Lee Huan Yew

by Ed Sawicki - March 22, 2015

Lee Kuan Yew

Singapore's founding Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, died a few hours ago. It's Monday in Singapore now, so he died on Monday, March 23.

I had the pleasure of traveling to Singapore about three times a year throughout the 1980s and early 90s. Singapore had only become independent 15 years earlier, so it was a chance to see a nation emerging from colonialism first hand. I tried to get invited to a social function that the PM attended, but I failed.

These were the Reagan years and the contrast between the U.S. and Singapore was profound. There was tension between the two - especially as it related to imprisoning citizens. American teenager, Michael P. Fay, was caught vandalizing cars in Singapore and was sentenced to six cane strokes. Lee Kuan Yew believed that prisons should be a place for rapid rehabilitation and he used corporal punishment in the form of caning to get there. Americans were critical of caning and called it barbaric. Lee Kuan said that having people languish in prison for a long time with little attempt to rehabilitate them, like in the U.S., was barbaric.

I always felt safe walking around Singapore.