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Important to ensure Total Defence message remains relevant to future generations: Ng Eng Hen

Important to ensure Total Defence message remains relevant to future generations: Ng Eng Hen

Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen visited the exhibition 'Dislocations: Memory & Meaning of the Fall of Singapore, 1942' at National Museum Singapore on Wednesday. (Photo: MINDEF)

SINGAPORE: There is a need to ensure that the message of Total Defence remains relevant for future generations, given that their experiences will be vastly different, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Wednesday (Dec 16).

He was speaking on the sidelines of his visit to the National Museum of Singapore where he viewed  “Dislocations”, a commemorative exhibition to mark the 80th anniversary of the British surrender to the Imperial Japanese Army.

Dr Ng said that the process of making sure Total Defence stays relevant is a two-way one.

“You cannot contrive it. Total Defence works because … Singaporeans believe it and they have their own personal experiences or affirmation from the stories they hear from their own family members, from what they read, from what they believe,” he explained.

“At the same time, you have to create opportunities like this … For people to relate to events that occurred in the distant past and that you believe will impact us, that we must learn from.

"There are also current events that we see, what's happening in Ukraine now is a salutary lesson on how lives can change when the external environment changes,” he said.

Dr Ng noted that it is important that the methods and messages of Total Defence be properly “nuanced”.

“We have agencies are looking at it, preparing for a different generation. And I think each year that we try new things, we want Total Defence Day to continued for as long as Singaporeans believe in it. But over time, I think even the methods and the messages may have to be nuanced properly.”

Looking ahead twenty years to when the 100th anniversary of Singapore's fall will be marked, he said: “We have to prepare Singapore for another generation that not even vicariously, not even from their parents or their grandparents are able to hear these stories, and all they will learn about the fall of Singapore is (from) exhibitions like this."

Dr Ng said that from his experience, he could see that younger Singaporeans believe in the message of Total Defence.

“I also believe that younger Singaporeans are educated, they see for themselves what is happening in other countries, present day examples and they come to their own conclusions,” he explained.

“And by and large when we do our polls for NSmen, they will be asked … should Singapore be defended, will you defend Singapore, how important national defence is, (and) it always scores very high. And that, to me is an affirmation that the messages are getting through.”

As well as marking the 80th anniversary of Singapore’s fall to the Japanese, 2022 also marks 55 years since the start of National Service. 

Dr Ng said that the exhibition was a very well researched one.

“It's focused on personal stories, more that than the political environment or military stories, about happens to the common man or woman on the street when your country falls and that very much is the essence of Total Defence day,” he said.

“When your country falls, that’s the end of many, many livelihoods and lives and the way of life so I thought they captured it well.”

The exhibition, which opened to the public on Jan 29, will be held to May 29. It is free for Singapore citizens and permanent residents.

Source: CNA/mt

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