10 rousing speeches made by Lee Kuan Yew in the turbulent 60s that will live on forever

Words to live by.

Tan Xing Qi| March 24, 08:12 AM

Communists, riots, unification, separation - 60s in Singapore was a turbulent time and the late Lee Kuan Yew had seen it all.

Known for his oratorical skills, his speeches filled spaces and captured our imagination. People stood patiently, listening to his gems. And he duly obliged, delivering passionate speeches that many new generation politicians find it hard to emulate.

He might be gone but these rousing speeches live on forever.


1. Fear is just an illusion 

FEAR Source

“… Do not make the mistake of believing that we can be intimidated, because we cannot; we cannot afford to be. If we are intimidated, then the communists will not be. I am sure of that. Then they will take over the leadership, and that is the end of Malaysia.”

“And what we want is to be patient. Patiently help the emergence of the intelligent, rational leaders, not the lunatics who shout slogans. They shout slogans, sure die. But we have to show them that we are not afraid of dying.”

“Your economic and social common interests must override your race, your language, your religion. If you are poor and you have no money, whether you are an Indian or a Malay or a Chinese, you are poor.” - at the Delegates’ Conference of the NTUC (Dec. 14, 1964)


2. The importance of equality

racial harmony

“… in Singapore you will get equal misery or equal prosperity as the case may be regardless of whether you are black or brown or yellow or any of the shades in between.”

“There are several foes but to succeed, we fight only one. Don’t fight them all----you will complicate things, it makes it difficult.”

“It is when a man knows what the odds are and he says ‘notwithstanding that, I must do so’, that is valour.” - at the Opening Ceremony of the Singapore Conference Hall and Trade Union House (Oct. 15, 1965)


3. Never take things for granted

singapore ww2

“... unless you organise yourselves, whether it be in Insurance Employees’ Unions, in trade unions or in political societies, and ensure effective government, there will not be good life for all.”

“It is good that you get used to graceful living but never take it for granted.”

“When the man holding the gun is not on your side, you are in trouble. I saw it in 1942 when the Japanese came in.” - at the Anniversary Celebrations of the Singapore Insurance Companies Employees’ Union (Oct. 30, 1965)


4. Outnumbered. Never outgunned


“Two million we may be but if I know Singapore as I believe I do, I think this place will measure up against 20 million and stand up on its own against 20 million.” - at the VIP Dinner Launching the Devan Nair Research and Training Endowment Fund  (Sep. 24, 1966)


5. Defend yourself. Because nobody would.


If you, who are growing up, do not understand that you have got to defend this, then I say in the end, we will lose. Other people will come, smack you down, take it over." (Feb. 21, 1967)

6. A little less conversation, a little more action please.


“I am not going to come here, next time, just to hear a long moan about more pay and better conditions of service. I am interested in more productivity.” - at the Dockyard Workers’ National Day Celebration Dinner (Aug. 5, 1967)


7. Hard men to take on the hard choices


“In Singapore, we have to be a tough people in order to accept stern measures for collective survival. Otherwise, the government cannot govern by consent. If you elect people who offer soft solutions to tough problems, there will be no solution, and bankruptcy and chaos will result.” - at the fifth Annual NTUC Delegates’ Conference (Apr. 7, 1968)


8. Leave no man behind.


“Self-respect is what our trade unions have and will give to our workers, that protection for a man’s right to his own dignity, his dignity as a human being, as a citizen. He may be an unskilled worker, but he is one of us” - Opening Address at the NTUC Delegates Seminar (Nov. 16, 1969)


9. Change is the only constant

Singapore_Skyline_Panorama Source

“Change is the very essence of life. The moment we cease to change, to be able to adapt, to adjust, to respond effectively to new situations, then we have begun to die.” - Speech at the fourth Delegates’ Conference of the NTUC (Apr. 26, 1967)


10. What makes us human?


“We are all human beings and however hardheaded we are, we tend to be sentimental because sentiments help make up the totality of man” - at the Foundation Stone Laying Ceremony  (Mar. 28, 1968)


Extracted from “The papers of Lee Kuan Yew: speeches, interviews and dialogues”; published by Gale Asia/Cengage Learning Asia in 2012 & 2013. Creator: Lee Kuan Yew/National Archives.

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