Yaacob: ‘Syonan Gallery’ isn’t named to endorse the Japanese Occupation

Minister for Communications and Information, Yaacob Ibrahim (second from left), Minister for Education and Second Minister for Defence, Ong Ye Kung (middle), and Workers’ Party Chairman and Aljunied GRC MP, Sylvia Lim (right), looking at exhibits at the Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies. (Yahoo Singapore photo: Safhras Khan)
Minister for Communications and Information, Yaacob Ibrahim (second from left), Minister for Education and Second Minister for Defence, Ong Ye Kung (middle), and Workers’ Party Chairman and Aljunied GRC MP, Sylvia Lim (right), looking at exhibits at the Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies. (Yahoo Singapore photo: Safhras Khan)

The name of the “Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies” wasn’t chosen to indicate approval of the Japanese Occupation, Minister for Communications and Information, Yaacob Ibrahim, said Wednesday (15 February).

The comments by Yaacob, who was speaking at the official opening of the gallery at the former Ford Factory in Upper Bukit Timah, come amid strong reactions from some Singaporeans who felt that the name “Syonan Gallery” legitimises the brutal occupation of Singapore by Japan between 1942 and 1945.

Speaking on the 75th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore, Yaacob said the name symbolises the sacrifices of the older generation during the war.

“It remembers what our forefathers went through, commemorates the generation of Singaporeans who experienced the occupation and reaffirms our collective commitment never to let this happen again,” he said.

Also attending the opening was Minister for Education and Second Minister for Defence, Ong Ye Kung.

Since the naming of “Syonan Gallery” was announced last Thursday (9 February), many people have expressed both disapproval and support for the move.

Donald Low, a dean at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said on Facebook, “If we were upset with Indonesia for naming one of their ships after the marines who were executed for inflicting death and terror in Singapore, why in the world would we want to name a museum here ‘Syonan Gallery’?”

But Ambassador-at-large Bilahari Kausikan disagreed with the critics. “This is a controversy over nothing if people will only realise that to remember is not necessarily to honour”, Bilahari said. “Calling it the Syonan Gallery no more honours that period of our history than Raffles Place honours colonialism”.

Yaacob said the period when Singapore was Syonan-to was an epochal event in its history. The gallery reminds Singaporeans on the importance of defending the sovereignty of their country, he added.

“During the Japanese Occupation, Singapore lost not only our freedom, but also our name. For those of us who lived through this period, this brings back many raw and painful memories.

“For our young, it is a sombre reminder that we must never forget,” Yaacob said.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has also weighed in on the issue, saying that “we cannot erase our history or bury the past”.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday evening (15 Feb), Lee said, “Singapore was renamed Syonan-to during the Japanese Occupation (1942 – 1945). The name of the exhibition, ‘Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies’, at the Former Ford Factory in Upper Bukit Timah Road has understandably caused strong reactions.

“We cannot erase our history or bury the past. The exhibition is a reminder of a traumatic period in our history and the suffering our pioneers experienced when Singapore lost its freedom and even its name.”

In the same post, he added, “We now have the SAF and Home Team, but Singapore will always be small and vulnerable. No one owes us our sovereignty or security. These are truths we must never forget.”

Note: This article was updated on 16 Feb, 8:00AM to include PM Lee’s comments.

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