of Malaysia. And on top of that.
they started to favour the Malay population and discriminated against the rest, that is the Indian, the Chinese and the other minorities. And this soon enough increased the tension between both sides and what followed next was another series of massacres. On 21st of July 1964, the worst post war communal riot broke out between the Chinese and the Malay. And this left dozens of people dead and hundreds injured. Eventually, Malaysia declared Singapore to be in a state of danger and finally, kicked Singapore out of their country..
And that is how, ladies and gentlemen, the island of Singapore obtained its independence, not by choice but by compulsive isolation. And this further led to an economic disaster again. WHY? Because for more than 100 years, the Singapore economy was intertwined with Malaya. Industrial commodities like rubber and tin were produced in the Malayan mainland and then they would transport it to Singapore to be traded all around the world. But within a fortnight.
all of Singapore’s warehouses were left empty. Again, people lost jobs; again there were communal violence and again the economy was in trouble. Now, they had no industries very few factories and to make matters worse their biggest employer, that is, the British Army was planning to leave the country suddenly and completely. And this meant three things for Singapore. No protection from the British army,.
high unemployment because Britishers were the highest employers of Singapore and in addition to the economic crisis 20% of their existing GDP will vanish after the Britishers leave. This was the pathetic condition of Singapore in 1965. Now the question is with so many massacres that happened within just one generation with an economic crisis at hand, with no army, no vast lands, no population, no natural resources.
no industries, very less factories, and lots of communal violence with unemployment at its peak and with 20% of its GDP in such a volatile state. How on earth did this little country go on to become one of the richest countries in the world?