Corruption, fact or perspective.

What is Corruption? The nearest dictionary I have with me says, “Dishonest or immoral behavior or activities”

Wikipedia, the new online thesis for everything, says, “In philosophical, theological, or moral discussions, corruption is spiritual or moral impurity or deviation from an ideal. Corruption may include many activities including bribery and embezzlement. Government, or ‘political’, corruption occurs when an office-holder or other governmental employee acts in an official capacity for personal gain.”

Finally, Webster Online defines it as “a :  impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle :  depravity, b :  decay, decomposition, c :  inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means (as bribery) ,d :  a departure from the original or from what is pure or correct”

There is the sense that, in corruption, there is an ideal of what is ought to be and that there is a deviation from that which ought to be. Politicians should be noble, government officials ought to be impartial and military officers are to be professional.

I have been told that Singapore is an island of incorruptibility in our region. I do not mean any disrespect to our neighbors and I have also heard that things are getting better in our nearby region but I still hear stories of greasing the wheel when my friends are overseas. There is also the view that Singapore practices a legalized form of corruption where we pay our leaders a rather obscene amount of remuneration as compared to other world leaders.

Compare this to the definition of corruption as mentioned above, we pay our ministers and expect them to deliver. If they do perform at a reasonable standard, there is no deviation from the ideal, hence no corruption.

A new official have explained in a closed session that, corruption is to be expected at all levels, especially when the organization is large. It may not be monetary but simply inefficiency due to complexity of processes or complication of issues. Bribery is one form of corruption but often the most highlighted one as someone is getting more than his fair share. Thus, another way to look at bribery in certain systems is just that the government official is getting a part of what he is due through unofficial means.

This may sound very controversial but I must state that I do not condone corruption of any kind. I simply wish to say that sometimes, corruption exists not because of moral failure of any officials, but simply because the system causes it to be.


Blurred Lines

When I was young, I used to be a fan of the boardgame Risk. I remember once, my cousin and I had a great inter-Atlantic battle between his 59 troops vs my 61 hardened commandos. Even though I have the slight numerical advantage and I was confident in the training and valor of my diehard plastic soldiers, I lost the great war due to the roll of the accursed die. Subsequently, the effect of that great naval battle lost me my empire, and I could do naught as I watched him entered into my homelands of Africa while my brothers gleefully ate up other parts of my empire.


Enough sidetrack. What I wanted to put down here is that I still like the Risk map where the borders are drawn in thin impenetrable lines and as long as I have one plastic soldier in the middle of the territory, that land is mine to drawn resources from. Alas, growing up, even as I lamented last week, things are often not drawn so clearly in black and white anymore.

This week, I read the first few chapters of the book, “The Greatest Show on Earth : The Evidence for Evolution.” by Prof Richard Dawkins. By faith, I am a creationist. However, that does not mean that I am not open to reading about the other side. In fact, one of my deacons once told me to read more and to be careful with what I read, cause every book we read forms a mold inside our mind, changing us, especially if it is the first book we read on the subject. As such, I try to read as many books as possible, getting molded from all angles to be nicely rounded… Hehehe..

Anyway, he described our initial process as a child understanding the world as, in a sense, simplistic. We teach a child that a certain object is named a certain sound and that all these things under the same sound are essentially the same. A cat is a cat and no matter what color of its fur, it is a cat. Thus is the Platonic understanding that all we see as present relate to an ideal form and that despite the variations we  see, they all “belong” to the same ideal. It is the Allegory of the Cave, if you want to read more on it. However, if we truly think about it, the lines between the species are not as clearly cut as they seems. If so, we would not have creatures such as the mule or the ass, a mix between the horse and the donkey.

Similarly, I have been trained since young to think of countries as lines drawn on the map clearly defined and intact. The events of Ukraine and Crimea has shown us differently since then. Each region (definition of which is also porous) has their own characteristics and how each individual person can relate to the bigger group will be an fascinating topic to study indeed.

Freedom of Speech?

I am at odds with the notion of freedom of speech. Please don’t get me wrong. I am all for the idea of a uninhibited exchange of ideas and discourse by which the best course of action may be taken. However, the notion that everyone has a right to say something, even when that something said is utter nonsense, is wrong.

Words have power. Written or spoken, they pierce that which the bayonets cannot, the heart and mind of men. Words change men, for the better or worse. Harsh words spoken in anger are like nails hammered into the wood, even when the nails are removed through an apology, the scars remain there for all to see. We underestimate the power of words when we give the freedom to wield them without restrictions.

The Internet has changed the world in more ways than academics can document. It also allowed the small minority with extreme views to put their voice on the same stage as the rationalized ones.  Well-thought through arguments are placed side by side with irrational yet passionate voices and are drowned out by the theatrics of the latter. Sound advices and lines of inquiry are pushed aside simply because they often lack the appeal of the wild. Our six second generations often lack the ability to see through a string of thoughts and logic to its reasonable conclusion and make a informed and objective decision.

Thus, freedom of speech akin to giving weapons en mass to all who are willing, letting the infants of thoughts shoot out their feelings to those who are more intrigued by the flash of their muzzle than the directions the guns are pointed.

I do not advocated any totalitarian rule by which the press is controlled by solely one party. But freedom of speech is just as easily swayed by the power of the cash in a democratic country that claims to be free

History as each one of us see it

After listening to the second part of BBC’s Freedom 2014, Missing History, China and Japan, several thoughts were on my mind last week.

Firstly, that the Nanjing Massacre happened is a fact, as much as Jesus Christ lived on earth once. At Japan’s attempt to make light of the event, calling it the Nanjing Incident in a textbook, China built a monument to testify to the event with evidence beyond dispute. Not withstanding the numerous survivor’s testimony, a number of Japanese soldiers were also interviewed where few of them actually admitted to the atrocity that they have committed during the invasion. However, the Japanese government still refuse to apologize formally and unconditionally to China for the event. Even as the economic and social ties of these two countries continue to intertwine, history will continue to be a barrier for them.

Secondly, I was remarking to my father after the podcast and that even as hundred of thousands of people have died in the Nanjing Massacre, millions have died during the Great Famine of 1958 to 1961 as well as the Cultural Revolution of 1966. He replied that the difference between these events are that the Nanjing Massacre was an act of a foreign nation upon China and that the Japanese has still not apologized for it. Yet, I am not sure if the government of China has ever recognized the TianAnMeng Square Protest of 1989 and apologized for it as well.

Thirdly, coincidentally, the Straits Times published an article differentiating the cultural difference between the German’s apology for the Holocaust and Japan’s apology for their act in WWII. For the German’s, the article states, it was a personal regret by each and every of the German people and a personal moment of apology. Thus, when the German Chancellor, Willy Brandt, dropped to his knees in 1969, no words were necessary as the Germans feel what he felt. For the Japanese, a people who are more distanced from their Emperor and government, the people may feel the shame and are apologetic to the Chinese, but it may be, in their mind, an act of the government and soldier, that caused the war, not them.

History and the current geo-political landscape must be seen in each of the people’s different lens as they do not see things the same way. I suspect also that the Japan-China’s history baggage are also caused, in no small part, by America’s post-war handling of Japan.

History, a most important subject

I heard a BBC broadcast titled, “Missing History – China and Japan“. In this broadcast, two journalists traveled to each others’ countries, one from China and the other Japan. In the first episode of this series, the Chinese journalists traveled to Japan and visited several places which were of significance to Japan’s invasion of China, including the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which enshrines the spirits of Japan’s war dead, including several Class A war criminal from World War II. The broadcast was rather emotional for the Chinese journalist as she could not enter the Shrine, knowing what it means to her countrymen. She also had a talk with the ones responsible for changing one of Japan’s history books, which downplayed Japan’s role in the Nanjing Massacre, renaming it as the Nanjing Incident.

While I do not fully disagree in the virtues of moving on from history, history still serves as one of the most important subjects we can ever learn. From the histories of our forefathers, we learn about their purpose in life and what they have done for us. We learn that what we have now was not freely gotten but earned by the toils and blood of our father. Take the recent naming of the Indonesia Warship for an example. After naming two warships after marines who bombed the MacDonald House in Singapore, Indonesia incurred the anger of Singapore who executed the two marines as criminals in 1965. It was only in 1973 when Mr Lee Kwan Yew visited the graves of the two marines that the chapter was considered over. By naming the two warships after these two who killed three Singaporeans, Indonesia re-opened the issue and, allowed Singaporeans to relearn their history lessons and remember that Singapore is still an island between two bigger Muslim states.

Let us not remember history and dishonor our fathers, even as PM Lee honors our pioneer generations now.

International Politics is a reflection of the Domestic Politics Needs

In recent article in The Diplomat, Assistant Professor Kai He wrote about the East China Sea Dispute : What do China and Japan really want? In it, he suggests that it is about managing their domestic expectations that leaders on both China and Japan’s side embark on their current hard stances. It also argues that if US wants to maintain the stability in East China Sea, it needs to understand what the two leaders need in face of their domestic audience.

In recent events closer to home, the Indonesian Navy named two of their frigates after two marines who bombed Singapore’s McDonald’s House in 1965. Both marines were captured and executed by the Singapore government back then. In order to sooth relations, Singapore’s then PM Lee KY visited their graves in 1973. In naming the two frigates after their heroes, the Indonesian government opened up new wounds again in the bilateral relationships with Singapore. What can the reason be? It could be, similar to China and Japan’s leaders’ case, a need to appeal to their domestic population. Naming after the ships after their heroes is a way to remind the Indonesian people that they are still the big boys in the neighborhood and do not need to worry about the smaller fishes. It also instill pride in their nation, causing the population to remember that their independence was won by blood and struggle, something that the newer generation of Indonesian may not remember. After all, their motto of Pancasila was to unite their diverse people under the same Indonesian flag. In the absence of a real enemy, it is always an old trick to dig up some old “safe” conflict to unite under again.

Singaporeans should also likewise remember that our independence and current economic prosperity were not given freely to our fathers. While PM Lee honors the pioneer generation now, it is for a good reason. It is on their blood and toil that we have the current status as the hub of Southeast Asia. Too many of our current generation are taking it for granted.

That being said, we should not take the naming of the two vessels too seriously. It is, as mentioned, probably a gimmick to stir up some excitement as the current Indonesian government heads into their next election in April 2014. Just as we had suffered indignities during Malaysian’s election previously, we may have to be the bogeyman for Indonesia, albeit in a much more distance way. Just wait till they start accusing Singapore of being a tax heaven for their rich citizen or stealing their soil again….


This week, I was fortunate to avail myself an article by J Boone Bartholomees, “Theory of Victory” (here) and Colin Gray’s “Defining and Achieving Decisive Victory” (here). Both are great articles and I find myself ponder the purpose of deciding an outcome in the conduct of war.

Gray argues that the concept of decisive victory in the conduct of military operations is both meaningful and important. This is in view that there are arguments which states that war achieves nothing meaningful other than destruction. This is especially plausible during the Cold War period when the purpose of the military is to prevent an outbreak of total war, nuclear war, that is. Dividing victory at various levels of Operational Level, Strategic Level and Political Level, Gray argues that war has indeed decided the course of history at numerous occasions. While it may not be the intended outcomes of the parties involved, it can nevertheless be considered decisive as it shaped the post war situation into an environment which is acceptable over a period of time. However, the military man must remember that achieving a campaign victory or a victory in the total aspect of war does not guarantee the political outcome desired by the political leaders. It depends on the political leaders to shape that military victory into a political one, accepted by other sides of the war. Since, war is between two parties, it only ends when both sides decides it to be so.

Bartholomees puts forth a theory in which victory may be defined. Taking Gray’s concept of decisive victory, he further expands on the concept that victory and its decisiveness is never an absolute but exists on a scale. Three scales, in fact. The scale of success measure the success of its forces at the battlefield, the scale of decisiveness shows the extent of how the operations affects political issues and finally the scale of achievement measures how well the military has completed the goals it has set out to do. He further points out that as war is between two parties, each side determines its own sets of criteria for victory. In fact, in a war, it is perfectly logical for both sides to be victorious. For it is not determined by loss of material nor territorial gains or loss, but by the parties own internal measurements. The conduct of war itself may change the conditions of victory and victory is useless if it breaks the more successful party economically, politically or socially.

What does this mean to the military man? In the conduct of war, especially long drawn out campaigns, there must be a continued discourse between the military leaders and the political leaders to determine whether the military objectives serve the political. The means and ways must logically linked to the ends and be socially accepted to be so. Much as Bartholomees points out that in cases not as clear cut, it is the population which decides the victory. In the case of modern social media, much as the political leaders would love to, their ability to influence opinions and viewpoints are greatly diminished. To win would not just to remove the opponent’s military forces off the field for it may not even achieve that which is desired. It boils down to breaking the opponent’s will to continue in the engagement. It may be achieved by physical means but the intent of the operations must be directed at the will, convincing the opponent that resistance is going to cost more than he can bear or exceed his perceived gain.