(function() { (function(){function b(g){this.t={};this.tick=function(h,m,f){var n=void 0!=f?f:(new Date).getTime();this.t[h]=[n,m];if(void 0==f)try{window.console.timeStamp("CSI/"+h)}catch(q){}};this.getStartTickTime=function(){return this.t.start[0]};this.tick("start",null,g)}var a;if(window.performance)var e=(a=window.performance.timing)&&a.responseStart;var p=0=c&&(window.jstiming.srt=e-c)}if(a){var d=window.jstiming.load; 0=c&&(d.tick("_wtsrt",void 0,c),d.tick("wtsrt_","_wtsrt",e),d.tick("tbsd_","wtsrt_"))}try{a=null,window.chrome&&window.chrome.csi&&(a=Math.floor(window.chrome.csi().pageT),d&&0=b&&window.jstiming.load.tick("aft")};var k=!1;function l(){k||(k=!0,window.jstiming.load.tick("firstScrollTime"))}window.addEventListener?window.addEventListener("scroll",l,!1):window.attachEvent("onscroll",l); })();

M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Cast From The Herd: Excerpt # 39 The Emergency

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt #39:  The Emergency

The beginning of wisdom, goes a Chinese proverb, is to call things by their right names. That may be wise but not profitable. Had that State of Emergency been declared as war against the communists, which it was, then Lloyds of London would cease covering the many lucrative colonial enterprises. The economic impact would have been severe, one the colonial government could ill afford. On the other side had the communists prevailed, the Emergency would have been triumphantly trumpeted as the War of Independence, with parades, banners and holidays to mark its anniversary, and the dead glorified. 

At the height of the Emergency there were army camps all over the country. There was one in Kuala Pilah where first the British, and later the Fijian and Gurkha Regiments were stationed. My favorite was the British troops; they always had candies to give out, and I enjoyed my banter with them. The Fijians struck terror because of their sheer physical size and fierce demeanor, brute cavemen in army fatigues. They were also great rugby players; their team the perennial champion. Their other reputation was such that women terrorists would rather kill themselves than be captured. At least that was the myth perpetrated. 

The Gurkhas were but British mercenaries, and struck fear for a different reason. Once, a platoon in full jungle camouflage arrived at our village for a demonstration. After a brief instruction from their commander, they marched into the roadside bush. A few minutes later they disappeared, like sugar granules in your coffee. We villagers could not pick them out. 

Then after we were all suitably impressed, their commander blew a whistle. Soon thin wisps of smoke began emanating from between the branches. Tracing the smoke led to red ambers among the dark green leaves. Only then could we make out those soldiers nonchalantly smoking their cigarettes. I could imagine them lurking in the jungle unnoticed, like crocodiles mimicking floating logs, ready to decapitate their unsuspecting prey with their kukris – in silence and without mercy.

The jungle favors neither the hunted nor the hunter, wrote Spencer Chapman in The Jungle Is Neutral, only those who understand it. Those Gurkhas had a deep understanding of and an abiding respect for the jungle. 

The Emergency was not all troops and military operations. More consequential were the massive “psychological operations” (psy-ops) to induce the terrorists to surrender, and weaken popular support for them. Surrendered terrorists were rewarded with jobs in the Information Department, which was (and still is) a propaganda arm of the government. 

The department often showed films in my village, using portable generators. In between reel changes, the surrendered terrorists would give a brief spiel of their earlier terrible existence in the jungle and how well they were now being treated by the authorities. Pictures were then shown of their emaciated former comrades in tattered clothes still out there deep in the jungle. 

I thought those dog-and-pony shows were meant for those still in the jungle; a futile exercise as they would not be in the audience. On reflection, the target was not them rather their relatives and supporters in the crowd. They would carry the message back into the jungle. 

Once there was a successful raid on a jungle camp. In their haste to escape, the terrorists abandoned a baby girl. She had either been born there or brought in from the outside to be shown off to her proud father. The baby’s picture was splashed all over the newspapers seeking her relatives to claim her. Of course no one did, and for obvious reasons! In the end Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman adopted little Mariam. 

The propaganda was not all smooth or subtle. One former terrorist was too enthusiastic in praising his new exalted status, prompting the villagers to remark in hushed tones that they were considering joining the communists so they could then surrender and then be given plush government jobs! Those villagers had to be very careful expressing their sentiments; there were always Special Branch agents and snitches for the British in the audience. 

Those government films were the only source of news and entertainment for us villagers, young and old. There was no particular schedule to the screening. The department’s van would cruise the village in the afternoon and the word soon spread. By dusk the entire village would have gathered on the school playground, attracted like moths to light. Those movies were the social event. The evening would begin with a short “Tom and Jerry” clip, much to the delight of the children, and then the newsreel. Only after the audience had been suitably warmed up would the real propaganda begin. 

Interspersed during reel changes were also important public announcements, as with an ongoing polio immunization program. I remember visiting the public health van for my Salk vaccine the next day and the nurse sticking an adhesive tape across my chest afterwards. The next day at PE class I paraded myself bare-chested revealing the tape, to the wonderment of my classmates. I was among the first to be vaccinated; even my teacher was surprised. The villagers had priority over the town people.

A familiar figure in those films was General Templer, the top colonial officer. A military man rather than a civil servant, he was brought to Malaya in 1952 after his immediate predecessor, Sir Henry Gurney, was killed in a communist ambush. Templer was never shown outside of his stiff, stern demeanor, and always in his formal military attire. Wherever he went, everyone genuflected, including the sultans. 

Templer’s landmark program was the “New Villages.” Recognizing that the communists had many supporters among the immigrant Chinese, he rounded them up from their squatter huts and re-settled them in “New Villages,” with strict curfews so their movements could be controlled. There was one near Kuala Pilah; one of my classmates lived there and I had occasions for sleepovers at his house. I remember those occasions as my mother was concerned about my safety and on eating non-halal food. As for the latter, her worries were groundless. His parents took us out for satay at a Malay hawker stall. 

Today, revisionist historians likened those new villages to concentration camps. If that were so, then I wouldn’t mind living in one. There was electricity and piped water, way superior to my kampung. There was security too, with no triads harassing the residents. That silly comparison trivializes the real horror that was Hitler’s version. America’s later but much less successful “pacification” program in Vietnam was modeled after those Malayan new villages. 

Next Excerpt # 40:  Psychological Operations – (Psy-Ops)


Post a Comment

<< Home