David Saul Marshall was the leader of the Singapore Labour Front who became Singapore's first Chief Minister in 1955. From 1978 to 1993, Marshall served as Singapore's Ambassador to France, Portugal and Switzerland. As Singapore's ambassador, Marshall always defended his country's interests, despite his open differences with Lee Kuan Yew's style of government. When the latter abolished trial by jury, his plaintive cry was "The last nail has been driven into the coffin of justice." He died in 1995 as a result of lung cancer.
The following is an except from an interview conducted with David Marshall on 5 May 1994 at the offices of Singapore law firm, Drew & Napier. The interview was part of an assignment for a junior college student, which he completed with two others.
THE PAP GOVERNMENT HAS INDEED DONE A GREAT DEAL FOR SINGAPORE. HOWEVER, THERE IS AN INCREASING DEGREE OF DISCONTENT GROWING AMONGST OUR YOUTHS AGAINST THEM. WHY DO YOU THINK THIS IS HAPPENING?
Our lives are empty. We don’t understand the joy of living is not in the gold coins. It is not in the bank account. The joy of living is in human relations. We are not in appreciation of this miracle of life.
We are giving a lop-sided view, an unfairness to the government! We come out of a morass of imperial subjugation where people were dying of starvation and now?
You know, when I won a case once years ago, I was presented with a lovely porcelain Buddha with a big flowing belly and ears that reached to his shoulders and a chubby face.
I said to my client, “Look, you Chinese got a real feeling for aesthetics. How can you worship something so obscene?”
He said, “Mr Marshall, try and understand. China is a land of starvation where millions of people die for lack of food, and to be able to eat that much, to be that fat, that is heaven!”
Now, that is the attitude of our government: to be able to eat that much, that is heaven and you should be content.
So are youths not content? They are not anti. Our youths frankly, very honestly respect the pragmatic achievements of the government, and I’m grateful, but they feel empty.
There isn’t this joy of living which youth expects and youth needs – to learn the joy of living. How do you teach it?
I think you teach it through respect for the individual. That’s our tragedy. If you want to put it in a nutshell, our tragedy is that we emphasise the primacy of society as against respect for the individual. Mind you, both are right.
I mean both sides have the liberty. Of course, there should be respect for the needs of society over the right of the individual but you must respect the individual too in seeking the expression of the needs of society. Here, we have no respect for the individual.
Cane them! Hang them! There are more than a hundred queuing up to be hanged, you know that?
[Minister For Law] Jayakumar said, “I have plugged the loop-hole whereby they could escape being hanged and just have twenty years of imprisonment!”
Oh, wacko the ducks – you need a monument!
The joy of hanging people; flogging them, every stroke must break the skin. I don’t like it. I don’t believe it is a deterrent. I see no proof. Look, it seems to me logic! If every year we have more death sentences, how can you say death sentence is a deterrent? If it were, there should be less death sentences.
But you know I’m in a minority and my father had one saying which I’d like you to publish. It is a beauty. He was a true democratic heart although he didn’t know it.
He used to say, “David, if ten men tell you your head is not on your shoulders, shake it and make sure. Don’t accept it. Just shake it and make sure!”
Well, I’ve shaken my head again and again and again and I still think I’m right. I know I’m in the dog-house.
The government doesn’t see I do respect them immensely. They don’t see I’m a genuine friend. They only see me as a critic and to be a critic is to be an enemy who must be erased and destroyed. There is no such thing as an honest critic to the PAP. It’s a blasphemy to criticise the emperor, spoilt son of heaven.
[Lee] Kuan Yew says you mustn’t lampoon a Chinese gentleman. Oh, dear me! Ya, what happened? What happened to China?
In Europe, they institutionalised the court jester and the court jester had total immunity against any result from his public criticism of the kings and emperors and the courtyard. Open public criticism – that was his job! They tried to laugh it off but at least there was one person to prick the bubble of their overgrown egoism.
And which civilisation has progressed better for the development of humanity? The Western civilisation or the Chinese civilisation?
You talk of Asian values. I only know two Asian values and, I wish someone would really pinpoint them instead of pontificating ponderously in humbug and hypocrisy.
Family values - I think we have more family cohesion in Asia than in Europe; more family warmth and I like that. I accept that there is a greater tradition of family warmth and family cohesion.
Two, we have a greater passion for education. My secretary – I asked her once what her background is. She said her mother is a washer-woman and, here is this lovely secretary doing a damn good job. She was educated. How her mother could save enough to give her the education?
So these are the only two values I know. Somebody tell me what other values that are Asian, which everybody talks and nobody mentions the exact parameters.
And you know we use this concept of family cohesion to place on our youths the burden of caring for aging and ailing parents and grand-parents.
The young have got their own lives to make. To carry in your own homes aging irritable ailing parents and grandparents can destroy the family life of the young.
But then, the alternative is for the government to pour so much mountains of gold into building homes for the aged. That’s sacrilege – gold is to be gathered and not to be spent.
I want to see more crèches, more homes for the aged.
Our Prime Minister [Goh Chok Tong] talks about gracious living. Where is the gracious living?
So I am a bad boy, I’m ostracised. The Straits Times makes slimy remarks about me.
The [press are] running dogs of the PAP.