They say that if you want to destroy a nation, you mess around with the children’s education. In Malaysia, we tinker with our history and leave out important bits, so that our children are ignorant about our past.
Many historians have been made to toe the political line. This has prevented us from moving forwards, as many of us don’t know our past history, origin and culture.
Two months ago, on Malaysia Day, 16 September, the ashes of the former secretary-general of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM), Chin Peng, who died in exile, in Thailand, were returned to Malaysia, and scattered in the sea off Lumut, and in the jungles of the Titiwangsa mountain range.
Chin Peng was born in Sitiawan, Perak, in 1924, and was named Ong Boon Hua, by his parents.
To many Malay nationalists, and leaders of the previous Umno-Baru regime, Chin Peng was a traitor who killed thousands of innocent civilians during the period known as ‘The Emergency’.
To Malaysians who are less ignorant about our history, Chin Peng was a patriot and a freedom-fighter, who sought to liberate Malaya from colonial rule.
However, when World War II broke out, the British made contact with Chin Peng, through their commandos in Force 136. They gathered intelligence behind enemy lines, and started a guerrilla war, to fight the Japanese who had conquered Malaya, Singapore and East Asia.
The Japanese army and their Kempeitai caused untold suffering to the residents of Malaya. Attractive girls were selected to become comfort women for the army and scores of thousands of able-bodied men were forced to build the infamous death railway to Burma. Very few returned.
After the war, King George VI, honoured Chin Peng with two campaign medals and an Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to the Crown in Japanese occupied Malaya. He refused to accept the honours, because he was aware that these enticements would have meant he would have to disband his fighters in the Malayan Peoples Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA).
Soon after the surrender of the Japanese, the British returned to re-establish their hold on the nation. The threat of civil unrest was real. There was terrible hardship in the land.
According to Chin Peng’s account of ‘The Emergency’, in his book, “My Side of History”, people were starving, they wanted jobs, they wanted rice to feed their families. Food supplies were running out and prices soared, because of corruption.
He claimed that on 21 October 1945, British troops fired live rounds on tens of thousands of demonstrators in Sungai Siput, Ipoh, and Batu Gajah. This fuelled the simmering discontent of the local population against the returning British.
Instead of organising national resistance against the British, the CPM sought to influence the population using moderation and respect for order. They encouraged the formation of people’s committees, clubs, unions and organisations for workers, including young women and youths.
Those who have some knowledge of our early history know that the Baling talks were held in 1956, between Chin Peng, Tunku Abdul Rahman, and David Marshall, in an effort to end the atrocities of ‘The Emergency’.
The talks failed, because the surrender terms were not acceptable to Chin Peng. He wanted recognition for the CPM’s efforts in fighting for independence and political recognition. The British wanted complete humiliation for the CPM, especially as trouble was brewing in the south of Vietnam, between Ho Chi Minh and the Americans.
So, will Malay nationalists, demand that the friends and colleagues who brought Chin Peng’s ashes back home, be punished?
How will they justify this, especially as the majority of Malaysians, are furiously against the repatriation of ISIS fighters? Some of the al-Qaeda and ISIS inspired Malaysian terrorists are chemical engineers and explosive experts, who will bomb nightclubs to kill and maim innocent civilians. They intend to kidnap tourists or westerners and decapitate them. Others want to use anthrax, to kill people.
After a peace treaty was brokered by the Thai government, and signed by the Malaysian government, the Thai authorities and the CPM in Hadyai, in 1987, the former CPM guerillas were allowed to return to Malaysia, given Malaysian citizenship and reintegrated into society; however, Chin Peng was forbidden from entering Malaysia.
When he died at 88, in Bangkok, on 16 September 2013, Chin Peng’s funeral was attended by retired generals of the Thai army and a former Thai prime minister, but his ashes were not allowed to be interred in his ancestral grave, in Sitiawan. Some Umno-Baru politicians claimed that he had left a trail of bloodshed, and they did not want people to make his tomb a shrine.
How do some nationalists justify the memorial which was built in Kedah, in March 2019, to honour the “Japanese heroes”, who invaded Malaya? In the Japanese Imperial conquest of Malaya, Borneo and the Far East in WWII, millions died, and 200,000 civilians perished in the Nanking Massacre.
History, as it is taught in our schools, needs a revamp. Education Minister, Dr Maszlee Malik must present our children with both sides of the story and let them figure out why things happened.
Chin Peng went from liberator, to public enemy.