By Zainul Arifin
THERE were a couple of pictures in the special supplement that came out with this newspaper on Merdeka Day. One was a group photograph of policemen, taken some time in February 1950, stationed at the Kampong Bukit Kepong police station near Muar, Johor.
The other picture, dated Feb 23, 1950, showed remnants of a burnt building. The station was burnt to the ground, and together with it, 13 policemen, six home guards, three women and a child were killed.
They were attacked in the early morning hours by 150 communist terrorists for almost five hours.
The men fought to the very end, and one of them, Ali Akob, was last seen alive charging at the bandits, presumably out of ammunition, with a parang.
A 12-year-old boy was also a witness to the brutal killing of his father.
That attack and many others like it by the Communist Party of Malaya members claimed the lives of many men and women in uniform, as well as innocent civilians. Many lives were disrupted when the CPM began waging its armed offensive from 1946 to well into the 1970s, against anyone who were against their idea of a communist state.
The CPM was led, during most of the period, by its secretary general, a man known as Chin Peng.
It is unfortunate that some people have decided to romantise history and group Chin Peng with others as among the "real fighters" for Merdeka.
The vast majority of Malaysians today are too young to remember the Emergency years (1948-1960), and the years after that, which were punctuated by assassinations, terror, mayhem, bombing, as well as public and private disruptions and inconveniences.
The CPM’s battle was not just an ideological battle of the minds, but a battle fought with bullets and paid with lives.
I know personally of two people, both my uncles, whose jobs were to put their lives on the line defending the fragility of independence against the likes of Chin Peng.
Chin Peng was as much a factor in Merdeka as the stifling tropical humidity was to the British sensibilities that resulted in them quiting the country.
If there were more important factors, it was the poor public opinion in Britain of the Government clinging to colonies especially after World War 2, as well as worldwide opposition to colonialism.
The CPM’s continued armed approach could actually have delayed independence if not for Alliance leaders assuring London that the people were united and the communists, dangerous nuisance that they were, were not speaking on behalf of every Malayan.
History has shown that in the years leading to Independence, the outlawed CPM decided to stick to its guns and not join the rest of the country in the quest of peaceful negotiations.
Its members declined the amnesty exercise that would have ended their armed struggle and paved a less bloodied path to nationhood.
At the famous Baling talks on Dec 29, 1955, two years before Merdeka, Chin Peng told the Chief Minister of the Federation of Malaya, Tengku Abdul Rahman, that the CPM would not surrender but would continue with its armed struggle.
"Surrender means humiliation. We will not accept surrender at any time; we will carry on the struggle to the last man," he was quoted by the Dec 30, 1955 issue of the Straits Times.
In trying to get the British out of Malaya, Chin Peng and CPM were doing what thousands of other Malayans were doing then. They were not unique.
There were those who chose the other path, such as voting in the first federal elections in 1955, a sure sign that democracy was favoured over communism.
Many also did it at the negotiating table through the political process, but Chin Peng, inspired and perhaps funded by communists from abroad, decided to pick up arms, and continued to do so even when the futility of his actions were laid bare — that they lacked the support of the people. They became terrorists and saboteurs.
Let us not beat around the bush. Chin Peng has nothing to do with Merdeka. In fact, Merdeka, and the nations continued independence, has been sustained in spite of people like him.
The CPM had looked at every opportunity to sabotage the very independence that we had, to inflict chaos and destabilise the nation.
There is no question that Chin Peng figures prominently in Malaysian history, but more as someone trying to subvert the infant nation at every turn.
To romanticise him and turn him into a folk hero as one of the real fighters for Merdeka is laughable if not for the fact that it is hurtful to the memory of those who died defending the country.
Chin Peng as the real fighter for Merdeka just does not fly no matter how hard one tries to sell the idea.