Observers from the small island of Singapore watching the unfolding, unfortunate invasion of Ukraine faraway might draw some lessons and reflections.
These are timely, coming shortly after we recently commemorated our annual Total Defence Day.
Held each year on 15 February, Total Defence Day marks the day that Singapore fell to the Japanese in 1942. Following ferocious fighting, the British surrendered to the Japanese at the Ford Factory at Bukit Timah. And the horrors of Occupation began.
My father’s maternal grandfather was one of the many unfortunate victims murdered by the Japanese at Punggol beach. As a result, my father’s grandmother had to singlehandedly raise nine children — eight daughters and one son.
Fast forward to today, the fighting in Europe seems to be a long way off and the impact to Singapore so far appears to have been limited to rising pump prices or disruption to operations of several Singapore companies.
But more and more Singaporeans are sitting up and paying attention to the unfolding events. Several friends have raised public concerns over the developments on Facebook. And when I was buying dinner this evening, two young men at the next table were animatedly discussing the developments in Ukraine.
And, to paraphrase a friend’s words, we fear for the Ukrainians not because many of us have Ukrainian friends, but because we see what could potentially happen to us; we see a sliver of ourselves in their stories and suffering.
Observing aggression by one state on another provides a grim reminder that we can never take our sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity for granted.
Put differently, complacency is not something that we can afford.
Second, this situation in Europe reminds us of the importance of a stable, rules-based system based on international law and norms.
Some larger countries may view themselves as a “big brother”, and their smaller neighbour, a “little brother”. They may interpret — or reinterpret — shared history through a particular lens. Or they may want to distract their people from domestic problems they are facing.