July 1, 1999 

To the Editor, New York Review of Books 

Dear Editor: 

          Ian Burama was a strange choice of reviewer for Lee Kuan Yew’s book The Singapore Story. He misses the principal achievement of the man and the nation. 

          Mr. Lee did use unorthodox means in combating the left of Singapore, whether they were communists or not, but anyone familiar with the politics of that day knows that he had little chance to prevail if he did not. We have grown accustomed to thinking of communists as clumsy bunglers since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, but in those days they presented a real threat.

          Beyond winning the struggle for power, however, Lee’s accomplishments in bringing his people into the vanguard of the 21st century has been remarkable. Singapore is the cleanest city of its size in the world, it has no traffic jams despite a vibrant economy, its students score highest on multinational tests of any in the world, and its fertility rate, once a major concern, has dropped to replacement levels or below.           


Courtney A Nelson - Beirut 1973

Great Mosque,  Singap.

          In the next century, we are going to be searching urgently for social and political systems that produce results like these. Lee’s government succeeded in accomplishing what every government would like to accomplish, without corruption or repression. That achievement in itself is magnificent in its scope. 

          Authoritarian?  Yes, but like Korea and Taiwan, less so each year. I think, as do many, that it is time for a relaxation of many of the social and political regulations governing the society. But 30 years ago, and most of the time since then, a firm hand was needed on the tiller, and Lee did a better job than most Asian leaders of supplying it. 


Courtney Nelson

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