The Singapore Story by Lee Kuan Yew

Summary
  1. Fascinating account of an amazing man whose vision helped him transform Singapore from a war torn colony into a prosperous, independent nation.
Key Takeaways
  1. Singapore gained independence on August 9, 1965 from Malaysia due to strife between the Malays and Chinese in Malaysia and Singapore
    1. Had to deceive Australia, New Zealand and UK before separation or else they would try to stop it
    2. Just three years before this independence, Singapore and Malay merged. They thought they could become more prosperous by merging and cooperating. They would also be better protected from communist countries like Indonesia
  2. Father worked his way up in the world and was a mentor. He loved everything British
  3. Was in Raffles College when the Japanese bombed Singapore in WWII
    1. End of an era as it ended colonialism for Britain
    2. Japanese reign was awful with little food and much brutality
    3. Key to survival is improvisation
    4. Learned so much – impulses, behavior, psychology, government, business when they were under occupation
      1. Put together a business selling tin cans and gum during the war to feed his family
  4. Went to London to study law. Started at LSE but soon transfered to Cambridge where it was much quieter. His girlfriend and future wife, Choo, came a couple years later
    1. Turned anti-British as their main goal was profit, not good government in the colonies
    2. Socialist ideals appealed to Lee but found that they often don’t work in practice.
  5. “The task of the leaders must be to provide or create for them [the populace] a strong framework within which they can learn, work hard, be productive and be rewarded accordingly. And this is not easy to achieve.”
  6. Back in Singapore he worked as a lawyer but lost faith in the system
    1. Gained popularity by successfully representing the postman union
      1. Saw that the unrepresented masses the key to political power
  7. Started forming own political party in 1954 – People’s Action Party (PAP)
  8. Had to consistently deal with strikes and communist parties vying for power and influence
  9. Lee made Singapore officially trilingual – Malay the main language but English for business and Mandarin for the large Chinese population
  10. Fought adamantly against Marshall and Britain in order to not merge with Malaya and to be independent
  11. Lim Yew Hock took over as Pm after Marshall – didn’t do much to stop communism
  12. Ong became populist mayor but garnered much distrust from the English
  13. Spent a ton of time fighting communist sentiment in Singapore (large Chinese population) and convincing Chinese to be more democratic and socialist
  14. Appealed to the poor masses but this forced him to run a very tight ship since there were almost no donations. Taught him the importance of fiscal responsibility and a tight budget
  15. Campaign was long and difficult as he had to campaign in many languages and traveled to many poor areas
  16. Passed laws to making voting compulsory in Singapore, eliminated undue influence, bribery and corruption
  17. Won and was inaugurated in 1959 – aged 35
  18. Had an incredible impact on Singapore once he was elected – anti-corruption was his main goal, air conditioning was a priority in the government building so that people could work without being drenched in sweat, balanced the budget with tough fiscal cuts, cleaned up Singapore, built community centers, established the Work Brigade to teach the poor discipline and get them off the streets, cleaned up black market activities, guaranteed all kids a spot in school and aimed to bring equality to women
  19. Early problems with economy, civil servants, communists, language difficulties, focused on not looking like a puppet to the West
  20. Malaya didn’t want to merge because of large Chinese population in Singapore but were more worried about an independent, communist Singapore
  21. “The Plen” was a high ranking communist leader that Lee talked to at times behind the scenes
  22. Lee wanted a merger with Malaya because Singapore depended on them for tin and rubber in their economy
    1. Many in Singapore worried they would become second class citizens if they did
  23. Lee was extremely hard working, good at reading people and knowing what they wanted and what drives them. He was clear and confident once he had a goal to reach for
  24. There was much haggling on the details of the merger – Lee wanted free market, reduced corruption but Malaya was not too eager to appease
  25. 1962-63 Lee really won the support of Singapore through tours and public speeches
  26. Relations with Indonesia were fraying over Borneo and communism but it never lead to violence
  27. Traveled all over Africa to help the newly merged Malaysia gain visibility, support and respect
  28. Within two years the Tunku (Malaysian leader) wanted Singapore out of the Malay federal parliament because they were causing too much trouble. Wanted Singapore to handle their own affairs but cooperate with Malaya in terms of defense and external affairs
  29. “I had received an unforgettable lesson in decolonization, on how crucial it was to have social cohesion and capable, effective government to take power from the colonial authority. When the leader did not preserve the unity of the country by sharing power with the chiefs of the minority tribes, but excluded them, the system soon broke down. Worse, when misguided policies based on half-digested theories of socialism and redistribution of wealth were compounded by less than competent government, societies formerly held together by colonial power splintered, with appalling consequences.”
  30. Singapore gained independence from Malaya in 1965 after much political, social and racial strife. The Tunku was worried both about the large Chinese population and Lee’s very apparent ability and ambition. Malaysia and Singapore ended on good terms and agreed to still cooperate
What I got out of it
  1. Impressive man who overcame great odds and a very difficult situation in order to lay the foundation for what would one day become an economic powerhouse