Friday, September 2, 2011

1963: Swatches of history

By now any reasonably regular visitor to this blog would know how much of a history buff I can be. This is especially so at this time of the year, every year. It is the most important fortnight for our nation.

Here's 2 articles on Malaysia written in 1963 for Time magazine. It has an immediacy that I find very appealing. And, it's interesting to bear in mind that in 1963 the Cold War was raging in its full frozen fury. The feeling that there were Commies under every blade of grass was very real.

Nations were being formed, including Malaysia.

There was much concern in the U.S. as to whether the enlarged Malaysian nation could withstand the domino-effect that Communism could catalyse from Beijing to Hanoi to Vientiane to Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta. This was the nightmare scenario. 

As an aside, writing the sentence above reminded me of the late Nordin Sopiee's Ph.D thesis on the formation of Malaysia, which, made pretty cogent arguments along the above lines as one of the primary motivations for U.S. and British support for the formation of Malaysia.

It is in this context that the 2 articles below should be read.

Malaysia: Tunku Yes, Sukarno No

Friday, Sept. 06, 1963

In steamy, palm-shaded Kuching, capital of Sarawak, the day's biggest excitement is the firing of the 8 p.m. cannon on the lawn of government house. "What a dull place," said a United Nations official. "I don't know how we're going to survive three weeks here." At the insistence of Indonesia's President Sukarno, an eight-member U.N. team is present to "ascertain" whether Sarawak and North Borneo really want to join the Federation of Malaysia, which Sukarno bitterly opposes. As the U.N. ascertainers began to sample opinions around Sarawak, they were nearly stoned, not bored, to death.

In the Chinese-dominated town of Sibu, the Red-infiltrated Sarawak United People's Party (SUPP) staged a demonstration that turned into a 90-minute, stone-throwing riot. Only after police fired warning shots to disperse the mob could the U.N. team sit down —amidst broken glass in a Methodist schoolhouse—to interview local councilors. In Miri, Sarawak's oil-refining center, 3,000 Chinese-SUPPorted youths, wielding stones and bottles, screamed anti-Malaysia slogans until the police opened fire, wounding two, and tear gas forced them to scatter.

Date Set. Such outbursts will slightly delay but not derail the formation of Malaysia, originally scheduled for Aug. 31. In last summer's general elections, voters in both Sarawak and North Borneo decisively defeated anti-federation parties. 

Although Indonesia's shadow looms large, the Borneo people know they have nothing to gain from Djakarta but economic chaos and demagoguery. Malayan Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman and British Colonial Secretary Duncan Sandys, who hastily flew to the scene, last week set Sept. 16 as the new birth date for the federation —two days after the U.N. mission's findings will be made public. Both are sure that the U.N. will find a clear majority in favor of Malaysia, but they insist that the federation will come into being regardless of the report. The British last week also turned over internal self-government to Borneo and Sarawak.

In a wrangle over details with the British, Indonesia failed to send observers to the U.N. mission, thus giving Sukarno an excuse to question the U.N. findings later. But faced with British determination to defend Malaysia by force, if necessary, Sukarno said: "If the Borneo peoples agree to join Malaysia, we will have to bow our heads and obey." But, added Sukarno, in an unbowed postscript: "Indonesia maintains its opposition to Malaysia."

Book Learning. An Indonesian guerrilla campaign against Borneo and Sarawak may well continue, since Djakarta always needs a foreign diversion to draw attention from domestic difficulties. In Indonesian Borneo, which adjoins Sarawak, Sukarno has set up guerrilla camps along 200 miles of border, and is training 1,000 Red-lining Chinese from Sarawak, following the guidelines of Indonesian Defense Minister General Abdul Haris Nasution, an expert on guerrilla warfare who has written his own book on the subject. Bands of his guerrillas pushed across the border to raid Dyak villages, clashed with patrols of British-led Gurkhas and Sarawak police. In a fire fight ten miles inside Sarawak, the Indonesians killed a British lieutenant and wounded several Gurkhas before being routed with heavy losses. Meanwhile, British officers are studying Nasution's book for clues to stop further Indonesian incursions.

So far, Indonesian terrorist attacks have only served to create a surge of pro-Malaysia feeling in Borneo and Sarawak. Almost nightly, the Indonesian embassy in North Borneo is plastered with slogans reading "Tunku Yes, Sukarno No." Although his people stopped head-hunting years ago, one Dyak chief told the U.N. fact finders that "if any more Indonesian bandits come into our territory, they may lose their heads."

Malaysia: Hurray for Harry

Friday, Sept. 20, 1963

When pretty Catherine Loh was elected Miss Malaysia last April, the pert beauty from the oil-rich British protectorate of Brunei fully expected to preside over the independence ceremonies of the newly formed Federation of Malaysia. But that was before Brunei withdrew from the planned federation in a state of pique, leaving Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and North Borneo to go it alone. Brunei's defection not only left this week's joyous celebrations without a beauty queen but it also took Malaysia out of the running for the Miss Universe contest.

The beauty queen flap was low on the list of last-minute labor pains attending the long-awaited birth of Malaysia. At the insistence of Indonesia's belligerent President Sukarno, who bitterly opposes the federation, Malaysia's independence had been postponed two weeks beyond the original Aug. 31 starting date, while a United Nations team investigated whether or not North Borneo and Sarawak really wanted to join. Hoping to influence opinion against federation, Sukarno began moving paratroopers into Indonesian Borneo along his 900-mile-long border with the two territories. Some Indonesian guerrillas even sneaked through the jungles into Sarawak to stir up trouble; they were relentlessly hunted down by tough little British army Gurkhas, aided by half-naked Iban tribesmen, who hung up at least one Indonesian head in the rafters of their longhouses.

Fearful that Indonesia might extract further delays out of Malaya's easygoing Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, the architect of the federation, Singapore's brilliant, shifty Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who regards Sukarno as "an international blackmailer," swung into action. Flying to Sarawak and North Borneo, "Harry" Lee picked up the chief ministers of both territories and brought them back to Kuala Lumpur to stiffen up the Tunku. Britain's Commonwealth Secretary Duncan Sandys was also on hand, working hard to get agreement. Threatening to declare Singapore an independent state, Lee pressured Abdul Rahman into holding firm for the federation's Sept. 16 deadline.

Last week the final obstacle to independence was cleared away when the U.N.'s Malaysia team reported that both North Borneo and Sarawak favored the federation. As the new nation prepared to unfurl its red-and-white-striped flag, Harry Lee was quick to capitalize on the occasion. With his popularity at its zenith for his major role in bringing the federation about, he scheduled immediate elections in Singapore.

1 comment:

hishamh said...

Cool, I didn't know that the Sept 16 date for Malaysia was due to Indonesian interference.

Thanks de minimis. Hope you had a good holidays.