I remember growing up with words like communists, guerrillas, ambush, insurgency, booby traps, Special Branch, MCP (no, not the male chauvinist kind), Domino Theory, etc...and of course, Chin Peng. These words instilled fear and sense of foreboding and being a kid then, I did not understand what "their struggle" meant. Most of these words I heard in the adult conversations of my father and his friends.
That fear got closer to home when my father was posted to Kroh (Pengkalan Hulu today) for a year as headmaster in one of the secondary schools (probably the only one) there in 1968. The family was staying in Penang then and my father was home only on weekends. Kroh borders Betong in Thailand and the area was considered "hot" when the so-called (now anyway) "communist threat" was still very real in those days.
We worried for him as stories abound about communist guerrillas frequently emerging from their jungle domain to bother townsfolk. We particularly feared for our father because we knew he fraternized easily with members of the Armed Forces; due in no small measure to being a distinguished member of the beer drinking ilk and his excellent people skills. They were routinely executing Chinese Special Branch officers then and even assasinated Perak CPO Khoo Chong Teng in 1975 too! I also remember an ambush which killed a number of Royal Malay Regiment soldiers in Land Rovers along the Kroh-Betong road during that time.
Nevertheless, my earliest memories of stories about the Communists in Malaya/Malaysia came from my late father. Born in 1931, he was 10 years old when the Japanese invaded and occupied Malaya. He was in St Marks Primary school in Butterworth then and all of a sudden he was studying in Japanese. Being the smart guy that we was, he quickly learned the language. One day when he was about 12 or 13, a group of adults "plucked" him out of school and he found himself part of the Resistance movement against Japanese occupation. He was almost fluent in Japanese language and they needed an interpreter to interrogate prisoners! My father's "abductors" were communists. I have since learnt in secondary school History that the MCP was part of the resistence movement then.
My father recounted an incident that emotionally effected him for years after. Apparently, there was a captured fishing vessel purportedly crewed by Japanese collaborators. The captives denied their affiliations during interrogation and were about to be released. My father was on the boat and there was a storage hole in the deck filled with water; presumably to keep fish. Being a kid he sat at the edge of the hole with is feet immersed in the water...he felt something. It turned out to be a cache of firearms. He said he did not remember what happened to the captives after...perhaps he did not want to say. To me, as a kid when I heard his stories then it was like a adventure out of Biggles!
Looking back, I think my father became not so much a communist in ideology (perhaps he was a sympatizer) but he was clearly a socialist. His friends have recounted that fact to me since. I certainly grew up with a father who was Bangsa Malaysia to the core! I was born in 1959 and my father became a civil servant after the war upon completing his Senior Cambridge. My enduring memories of him was that he seemed very old for his age. I suppose like many of his generation who had experienced an uncertain childhood they grew up fast. They certainly had seen a lot! Indeed my own character has been moulded by his reticence.
Today, we hear of Chin Peng (the bugger does have a long life doesn't he?) wanting to return to his homeland to die. My own father has long since passed away (1985) and this old man in the twilight of his years wants to embrace his own death. He is as much a part of our nation's history as Tunku himself or for that matter Najib's dad, Tun Razak.
Most of us are of a different generation today; we are post May 13th 1969 which remains etched in our psyche. We do not even know much about the Confrontation years with Indonesia let alone the Japanese attrocities in WWII. We are current generations "fighting" our own internal issues as a people and as a nation, we we are now faced with a global economic war for competitivity and relevance.
Today, I see and understand why (but may not necessarily agree with) the reactions of the mainstream media to actions of politicians in politicizing and racializing an old man's request to die in his homeland. Malayans (and Malaysians) of every race had sons and daughters who sacrificed their lives for the country whether they were ordinary civilians, PFF or Army personnel, Special Branch operatives, or other...it was part of nation building.
My own friends; Datuk Seri Yuen Yuet Leng was a famed "communist fighter" in the police force, my buddy Colonel (Rtd) Mike Naser commanded 1st Rangers, the most highly decorated regiment in the Malaysian Army and I guess they earned their honors fighting communists, and my business partner and ex-classmate, Major (Rtd) Haji Sofian cut his teeth in the communist infested jungles of Malaysia and as a young officer he did not know whether he would still be alive the next day. As protagonists, they were no less committed to their ideals of nationhood than the communists who were also made up of all races. Must history always be partial to only the victors? I understand why certain politicians today need to conveniently package Malaysian communism in Chinese silk rather than Malay batik...the end justifies the means. For goodness sake, we drive "Mitsubishi Protons" and the Japs probably killed more of us during their four years! They certainly made us suffer more!
Today, I am 50 and I have heard someone say after 40 it is time we prepare for our own deaths. In many ways, the forty year olds are no different from someone in his eighties like Chin Peng. I would think a man at his age would more likely be looking back at his times gone by rather than forward. I certainly do not think he would have the compunction nor the energy and means to spread "communist hegemony"...Najib would not have aped his father by aggrandizing himself in a visit to Communist China last week if that was possible! Also, the Chinese Communists are greater capitalists today!
Most of us know exactly what the Chin Peng issue today is really all about and allow the whole circus to play out. After all he is just an individual...and he can go meet his maker from anywhere in the world; what bloody difference is it gonna make?! Isn't his seeming need to die here appear to be a personal matter. Personally, I have no affinity to Chin Peng either and my own thoughts on death are already documented. As far as ideology is concerned do I need to flog the Samsiah Fakeh, Rashid Mydin, Abdullah CD, Ahmad Boestaman dead horse argument? They all believed they were freedom fighters too! Were they lesser communists than Chin Peng ever was?
But why am I sad? I am sad for my country. I am sad that my Prime Minister today, Najib Tun Razak has missed an opportunity to prove his sincerity with his slogan of an inclusive 1Malaysia. He is missing a golden opportunity to show his magnanimity and sow the initial seeds of possible greatness. Seize the moment so to speak! He seems unable to see the trees from the woods and I worry for my country. What better way to embrace China and win over Malaysian Chinese if it is true that we Malaysian Chinese "pendatang" were and are the rabble rousers. He should rein in his spinmeisters!
Perhaps he is waiting for Chin Peng to die first before allowing the latter's body to be buried in his beloved Sitiawan, Perak. By then it would be obvious Chin Peng would not be able to promote Communism here. Well, Najib had better hope the old man dies before Perak becomes Najib's Waterloo!!!
I would like to reproduce here a nice blogpost by Dr Rafick. Please read:
Chin Peng, PKM and The new communism.
1. I read bits and pieces of headlines in media in the past few weeks about Chin Peng intention of returning to his home and wish to die in his homeland. Initially, I was not to keen to say my piece about the matter but I changed my mind this morning (10/June/2009) when I saw a “propaganda program” on the Tele where Sharkawi Jirim had hosted a discussion between listeners, Tan Sri Zaini, the former CDF and Ibrahim Ali.
2. While Ibrahim Ali made political statements, Tan Sri talks about the past fight and battles. The short program was biased and was meant to present a lopsided view of the Communist and Chin Peng to the Malaysian public. As expected only those who condemned Chin Peng was allowed to air their views and I doubt anyone that has something contrary to say, would called a government TV station and express their views.
3. Personally, as a former soldier, I feel this whole issue has been taken out of context. History of PKM and their activities which started in 1930 to their agreement to lay down their weapons in 1989 has been summarized to one very short convenient negative summary. Allow me to express my views without fear or favour. I am basing my views based on historical arguments.
Communism and the Chinese
a. Like many other ideologies that is constantly appearing and disappearing in the world, the communism ideologies did not grow and flourish within the ethnic Chinese in Malaysia. It attracted many Malays as well. Unfortunately, histories tend to associated communism and the Chinese and try to bury any link to the Malays. In reality some notable Malay members of PKM includes Shamsiah Fakeh, Rashid Maidin, Pak Sako, Abdullah CD and Ahmad Boestaman. The hatred against communism has been focus against the Chinese and Chin Peng.
b. Pak Sako lived in Ulu Langat well into his late 90s. Rashid Maidin came back and visits his relatives in several parts of Perak but eventually died in Thailand at the age of 89 years old. Abdullah CD continues to lives in Thailand after signing the peace agreement in 1989. Shamsiah Fakeh returns to Malaysia in 1994 and continue to live a life of an ordinary “makcik” till her death in 2008
Communism before 1957
a. PKMM was actively fighting the British and the Japanese during the 1930-1957 eras. Their goal was independent Malaya via arms struggle. In Dec 1955, the famous Baling Talks took place where Tunku Abdul Rahman, David Marshall and the PKM leaders discussed the possibility of stopping all armed struggle.
b. In that talks, Chin Peng agreed to put down arms and disband the PKM once the British leaves and leaves the governance to the locals. This was recorded in the minutes of the meeting between all the men that attended the meeting. It was also recorded in the book, Malaysia, The Making of a Nation, by Cheah Boon Kheng
c. Tunku Abdul Rahman also acknowledges the contribution of PKM in his writing . He said “Just as Indonesia was fighting a bloody battle, so were the communist of Malaya, who too fought for independence. With the difference that the communists of Malaya were not the indigenous people of this country and they were fighting to set up a communist regime which the believers in the fait of Islam [i.e. the Malays] could not support nor could those orthodox people, who believed in democracy and freedom.
d. He also said,” So the struggle for the independence of this country was carried out by the communist alone and they fought a subversive as well as a shooting war, losing many of their men and at the same time killing many of our men and the Commonwealth soldiers. The battle continued for 12 years [1948-1960] and would have gone on had the British Government not yielded to our demand for a general election as a step towards independence”
e. We must not forget that the British did not leave Malaya immediately after 1957. They were still around and assisting in Defence, policing and administration till the late 60s. This is something that PKM could not accept. They wanted the British to leave immediately. Having said that, they want to administer the country based on their ideologies which may not in line what the others wanted at that time.
f. Certainly, UMNO contributed toward Independence through negotiations. PKMM also did the same. The difference lies in approach, methods and post independence governance.
Communism after 1957
a. PKM continued their weakening armed struggle after Merdeka. In the 70’s, my late father was involved in several engagement with the communist. On one of his return trips from mission, he told me stories about men and women of PKM that was killed. He also talks about losing his buddies.
b. There is very little documentation to indicate why PKM continued their struggle after Merdeka. The excuse of independence was no longer there. May be it was because the presence of British officers in the civil service, police and the military which they despised most. I hope the right people would write about the reasons of their continued struggle between 1970 -1989.
c. In 1989, as part of the peace treaty (Truce or surrender treaty) in Haadyai, Malaysia agrees to allow the CPM members to return to Malaya and continued to join the political movement which is allowed by the law. Sadly to say, I would say that Malaysia has not lived fully to their end of the agreement whereas Thailand opens up lands and accepted them openly.
Chin Peng and The new Communism today
a. Personally, I feel Chin Peng does not want to revive PKM. He just wants to return home and die on the land that he was born. If CP really wanted to revive PKM he would have done so in Thailand. The Thai government gave them land and set up a village for them but yet their ideology has melted with time. They are not a threat to the Thai’s. If indeed, CP wants to continue spreading his ideology today, he does not have to return home to do it. He can do it remotely via the internet, Facebook, twitters and many other methods.
b. Certainly, like many people I am extremely unhappy with PKM and what they have done. I remember their activities vividly like blowing up Tugu Negara in 1975 which brought shame to the Malaysian Government. I was twelve at that time and being the son of a soldier and studying in the Army Camp in Kuantan, I felt very strongly about the bombing then.
c. It has been 20 years since they put down their arms. If we cannot find within our self to forgive a couple of old man, than something is seriously with us. To deny entry to pre-senile old man on the grounds of what they have done in the past is too illogical. To deny entry on the grounds of potential threat, I would say that is akin to being scared to our own shadows.
d. If we can allow Shamsiah Fakeh and many others to return home, why do we practice double standard when it comes to Chin Peng? Is Shamsiah Fakeh is less of a communist then Chin Peng? I think the people should not be to worry about Chin Peng but should be more worried about the ideological threat that is being inculcated in our children now days.
e. We should look at the different kind of communism that is being practise now? We should question the power abuse by the government. We should question the meaning of democracy that is being practice in Malaysia. We need to ask ourselves about the independence of our police, judiciary and the government services and the politicians.
In 2009, the communism ideology has morphed into something different and is being practiced by many those in power. There is plenty of “Chin Peng” in Malaysia today. They are Malays, Chinese and Indian who abuse the democracy in this country and not respecting the constitution. We need to find a good reason if we do not want to allow Chin Peng to return home. The reason put forward has not been convincing.