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The role of youths! Ha!
In my time, I tried to educate our people in an understanding of the dignity of
human life and their right as fellow human beings, and youth was not only intere
sted but excited about what I consider things that matter. Things of the spirit;
the development of a human being to his true potential in accordance with his o
wn personal genius in the context of equal rights of others.
Today, youth is interested in getting paper qualification and, as soon as possib
le, shoveling gold into their bank accounts. It s a different world, even the law.
I am a consultant here [Drew & Napier]. When I left in 78, there were three partn
ers it was supposed to be a big firm; two assistants we were a big firm; 17 staf
f. This office has four floors. They think that it is a waste of time to use the
lift so we have an internal staircase. We have more than 90 lawyers, more than
200 secretaries and I don t know how many staff.
The law is no longer a vocation, it is a business. Everything is geared to busin
Of course, there is this pragmatic development of our country. Ah, our rising ex
pectations of a pragmatic character! It is a fantastic and almost a miraculous d
evelopment in my lifetime.
When I was Chief Minister, there were men dying of starvation and because of beri
-beri . I took my PA [personal assistant] and an Inspector of Police for night at
midnight. For two hours, we toured Singapore and we estimated there were two ten
thousand men sleeping on the pavements. No homes.
Today - no unemployment, no homeless. I started this business of building homes
for our people. Compare the puny work I achieved and the fantastic HDB homes tha
t are available today for our people. I am deeply impressed and I take off my ha
t to this very able honest government. Dedicated!
But I am seen as a critic and I am a critic.
I am frankly terrified by this massive control of the mass media, the press, the
radio, television, antennae, [and] public meetings. You can t write a letter to t
he Straits Times; if there is a shadow of criticism, it s not published. And the C
hinese press follows suit. It s a very dangerous position because experience prove
s that no one group of human beings has got all the wisdom in the world.
I mean well, two of you are Chinese and one Indian [Ed: actually, the interviewer
s were one Chinese, one Jew and one Indian]. I don t know much about Indian histor
y but look at China. You had Confucian authoritarianism for more than 2500 years
. What happened to China? She was a fossil. She had to reinvigorate herself with
the Western ideology of communism. Another authoritarian ideology! And what was
the result?
There must have been a million decent people who were transformed into vipers, v
icious obscene vipers. I m afraid of this control of the mass media.
And are youths the miasma of apathetic subservience to authority? But you say to
yourselves, Well, you know, what do we seek in life? We seek a rice bowl, full!
It is full and overflowing, in fact. They serve you your rice in a jade bowl wit
h golden chopsticks; not that it makes much difference to the taste of the rice.
But you re empty!
You ve got technocratic skills and you are seeking more but internally you are emp
ty. Money is your acid test of success.
I ve got nothing against money. I d like to have money myself! I d like to have a hous
e and a garden and dogs and a car and a chauffeur but, look, I ve got a flat. I ve g
ot a swimming pool attached to the flat. I ve not even got a car but I use taxis.
I have a dignified way of life without being wealthy.
I don t see the necessity of owning a Mercedes-Benz and a swimming pool and a coup
le of mistresses. I think we ve got our values all wrong.
You know $96,000 a month for a Prime Minister and $60,000 a month for a minister
. What the hell do you do with all that money? You can t eat it! What do you do wi
th it? Your children don t need all that money.
My children have had the best of education. In fact, I m very proud of them. One o
f them is a senior registrar to two major hospitals in Oxford. Another of them i
s a consultant in European law to the Securities and Investment Board in the Uni
ted Kingdom. They ve had their education. There are no complaints.
I never earned $60,000 a month or $90,000 a month. When I was Chief Minister, I
earned $8,000 a month. Look, what is happening today is we are encouraged to and
are becoming worshippers of the Golden Calf.
We have lost sight of the joy and excitement of public service, helping our fell
ow men. The joy and excitement of seeking and understanding of the joy of the mi
racle of the living the duty and the grandeur. We have lost taste for heroic act
ion in the service of our people.
We have become good bourgeois seeking comfort, security. It s like seeking a cryst
al coffin and being fed by intravenous injections through pipes in the crystal c
offin; crystal coffins stuck with certificates of your pragmatic abilities.
What has changed?
The self-confidence of our people has grown immensely, and that is good to see.
Our pragmatic abilities have grown magnificently, and that is good to see. Very
good to see!
You are very able. You re ambitious, and the government has heroic plans for the f
uture. It hasn t finished.
I take off my hat to the pragmatic ability of our government but there is no sou
l in our conduct. It is a difficult thing to speak of because it is difficult to
put in a computer, and the youth of Singapore is accustomed to computer fault.
There is no longer the intellectual ferment, the passionate argument for a bette
r civilisation. The emphasis on the rice bowl!
Tell me I m wrong, come on.
Our lives are empty. We don t understand the joy of living is not in the gold coin
s. It is not in the bank account. The joy of living is in human relations. We ar
e not in appreciation of this miracle of life.
We are giving a lop-sided view, an unfairness to the government! We come out of
a morass of imperial subjugation where people were dying of starvation and now?
You know, when I won a case once years ago, I was presented with a lovely porcel
ain Buddha with a big flowing belly and ears that reached to his shoulders and a
chubby face.
I said to my client, Look, you Chinese got a real feeling for aesthetics. How can
you worship something so obscene?
He said, Mr Marshall, try and understand. China is a land of starvation where mil
lions of people die for lack of food, and to be able to eat that much, to be tha
t fat, that is heaven!
Now, that is the attitude of our government: to be able to eat that much, that i
s heaven and you should be content.
So are youths not content? They are not anti. Our youths frankly, very honestly
respect the pragmatic achievements of the government, and I m grateful, but they f
eel empty.
There isn t this joy of living which youth expects and youth needs to learn the jo
y of living. How do you teach it?
I think you teach it through respect for the individual. That s our tragedy. If yo
u want to put it in a nutshell, our tragedy is that we emphasise the primacy of
society as against respect for the individual. Mind you, both are right.
I mean both sides have the liberty. Of course, there should be respect for the n
eeds of society over the right of the individual but you must respect the indivi
dual too in seeking the expression of the needs of society. Here, we have no res
pect for the individual.
Cane them! Hang them! There are more than a hundred queuing up to be hanged, you
know that?
[Minister For Law] Jayakumar said, I have plugged the loop-hole whereby they coul
d escape being hanged and just have twenty years of imprisonment!
Oh, wacko the ducks you need a monument!
The joy of hanging people; flogging them, every stroke must break the skin. I do
n t like it. I don t believe it is a deterrent. I see no proof. Look, it seems to me
logic! If every year we have more death sentences, how can you say death senten
ce is a deterrent? If it were, there should be less death sentences.
But you know I m in a minority and my father had one saying which I d like you to pu
blish. It is a beauty. He was a true democratic heart although he didn t know it.
He used to say, David, if ten men tell you your head is not on your shoulders, sh
ake it and make sure. Don t accept it. Just shake it and make sure!
Well, I ve shaken my head again and again and again and I still think I m right. I k
now I m in the dog-house.
The government doesn t see I do respect them immensely. They don t see I m a genuine f
riend. They only see me as a critic and to be a critic is to be an enemy who mus
t be erased and destroyed. There is no such thing as an honest critic to the PAP
. It s a blasphemy to criticise the emperor, spoilt son of heaven.
[Lee] Kuan Yew says you mustn t lampoon a Chinese gentleman. Oh, dear me! Ya, what
happened? What happened to China?
In Europe, they institutionalised the court jester and the court jester had tota
l immunity against any result from his public criticism of the kings and emperor
s and the courtyard. Open public criticism that was his job! They tried to laugh
it off but at least there was one person to prick the bubble of their overgrown
And which civilisation has progressed better for the development of humanity? Th
e Western civilisation or the Chinese civilisation?
You talk of Asian values. I only know two Asian values and, I wish someone would
really pinpoint them instead of pontificating ponderously in humbug and hypocri
Family values - I think we have more family cohesion in Asia than in Europe; mor
e family warmth and I like that. I accept that there is a greater tradition of f
amily warmth and family cohesion.
Two, we have a greater passion for education. My secretary I asked her once what
her background is. She said her mother is a washer-woman and, here is this love
ly secretary doing a damn good job. She was educated. How her mother could save
enough to give her the education?
So these are the only two values I know. Somebody tell me what other values that
are Asian, which everybody talks and nobody mentions the exact parameters.
And you know we use this concept of family cohesion to place on our youths the b
urden of caring for aging and ailing parents and grand-parents.
The young have got their own lives to make. To carry in your own homes aging irr
itable ailing parents and grandparents can destroy the family life of the young.
But then, the alternative is for the government to pour so much mountains of gol
d into building homes for the aged. That s sacrilege gold is to be gathered and no
t to be spent.
I want to see more crèches, more homes for the aged.
Our Prime Minister [Goh Chok Tong] talks about gracious living. Where is the gra
cious living?
So I am a bad boy, I m ostracised. The Straits Times makes slimy remarks about me.
The [press are] running dogs of the PAP.
Try and understand that the law is a vocation and not a business. Respect your c
lient irrespective of the fees. I used to charge $1 for a murder case if he was
Malay because he had no money. I used to charge $1 to trade unions; all Malay un
ions, I charged $1 a year. And the $1 is simply because, if you do it for nothin
g, you are not liable in negligence whereas $1 makes a contract and, if you are
negligent, they can sue you.
I d like them to also understand that justice is a meld of law and humanity. Law a
nd humanity; decency in concepts; if we administer law by the soulless logic of
the computer, we aren t on our road to progress.
You re too young but ask your parents the Japanese times, their draconian approach
to anti-social activities. Ask your parents how they welcomed the returning Bri
tish soldiers in 1945.
I was stunned when I heard about it; that we a colonial people, a subject people
, should welcome rapturously the armed forces of Imperial power. How was that po
I learnt that they had a sense of relief to be back in the ambience of British j
ustice; out of darkness, out of the draconian attitudes of the occupying power.
If you want to make money as a lawyer, you can. I see marble palaces. My juniors
, ha! Marble palaces, swimming pools, Mercedes-Benz! Oh, bravo!
They work till nine o clock at night. I don t know how their children survive. They
work very hard, they make a lot of money. Yes, it s true.
If you are going for corporate law, insurance law and the non-litigant aspects o
f law, you can make a lot of money.
If you re a particularly good litigant our litigation lawyers in civil cases we ve g
ot some outstanding local lawyers. Yes, you can make a lot of money.
Don t go in for crime. The Criminal Bar is a very frustrating Bar today.
And I m according to Lee Kuan Yew in Parliament when he sought the abolition of th
e jury, David Marshall is responsible for 200 murderers walking freely the street
s of Singapore.
I m proud of that. I told him to put it on my tomb. If there are 200 people walkin
g freely the streets of Singapore, it means they are contributing to Singapore.
Singapore would have been poorer by hanging them. I have no compulsion.
Look, the purpose of criminal law is really two-fold: as a deterrent and as a ca
tharsis of society to express its vengeance. If you escape it, you re no harm to s
ociety so long as you maintain a good police force and so long as you maintain a
certain human justice in understanding.
For me, the punishment must not fit the crime, the punishment must fit the crimi
nal and the punishment must fit the needs of society.
Recently, I accepted a brief a Sikh sentenced to death. He was 21 when he was ar
rested. His appeal came on five years later. It was dismissed.
But during those five years, he studied religious knowledge. He got distinction
in the New Testament and he became a Christian.
He s now 26 or 27. He s going to be hanged. I like that man. I think he can be a rea
l asset. He is a delightful chap.
I asked his family, his elder brother. I said, You Sikhs are really close in the
family. How did your family take his becoming a Christian?
He said, What could we do? The poor man is going to be hanged. How can we be angr
There are more than a hundred people queuing to be hanged. There are decent peop
le there.
Look, there s a lovely phrase I forgot who coined it who said, There but for the gr
ace of God go I, I know no man who stood totally spotless that he can say I comm
itted no anti-social act.
And so in our criminal code, if some escaped, that s an asset.
I m reminded of a lovely story of Sir Walter Raleigh. On the scaffold, he went up
and tested the axe with his thumb and turning to the master executioner, he said
, This is the surest cure for all diseases. If you want to eliminate all crime, y
ou got to eliminate all humanity.
I have absolutely no bad conscience about the men I have helped escape the gallo
ws and escape the prison. I m grateful for the opportunity to have done that.
I say this, perhaps in conclusion, we have a judiciary of tremendous integrity.
I ve been practising since 1948, except for three and a half years, there isn t a si
ngle case of financial corruption, neither in the High Court nor the magistrates
courts. It s wonderful to practice in the ambience of total integrity.
No! I think it was a guardian angel that brought me there.
I suppose you know, you must have read that I wanted to be a psychiatrist. First
, when I was young, I wanted to be a doctor. I thought medicine was the greatest
profession in the world helping heal and comfort the sick and the helpless. And
as I grew into adolescence, I wanted to be a psychiatrist. Not to practice but
to do research: why the goodwill of the young?
All youths no matter what race, no matter what country, goodwill flows from thei
r hearts. They want to help the world, but by the time you reach 30, your goodwi
ll like good wine turns to vinegar the vinegar of crabbed egoism.
I wanted to study the wise and whether these could be some antidote for this unh
appy transformation of the goodwill of youths to the crabbed egoism but I didn t h
ave the money. Fortunately!
I don t know if I could have achieved anything that vast. I don t know whether I hav
e the intellectual ability to do first-class research into the mind and emotions
of man.
I fell, by accident, into the right career at the right time and it has been won
Regret? I m full of gratitude for having become a lawyer and, especially, a crimin
al lawyer; for having helped thousands of people terrified, helpless before the
silly forces of society. They ve looked into me as their protector. I have no regr
ets at all for having helped them; humanity, if you can understand this.
If you ever become a criminal lawyer, never look down upon your client. He may b
e a murderer or he may be a thief; he is a fellow human being. You must try and
respect your client no matter what he has done. It is very important in your own
self-respect in your work, and to help who is helpless in seeking help.
Look, at the age of 86, I can say in all earnestness, the thing that matters mos
t in bringing human satisfaction is human relations. To be able to care for your
fellow human beings, to be able to give! Never mind about receiving.
Even today, my friends say, Oh, David, stop it! Why do you have to keep making pu
blic noises that annoy the government? Live in dignity and retirement. They ll res
pect you and you ll have the honours.
Ha, honours! I want to fight till I m dead!
What matters most in life is the right of human beings to live fully in the cont
ext of their own genius. In one word, perhaps, to fight for human justice. I onc
e said humanity s cry for human justice reverberates down the corridors of the cen
turies, and it is still crying for human justice.
I was coming. That was the old building and I was coming along the corridor carr
ying a set of books. It must have been morning and, outside my classroom, there
was a Chinese boy much slimmer than you [Dharmendra] with his back to the wall a
bsolutely pale, full of fear.
And in front of him was my friend, an American boy same student, same class and
dancing an Indian jig saying, Chink! Chink! Chinaman!
Without the slightest warning, I dropped my books and lunged at him [the America
n boy].
Recognise there is a lot of satisfaction in public service, foreign service, jud
icial service. A great deal of satisfaction in public service, even honorary pub
lic service in committees.
[If] you are totally engrossed in self-promotion, at the end of the day, you ll fi
nd it s dead seafood.
Try and give up yourselves to others.
I am so alien to this worship of the Golden Calf and the draconian attitude; the
brutal attitude towards our fellow citizens. Here I ask people and, no doubt, i
f I ask you, We re all in favour so long as it s not me having my bottoms cut! Yes, w
hip em!
Try to put yourself in the other man s shoes.
And, of course, what have I got to say?
You, the young you ve got a fantastic, absolutely fantastic potential before you;
economic expansion, heroic plans that the government has for the future not only
the present. You are so lucky! No unemployment! Great potential even beyond you
r capacity to fulfill.
It s an exciting country, Singapore. It s a lovely country. And you have to make you
r own space for your own spiritual and intellectual needs and have the courage.
Have the courage to serve your fellow men with integrity.
I ll put it in one nutshell: have the courage to live, don t be afraid!
You know, I m told I m fool-hardy and always criticising, although I have such a gra
cious life. But fool-hardy or no, this is me; I am prepared to take what you giv