The Last 20th Century Hero

The big drawback of really learning history is that it’s disillusioning.

Pretty quickly you understand that the leaders who are supposed to be heroes are very often fools, charlatans or villains. Notably, the fools, charlatans and villains do not transform into heroes with scrutiny.

For instance, the two great heroic leaders of WW2, Churchill and Roosevelt, turn out to be dolts who caused the deaths of tens of millions and the enslavement and impoverishment of hundreds of millions of people. Churchill through his drunken idiocy, Roosevelt through outright corruption and criminality.

When you understand this, the great volume of cheerleading for these people becomes very depressing. You understand that most people are no more interested in knowing the truth about the world in which they live than they are interested in analyzing the economic underpinnings of a Mad Max movie. They have a movie in their head called “The Past.” In the past, there was a bad guy with a shitty little mustache, a good guy in a wheelchair making fireside chats, and another good guy who was fat, liked drinking and had a Thompson submachine gun. That’s it. The further they retreat into the past, the less anyone will care. The people that FDR incinerated were probably a bunch of Nazis, which makes him a good guy. Similarly, the people Hitler had shot and gassed were all innocent victims, which makes him a bad guy. They are only of interest as background scenery.

Which makes it all the more exciting when you come across a real heroic leader:

Lee Kuan Yew is my hero. The best leader of the 20th century, hands down.

This is a guy who figured out that the Brits who had been running the show for the last couple of hundred years really were incompetent. The realization came upon him after the Japanese on their bicycles had overrun those Brits, taken their Singapore fortress away, and rounded up 100,000 young Singaporean Chinese men and machine gunned them on the beach. Lee had been selected and told to get on the truck, but asked to go get his stuff. Being inherently polite and nice people, the Japanese told him to go ahead, at which point he went and hid for a couple of days until the killing was over.

After the war, Lee and his buddies decided that since the Brits were obviously not fit to manage a fish and chips shop, they should be kicked out. The Brits more or less concurred, which made Lee’s job easier. Unfortunately, this left him and his friends running a multiracial society where the races disliked each other. On one hand, they had the Chinese Communists (back in their heyday when they were killing people like flies, not today’s capitalist version). On the other, they had the Malaysian Muslims, both the ones next door and the ones inside Singapore, who controlled what little military and police there was. On top of which, the society Lee and co. were in charge of was quite corrupt, with bribes and kickbacks considered normal, and completely penetrated by the mafia. The normal people had been living in miserable huts and acted accordingly. Advanced education, manufacturing and light industry barely existed.

In the interview above, Lee talks about how he overcame all of those problems and turned Singapore into a first world nation-arguably, THE first world nation-without killing anybody or breaking any laws. He got rid of the Communists and the mafia, neutralized the Malays, built a first world military, police force, economy, educational institutions, and most importantly, changed the culture. The Harvard wonks asking him idiotic questions right out of airport reading material (“on a scale of one through ten, how would you rate your EQ?”) can be ignored-LKY ignores them and talks right past them as it suits him.

A great part is when LKY discusses building first world infrastructure. The infrastructure, he says, is the easy part. You get good contractors, pay them, you get your infrastructure. The hard part is the people, who were peasants crapping in a hole in the ground a week ago. Now they live in these nice buildings. The first thing they start doing is pissing in the elevators. So, says, LKY, we built traps where if you pissed in an elevator, the doors would close and trap you inside. But they’re very clever-they would stand outside the elevator and piss in it. So, we installed cameras…it’s an endless battle. Notice, by the way, that this is exactly the opposite of what is happening in the West.

So, in short, Lee Kuan Yew is a real hero. He took responsibility for the lives of four million people and improved them immeasurably. If not for him, there is no doubt that many of those people would have died, and the others would be living in miserable conditions. If you want to learn about how to make order out of chaos, this interview is a pretty good place to start.

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