Never Again?

on Sunday, May 17, 2009

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The Tugu Peringatan or Memorial Monument was completed in 1966 to honor the more than 11,000 soldiers from Malaysia that made the ultimate sacrifice for their country starting from World War I and on to World War II, Independence and the Emergency Period (a period of communist insurgency) and the Confrontation (with mighty Indonesia). The 15 m high bronze statue was the biggest in the world at that time. This monument is an important icon on Malaysia's path and history of nation building. We proclaim to the fallen, their families and all Malaysians now and in the future, that we will "never forget".

In contrast, the May 13th Incident seems to be something that Malaysians of all persuasions seem to want to forget. On May 13th 1969, race riots and sectarian violence erupted in Kuala Lumpur and some other parts of the country. By the time the smoke cleared, it is believed that more than 2,000 men, women and children were killed. Most of them were innocent and defenceless civilians. Official figures claim less than 200 killed. Many will forever be lost to their families allegedly coated in black paint (to make racial identification difficult) and buried in unmarked mass graves. There were stories of great brutality but there were also stories of great bravery and integrity on the part of the police, armed forces and ordinary citizens. Many stories tell of neighbours protecting each other irrespective of race or political leanings. However, a certain innocence of race harmony would be lost that day too.

Just a couple of days ago, a prominent journalist wrote that his young grand-daughter had no idea about the May 13th Incident and that in his opinion this was a good thing as this meant there is hope for the young generation to bring the nation forward without these baggages from the past. So instead of "never forget", we are being encouraged "not to remember it anymore".

I have to disagree. I think it is both a responsibility and a need to "never forget". To all those who were murdered, we cannot forget. Not because we should seek to perpetuate a legacy of hatred and to promote revenge but to ensure that their deaths serve a purpose in warning us from going down that dark path again. In remembering, we can learn from history and avoid the same mistakes in the future. "Never forget" can than become "never again". However, those who do not learn from history's mistakes are doomed to repeat it again. I certainly hope for Malaysians that we learn and do not repeat our mistakes.

Unfortunately, despite the monuments and memorial days that we see around the world, I sense that most of the world is neither remembering nor learning from the past. World War I was the war to end all wars. Never again was the cry; yet within a few years, we were on the road to World War II.

Last century saw the Holocaust. We set up memorials and said never again. Yet just as the Jews were persecuted under Nazi Germany, today the Palestinians suffer under the heavy boot of Israel. Sure, we can analyse and given reasons and argue who has more rights but in my opinion oppression and killing of the defenceless will always be unjust. Why did we not learn?

Genocide, ethnic cleansing and even fracticide has occured again and again. The Khmer Rogue and the killing fields of Cambodia. The horrors of Rwanda. Even now, it is happening in places like Darfur, Sudan and the world seems unable and unwilling to do what it must to stop it.

I think that the first step to "never again" is to make sure that the whole world "never forgets" the lessons of the past. Instead of re-writing history, being politically sensitive and hiding these incidents, we need to do even more to highlight them, to teach about them in schools, universities and museums and to make sure that these terrible deeds are exposed before the powerful light of public consciousness. The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Let us instead remember, learn and prevent these horrors from visiting us again.


Jo said...

Very interesting. I agree it's important to remember, because as you say, those who do not learn from history's mistakes are doomed to repeat them again. Sometimes I think man is a brutal animal. I don't have much faith that there will ever be peace. There will always be cultural, political, religious or racial differences that will cause people to do horrendous things to each other. It's sad but true. I think the only thing that has prevented a World War 3 is the horror of unleasing atomic weapons. It's a strange dichotomy that the ultimate weapon which could be used to wipe out mankind has prevented it from happening.

Joyce's Ramblings said...

LGS good post! We have not learned and there has been so many examples of our inhumanity. But we can't stop trying to put an end to it. The people that were around when it happened are not vocal or if they are they are not listened to. It is amazing to me how some things are forgotten or denied that they ever happened. The people in power forget just like the rest of us. Political correctness leads us down the
garden path.

Marja said...

Great post LGS I agree Let's repeat it time and time again in the hope that people will become really aware of the horrors against humanity. That's the least we can do. Just went to a concentration camp Terezin a few weeks ago. Good to see lots and lots of schools there. Very very hard to understand how humans can become so unhuman that these things can happen. It is frightening.

Isabelle said...

Yes, I agree.

My mother, who was young during WW2, doesn't like the word "sacrificed" in relation to war deaths. She feels that the young people of her generation didn't sacrifice their lives, since this implies some choice. And they had no choice.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Arthur C. Clark predicts that there will be a nuclear catastrophe in this century as a result of an accident in one of the newly nuclear bomb countries such as Pakistan. I also wonder if North Korea can be trusted to manage such weapons responsibly and sensibly. We may not be even safe from nuclear weapons despite the fear of mutual annihilation; not forgetting that during the Cold War there were even American generals who spoke of a "winnable" nuclear war. But at any rate, I wish we could all do more to end the killing of the helpless in the various genocides still going on in the world.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Politics weaves a complex web and often contribute to the problem. Take the current debate in the U.S. about the use of torture. It is being said it is a choice between torture and the lives of Americans in the war against terrorism. President Obama gave a good reply when he quoted Churchill who refused to torture or maltreat the German POWs in WWII by saying, "We are not that people and shall not be that people." (or something like that!). Political expediency may make it easy to turn a blind eye to atrocities and doing the right thing may involve some cost but it id important to hold on to the moral imperative and be ready to pay the price to do so.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Good to hear from you. Hope you are well. I have heard of Terezin. It must have been a moving experience to visit it. You will be posting on this?

i know what you mean. Indeed, they had no choice but it may also be said that their leaders sacrificed them in the war.

Janice Thomson said...

How sad humanity wants to eagerly hide its mistakes yet does nothing to change or improve them. At times the world's future hangs most precariously. Evocative post Lgs.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Exactly. Once again you sum it up so well.

Owen said...

Dear Grey Squirrel,
As a toad, I can only blink my bulging eyes at the awful stupidity of that bi-pedal species known as "man". So noble at times yet more often so terribly base.

Bloodthirsty, greedy, manufacturing all manner of weapons and flooding the Earth with them. Where will the madness end. Trinity, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Bikini Atoll, Nevada, Algeria, South Australia (Maralinga), West Australia (Monte Bello Island), Mururoa, and so on and so forth...Given the state of things in Pakistan today, it is indeed terrifying that somewhere in that maelstrom of fundamentalist lunacy there are nuclear bombs lurking.

Homo Sapiens loves toys that go "BOOM". Me, personally, I hate them. I enjoy sitting peacefully by my pond eating flies that buzz by... but there is no shortage flies, and it is not done in a mean spirit.

And I have never heard of squirrels doing any harm to any of their own kind, except maybe once back in 1692 when a few young female squirrels were burned as witches for having cast spells on trees to make them grow nuts faster... but that was long ago, and perhaps long forgotten. I agree entirely with you though, "Never Again" is primordial; any thinking being cannot accept "Better to Forget".

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Mr. Toad,
I am waiting for the human race to pass from this world via self destruction. Mwahahaha (mad scientist laugh)! Then the squirrels will take over. Don't worry. There will always be a place for toads and frogs in Pax Sciuriae (on account that squirrels don't like to eat flies - so there's no conflict there). If only we could get rid of the "red" squirrels.......

the walking man said...

I too am of the never forget school. But I want all of the incidences portrayed with the facts of them and not the spin of the victors. In any question if true understanding is to come, all sides must be seen in the same harsh light of day.

Dr.John said...

Well written blog filled with truth.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

You are absolutely right. But telling it objectively is difficult because every one's view is tainted. We can however, express all the views. Perhaps the most important thing is to understand all the views and why others hold those views. Perhaps then, we realise our fears and concerns are not that different but we are just seeing it in our own perspective. Stealing from that song from Sting, we believe that the Israelis, the Palestinians, the Hezbollah etc, they all love their children too.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Dr. John,
Deep down I do not believe the world will ever learn but yet I hope that it does and so while there is hope, we must still work towards it.

Andre said...

Great post LGS. It points out how hard it is to forget the calamities of the past...seeing as though they keep finding a way of manifesting themselves in the present.

The same sad play...different actors.

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