GCE A Level History – Old and New Syllabus

In spite of my career changes, historical study remains one of my significant interests.

From 2017, the Singaporean syllabus (new code 9752 – Higher 2) undergoes some revision but the topic on Korean War (1950-53) stays put.

For those who are seeking a rather brief overview, the British Broadcasting Corporation usually has many useful pieces. But I recommend the one from George Washington University through the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project. You also can find material from the US State Department on policy recommendation NSC-68.

Finally, one can consider the historical debate on the matter with two reviews by historian William Stueck – one from the Washington Post on Bruce Cumings (another historian) in 2010; and another in 2012 of Shen Zhihua’s translated work on primary documents relating to the Chinese, Soviets and North Koreans on E-International Relations (another useful site!)

Finally, one might need to look at the Chinese perspective as well…

Hope this post presents an adequate starting point for further inquiry!


Is the adage ‘An eye for an eye’ viable in redressing wrongs?

When applied to international relations, reconciliation and rehabilitation have proved a better route than reciprocal punishment. We can consult the precedent of France and Germany. The bitter war of the 1870s left France humiliated. France also paid 5 billion francs in reparations to Germany. The seething anger contributed to the punitive measures of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles after World War One. Among other things, German reparations constituted 85% of its total national income. This was a victory without peace. In part, this led to World War Two which exploded in 1939. In contrast, Franco-German reconciliation after 1945 resulted in peace and facilitated conditions that propelled both countries to developed nations status. From this perspective, exacting punishments would have impeded peace. Hence, to a large extent they should be forsaken.

Maggie (Thatcher) and New Conservatism

Perhaps I recall Homer Simpson call Margaret Thatcher as above…

But I digress, we would find below a partial precis (with commentary) of the Thatcherite years from 1984-87 from Veldman’s handy book.

New Conservatism in the 1980s was all the rage (Helmut Kohl, of West Germany, was interestingly put in the same category as Thatcher and Reagan). To battle economic woes (that of stagflation), the governments of Italy, Greece and Spain pushed down healthcare and salaries; while France allow retrenchments and downsizing.

Internationally, Thatcher’s rally of ‘peace through strength’ and good relations with Soviet leader Gorbachev and US leader Reagan brought to bear the eventual end of the Cold War. (One might wonder what it would have been like had Roosevelt died later; this in light of his better rapport with Stalin. Ah, a hypothetical question for the Post-Revisionist historian…)

Her belief on work and not welfare extended to development aid. This went south in the 1980s. Remaining aid was doled out with trade agreements as conditions. Weapons and and arms constituted the majority of British firms that won out from these deals. The UK became the second largest arms seller.

In 1986, Thatcher backed Reagan in bombing Libya for abetting terrorists. This was in contrast to her Euroscepticism. (Some other Brits scorned French culture; some recalled the German attacks from the Second World War; while finally between the 1950s and 60s, the balance-of-payment problems led to restrictions of British pound outflows to  50 each year for British households.) When Thatcher was Education Minister within the Heath government, she was against student exchanges to continental Europe! (Nothing could be learnt from them…)

In the late 1970s, Britain suffered a 1 billion deficit by staying in the European Community (EC). They received  some reimbursement after Thatcherite haggling. (Similar problems led to the Brexit in 2016.) This naturally worsened UK-Europe relations.

Unemployment benefits remained large because unemployment stayed strong. However, she continued with dampening pensions. In her first term, she decoupled inflation and state pension values (State Earned Related Pensions Scheme – SERPS). She managed to reduce this. One such step was that widows only received 50% of their spouse’s SERPS. Moreover, financial inducements were given so that people would turn to private pensions instead. (She hoped all these would help the ‘deserving poor’.)

The National Health Service took up 6% of the national budget. (This was less than the Continent at 10%.) But Thatcher felt the need to make it more efficient. More administrative personnel were led by Sir Roy Griffiths to lower costs. Yet, this backfired. Nurses refused to work and costs again rose. Healthcare expenditure was diverted away from patient treatment…


Gorbachev and the Cold War

A rather succinct paper by a tertiary student from a useful online academic site (with free content!)

Rafal Nedzarek. (30 Jul 2012). A critical evaluation of Mikhail Gorbachev’s role in the ending of the Cold War. http://www.e-ir.info/2012/07/30/a-critical-evaluation-of-the-role-of-mikhail-gorbachev-in-ending-the-cold-war/. E-International Relations.


US-Singapore Relations: Diplomacy – 2016

A snapshot of the TODAY (freesheet) on 4 Aug 2016. p.8. Exposition on the Joint Statement on Bilateral Cooperation.


Singapore would host the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative’s Urban Planning Workshop in 2017. (It is stated that the Initiative has connected in excess of 80,000 youths.)

Correspondingly, Singapore sets up a scholarship summer exchange programme to finance 100 Singaporean and American students (split equally) in the future 5 years.


With the Memorandum-of-Understanding, there would be built in intelligence sharing; benchmarking; and cooperation in reacting to cyber incidents.


Interesting points:

Page 6 showed a photo of actress Keri Russell and actor Matthew Rhys attending the State Dinner to host the Singapore delegation. Why were they there?

Mrs Michelle Obama actually supervised the State Dinner effort! (Wow)

Singapore is also the first Southeast Asian state to be provided with such a formal dinner (at least during Obama’s tenure?)


The United Nations (UN) – L’après guerre froide dans le monde

The traditional Sabbath is ‘…from sunset to sunset, that is, from Friday evening to Saturday evening.’ As of most general Christian traditions, it has now become Sunday.

I am rushing now to complete this piece of work. Or is it leisure? (Even though I am hardly a proponent of work life integration. Division is the key – yes – KEY.)

I have said to my former colleagues in the past, ‘God willing’. It is biblical, once one refers to the book of James from the Bible. Who knows whither comes tomorrow? (Thanks, John Bunyan for the word ‘wither’.)


Life is so precious and fragile…but how many truly act in congruence with this, for lack of another word at this point, realisation?

Enough of the philosophical musings…


It is now past midnight, and herein is the due date for the above book.

I will hardly waste the time left for garnering useful insights.

No particular new thoughts from the author. The UN was hampered by the Cold War and great power vetoes.

The author seems to put a positive spin on UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali who in 1992 spoke of ‘preventive diplomacy’, which in other words meant nipping conflicts in the bud.

The writing nonetheless revived memories of Gorbachev’s 1988 speech in the UN. He stated the need for cooperation in demilitarisation; human rights; and environmental management: the diametric opposite of class conflict actualised by Lenin and Stalin. One can safely quote this as an example of political liberalism in contrast to political realism. (Of course, some also use this defining moment as the end of the Cold War.) This was concretely proven in the short term at least, by the consensus during the Persian Gulf War (1990-1991).

But it is more pessimistic or ambivalent. It painted an uncertain future. The US was compared to France post World War One, a state that neglected urban infrastructure; possessed a broken and bankrupt social security system; with medical/chemical industries (overtaken by the Japanese). This is in line with Jim Rogers’ analysis of things (he cross referenced the US to the dwindling British Empire).

Who was to displace the US?

It remains to be seen… and this is despite China’s supposed invincibility.




Korean Peninsula – L’après guerre froide dans le monde

I am grateful that I can still read Chinese since my French is still rather basic. The above was translated by 北京 : 商务印书馆, 1996. The original by Charles Zorgbibe – ‘Lawyer and historian of international relations‘ – was put into print in 1993. I concur with the translation of the title by the publishers, this was <冷战后的世界>. What interested me was the world from the French perspective. [Interestingly, the series was named Que Sais-Je, in other words – What do  know? It mirrors the final line in French playwright Yasmina Reza’s work <God of Carnage>.]

The author held an optimistic view towards tensions on the Korean Peninsula where both Koreas (North and South) remained at war since only an armistice was signed back in 1953. I see why he had reasons to be positive. China was prodding North Korea to make peace with South Korea. The United States was planning to execute the Guam Doctrine or Nixon Doctrine to pull troops from Asia (eventually). In 1990, the then Soviet Union recognised South Korea. There was also the significant event between the two Koreas with an agreement to ‘resolve differences, adhere to mutual non-aggression, conduct trade, and cooperate’ in 1991. China likewise normalised relations with South Korea in 1992.

Yet as one sees today, reunification does not seem near. The basic premise of German-styled peace progress is flawed, at least based on the anecdotal evidence I have heard. West Germany basically ‘gobbled up’ the East. The led to a tremendous strain on the finances, I have heard one person say that he would not go back to Germany ‘to starve’. In 2010, German paper de Spiegel stated: ‘…economic benefits that West German politicians promised failed to materialize.’ This parallels a recent television discussion this year on Channelnews Asia, where a Korean put forth the view that South Koreans saw North Korea as ‘a burden’. At the time of publishing (1993), North Korea spent 20% of its income on defence, 12% of the male workforce was in the military against 6% in the South.

But perhaps the largest sticking point was the development of nuclear weapons by North Korea in 1991. This was discovered by the United States. It seems that this is crux and key to the entire puzzle? That the North Korean oligarchy or dictatorship is giving its all to maintain power and a life of luxury through means as dangerous as nuclear missiles?