May 13 In The Closet

Kuala Lumpur, after.

MAY 14 — It was a word which ended conversations or contestations. Even fifty years later.

One word, and it was not appropriate to pursue the matter any further, usually concerning race relations.

We grew up letting, May 13, have so much sway over us without knowing more than the basic details. We, the children born in the decade following 1969.

People were proud, people kept talking, people voted, angry reactions and people died. Then it was decided, no more.

A generation of young people told, and then it was the 1990s.

The new millennium and student turns to become teacher. They tell the generation, a retelling of their version of the past, relying on the gravitas of the story, not the details.

Here, in the present, 2019, all of us mired in fear and cautious of shadows, lurking, ghosts really. Reminding if we fail to learn, it will turn bad.

There is the psychological burden of relying on the past outcomes to teach, without the ability to reinforce or calibrate the lessons with the causalities. The causes are murmurs, softly whispered.

Because in places we don’t want to go, to summaries we hate to hear, it is the idea when we explore it too much we end up blaming someone, or a side.

So, we were told politely, not to. Let the past be buried, only the lessons kept.

My late father did not talk about it, he was based at the Sungai Besi air base camp at the time. The late Chew Choon Ming, my best mate Pit King’s dad used to tell how senior community leaders like Umno’s Abdul Aziz Shamsuddin (later Mahathir Mohamad’s political secretary and later minister for rural development) were brought together to broker a peace between the sides in the aftermath of the devastating days. Small bits of news here and there.

It might be another decade or two before the government documents are declassified, for a different population physically disconnected from those events.

But for now, and for some time, there are always those who flippantly threaten others online to not tempt May 13 again. Most often in anger, at times exasperated but generally irresponsible. A time of bloodshed is not to be spoken about casually. No matter how convenient it is. It does not reflect very well on the person, it does not reflect very well on the thinking process employed.

A movie lesson

It’s crazy but without details and only basic principles, I am led down the path to weigh this through a movie conversation. Crimson Tide, a Jerry Bruckheimer fare.

There’s this officers mess conversation at the start, where aging Captain Ramsay (Gene Hackman) acquiants himself with his new first officer, Hunter (Denzel Washington).

[The scene itself was remarkable as James Gandolfini, Viggo Mortensen and Matt Craven were in it too. But that’s for another type of review]

The discussion was about whether soldiers should follow orders or consider the order first. They were in a nuclear submarine, so the choices were stark for them.

Ramsay quotes war strategist and philosopher Von Clausewitz who put it as “war is a continuation of politics by other means.”

Silence ensues and eyes turn to Hunter.

He retorts, it’s a little bit more complicated than that.

He says that the true enemy is war itself.

I say this might be the long term view all Malaysians should hold, that violence does not lead to answers, or even solutions. Violence is the true enemy.

May 13 should remind us that the worst is inside us, not around us. Tame the hate, and grow the love. And maybe, we get a better and safer Malaysia for us, and most certainly for our children.


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