1961: 12 Radio Talks that Changed the Course of Singapore's History

1961. A year in Singapore's history that might not get as much attention as 1965. Yet, it is the year in which then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew gave a series of 12 radio talks that would alter the course of history. While Mr Lee sought to win the hearts and minds of people from all walks of life - whether workers, hawkers or businessmen – on merger with the Federation of Malaya, the key focus of the talks was to expose the communists – their aims, methods and organisation. If Mr Lee had failed, Singapore would have turned out very differently.

"In this fight, the ultimate contestants will be the PAP and the MCP – the PAP for a democratic, non-Communist, socialist Malaya, and the MCP, for a Soviet Republic of Malaya. It is a battle that cannot be won by just bayonets and bullets. It is a battle of ideals and ideas."

The Battle for Merger is a compilation of the transcripts of those 12 radio talks delivered by Mr Lee in 1961. First published within months of the radio talks, it also includes 12 appendices that buttress Mr Lee's arguments and allow the reader to get a glimpse of the nature of the communist subversion. Those of us born in more peaceful times would probably find it difficult to imagine the kind of violence that rocked Singapore as we struggled to find our identity as a nation. More than 50 years later, The Battle for Merger still holds important reminders of how far we have come since our tumultuous beginnings in the '60s.

Book Cover

Intrigued? A full reprint of the book, published by the National Archives of Singapore and Straits Times Press, is now available at all major bookstores. The reprint also comes with new material – including a message by Mr Lee reflecting on the significance of the radio talks, an introduction by historian Albert Lau situating the radio talks in their historical context, as well as explanatory footnotes describing key events and personalities mentioned in the radio talks. Those who buy the book will also find an accompanying DVD with the recordings of all 12 radio talks delivered by Mr Lee in Malay, English and Mandarin.

If you’re fascinated by this history, don't miss the chance to also visit the Battle for Merger exhibition. This exhibition will not only highlight key themes in each of the 12 radio talks, but also provide visitors with a close-up view of three of the original documents that were reproduced as appendices in The Battle for Merger book.

To help visitors better understand the backdrop of violence and subversion against which Mr Lee took to the airwaves, postcards depicting key incidents of communist violence in Singapore will also be handed out. The exhibition will be held at the National Library Building from 9 Oct to 30 Nov 2014. Thereafter, it will travel to a library near you until Mar 2015.


Find out more about The Battle For Merger at History.sg.

Main Exhibition Venue:

National Library Building
Level 7 Promenade 9 Oct - 30 Nov 2014

Travelling Exhibition Venues:

Jurong Regional Library: 2 Dec - 30 Dec 2014
Ang Mo Kio Public Library: 2 Jan - 30 Jan 2015
Woodlands Regional Library: 2 Feb - 27 Feb 2015
Tampines Regional Library: 2 Mar - 30 Mar 2015