The Unknown Soldier

Forget about whether it was the Malays or the Chinese who first went to London. Forget about whether it was Umno or MCA who first mooted the idea of Merdeka in their meetings with the British. Instead, remember all those who did not go to London but died all the same so that we can inherit this nation we now call Malaysia


Raja Petra Kamarudin

PM: Malays started fight for independence
The Star, 31 March 2009

It is historically true that nationalism and the struggle for independence was first started by the Malays, says the Prime Minister.

However, the country gained independence after the Malays, Chinese and Indian communities united to fight to free the country from British rule, said Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Commenting on Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein’s statement on the role of the Malays in the country’s Independence that has caused some unhappiness among other races, Abdullah said “it’s a fact” and true that the Malays, led by Datuk Onn Jaafar, initiated the struggle for Independence.

Saying that “history cannot be forgotten and erased”, he added that Tunku Abdul Rahman took over Umno’s leadership from Datuk Onn and formed an alliance – Perikatan – with MCA and MIC, which eventually saw the country gaining its Independence.

Abdullah said as there were also other races in the country, Tunku Abdul Rahman had the wisdom to bring all together in the struggle.

“Because all the races came together and were united in the cause, the British had no chance to divide and rule. They granted Independence,” he said.

The Prime Minister said the country continued to be governed by the Barisan Nasional under the concept of the people’s participation through the parties that represented all the races.

Meanwhile, Hishammuddin has denied he excluded the involvement of the MCA and MIC when he talked about the process of attaining the country’s independence, saying that several vernacular newspapers had quoted him out of context.


Independence Fighters & Nation Builders
Khoo Kay Peng, 31 March 2009

Outgoing PM Abdullah Badawi said, "It is historically true that nationalism and the struggle for independence was first started by the Malays." He added that, "the country gained independence after the Malays, Chinese and Indian communities united to fight to free the country from British rule."

There are two factual points, which need to be elaborated and explained. After the world war two, it was clear that the British Empire had lost its invincibility. Due to the devastation of war against the Nazis in Europe, the empire had to focus on reconstruction in Europe. Many of their colonies were set free. There was a plan in London to eventually grant independence to Malaya.

However, it was the people's alliance, which had successfully got together social movements from all races, which pushed the British to speed up independence for Malaya. The HARTAL was a demonstration of people's power. The movement led by several social activists had called for nationalisation of all British assets and companies in Malaya.

The treat was so real that the British had to use a dirty tactic to brand them as Communist conspirators and sympathizers. Most of the movement's leaders were detained under the Internal Security Act. Their detention was able to slow the movement's momentum. At the same time, the British began to look out "friendly" parties to hand the reign of government to.

Hence, the British administration began to court the leaders of UMNO, MCA and MIC. UMNO led by Tunku Abdul Rahman was given the task to lead a delegation to London to negotiate for a peaceful handover of power with a few important caveats. The most important is the protection of colonial interests in the country. Before leaving, the British sold land and other properties in the straits states to private owners.

Hence, we got our freedom not through a nationalistic struggle but through mutual agreement to safeguard the British concessions in the country. Most of the Alliance leaders were Western educated, bourgeois and pro-British.

Second, while the fight for independence was noble, it is equally important for the nation to recognise those who had helped and contributed to build the nation. Nation builders belonged to Malaysians of all ethnicity and creed. A great number of them had helped to transform this nation from an under developed agricultural nation to a successful manufacturing nation. Many of them who worked in the plantations had helped to earn hard cash for this country and put food on the table for thousands of families.

It was the Chinese community leaders and members who started the urbanisation of Malaya. They had poured in their wealth to build town centres and cities, which are still visible today — e.g. Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Ipoh, Taiping and others.

For UMNO, especially Abdullah, Najib and Hishammuddin, to learn how to appreciate the other races they must recognise the role and contributions of these nation builders. Not just their 'keris' waving members and leaders.

UMNO leaders were not the only true independent fighters or national heroes. Normal, silent and low profile Malaysians, our forefathers, who had contributed significantly to this nation – building roads, schools, towns, economy, etc. – were heroes too.


Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, led a delegation of Malayans to London to negotiate Merdeka. In that delegation were the first president and founder of the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA), Tun Dato Sir Tan Cheng Lock (photo above), and the fifth President of the Malayan Indian Congress (MIC), Tun V.T. Sambanthan.

We must remember; Umno was the first delegation to London. But they went to London only to oppose the formation of the Malayan Union, not to negotiate Merdeka. This resulted in the British abandoning the idea of the Malayan Union in favour of the formation of The Federation of Malaya.

The second delegation to London was by MCA. MCA’s purpose of going to London was to negotiate Merdeka for Malaya. But the British rejected the proposal. It was the third Umno-MCA-MIC joint-delegation to London that the “Alliance” proposal for Merdeka was really discussed and agreed.

In that sense, who was the first to negotiate Merdeka? According to history, it was MCA. But the British refused to consider MCA’s proposal for Merdeka unless all three races united and jointly negotiated Merdeka. So the second delegation by MCA actually failed. It was the third joint Umno-MCA-MIC delegation that eventually succeeded in getting an agreement from the British.

Okay, that is what history tells us. But that is not really the issue here. Whether it was an Umno, or a MCA, or an Umno-MCA-MIC effort that resulted in Merdeka is just one issue and an issue that the Malays, Chinese and Indians will argue till the cows come home — as each will want to claim that it was it who was the one who was instrumental in Merdeka. What we must not forget is that all Malayans contributed towards Merdeka, not just the elite from amongst the Malays, Chinese and Indians, as what they are trying to suggest.

An army fights on its stomach. This means two things. One is that the soldier must crawl on the ground when under fire or else his head will be shot off. Most importantly, though, a soldier must eat to be able to fight. A soldier that has not eaten for days will be too weak to fight. So, an army fights on its stomach.

In that sense, the mobile kitchen is very important in any war. If the mobile kitchen and the cooks do not reach the battlefront, then the army is doomed. To force an army to surrender you starve it. This was done in the olden days. That was why the Dutch almost lost Melaka to the Bugis. The Bugis surrounded Melaka and starved the Dutch army. The Dutch eventually had to call for a truce and made a treaty with the Bugis to end the siege.

Many overlook the importance of the simple and most unimportant cook. They shower praises on the brave soldiers and pin medals on their chest. But the poor cook who made sure that the soldiers ate, and therefore were able to continue fighting, are never mentioned. Have you ever seen cooks honoured at the heroes’ tomb? No, it is always that brave soldier who died in the line of fire, never the cook who cooked meals for the soldiers so that they could fight on a full stomach.

Sure, Tunku Rahman, Cheng Lock, and Sambanthan led the joint-delegation to London to negotiate Merdeka. Never mind whether it was the Tunku or Cheng Lock who went first. Let us agree that all three went together — so all the three races share the honour, equally. But there are many unsung heroes in the fight for Merdeka.

There was the police constable who died. The private who died. The planter who died. The government surveyor who died. The land office clerk who died. The rubber-tapper who died. The postman who died. The driver who died. The waiter who died. The member of the Royal Family who died. The school teacher who died. The Australian who died. The Englishman who died. The New Zealander who died. The Nepalese who died. The Sikh who died. The Indian who died. The Chinese who died. The Eurasian who died.

The list is just so long I would need pages upon pages to honour everyone who died in the service of this nation. No, they did not go to London. They are not honoured with a mention in our history books. But they died, nevertheless, in the service of this nation.

And because they died, today, we have a nation called Malaysia. And many of us were born in this nation called Malaysia because there is a nation to be born into. And there is a nation to be born into because many Malayans, all those who did not go to London, died in the service of this nation.

Forget about whether it was the Malays or the Chinese who first went to London. Forget about whether it was Umno or MCA who first mooted the idea of Merdeka in their meetings with the British. Instead, remember all those who did not go to London, but died just the same, so that we can inherit this nation we now call Malaysia.

I want to call these people The Unknown Soldier. Some of these people were in the army. But not all were soldiers. Many were simple Malayans who served this nation and died in the service of this nation. We do not know who they are. In fact, we don’t seem to care who they are. But these Unknown Soldiers were the proverbial cooks who made sure that the army could fight on its stomach, failing which, the army would have grown weak and would have lost its will to fight.