As we ponder on the recent episodes of racial and nationalistic slurs, it may be useful to recall some lines from S. Rajaratnam’s radio plays, which he scripted in 1957. A character in the play muses on building a nation based on nationalistic sentiments: “There are good sentiments and bad sentiments. There are emotions like love, compassion, brotherliness which have made men better men and nations better nations. There’s the patriotism which can better be described as love of country. There is jingoism and phoney patriotism which is arrogant and full of hatred. But a good nationalist wants his country to be admired by other countries.” (p 111. The Short Stories and Radio Plays of S. Rajaratnam)
In the words of another character, Rajaratnam reminds us: “It is up to us who care for this country, who really love the people, who believe that our great resources and talents can be used to bring more happiness – it is up to us to teach the people, to explain to the people, to continue to fight with truth and decency against the racialist….If we believe that our people are essentailly reasonable and decent, then we can believe that they will understand us when we say that, unless we become a nation, we will destroy ourselves.” (p 106)
Rajaratnam, who later drafted our National Pledge, was a good nationalist. In spite of the many disappointments and the torrent of abuse that came his way, he never gave up on his vision of a nation built on high-minded ideals that can make our people better people, and this country a better Singapore. We should never give up too.