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Was Singapore’s Independence an Accident?

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In 1963, Singapore declared its independence from Great Britain. Without much land area or natural resources of its own, the new nation secured some protection and economic help by joining Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak to form the Federation of Malaysia. But just a few years later, Singapore was out on its own. 

The union was rocky right from the start, with Singaporean state leaders disagreeing with the federal officials on economic policy and federal affirmative action laws that gave preferential treatment to ethnic Malays. Meanwhile, Malay- and Chinese-Singaporean civilians clashed on the streets in a series of race riots that killed dozens of people, injured hundreds more, damaged infrastructure, caused food shortages, and further strained Singapore’s relations with the other states and federal government.

Federal authorities lost their patience quickly and leaders on both sides realized that the union was not sustainable. Forty-eight years ago this month, on August 9, 1965, the Parliament of Malaysia voted 126-0 to expel Singapore from the federation.

While other countries strived and fought for their independence, Singapore’s seems more like political fallout, or a punishment doled out to them. Just hours before the vote that created the new Republic of Singapore, its first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, broke down in tears during a press conference, saying, “For me, it is a moment of anguish. All my life, my whole adult life, I have believed in the merger and unity of the two territories." Wikipedia, in reference to the anniversary, even calls Singapore the “first and only country to date to gain independence unwillingly.”

But Singapore’s independence didn’t exactly happen without any input or action on the part of the state, argues Singaporean political blogger Palaniyapan:

While most nations fought to be sovereign, we didn't. It is often regarded that independence was unexpectedly thrusted upon us by Malaysia. Putatively neither did we possess a unique identity to preserve or common cause to pursue. Also, given our small size and lack of natural resources, complete self-determination appeared as both an unnecessary and unfeasible pursuit. This has led many to believe that Singapore’s eventual independence was an “accident.”

But if one were to dig deeper into the events preceding August 9th 1965, these commonly held beliefs get challenged: One would realize that our peaceful, unexpected independence belies the fact that it’s Singapore's active insistence on values such as equality and multi-racialism alongside demand for a higher degree of self-determination which precipitated its secession from Malaysia.

So was independence thrusted by Malaysia? A straightforward reading of history, would afford an affirmative to the question. Singapore never explicitly demanded to be independent. Our preferred option was to be part of Federal Malaysia.

However looking deeply, one would find that though it was Malaysia which broached the topic of secession first, the move was to a large extent precipitated by Singapore’s actions. Also, when given with the choice of moving ahead as the part of the union and accepting the compromise of having limited say in governance and giving up on the vision of Malaysian Malaysia where all races were treated equally, we consistently stuck to our convictions despite the attendant risks—which had been fully grasped.

In other words, the collective Singaporean vision of what society and government should look like was revolutionary enough to force Malaysia to stage the bloodless revolution for them. That’s actually a pretty good start for a national narrative, and something worth toasting with a Singapore Sling.

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Why Does the Queen Have Two Birthdays?
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CHRIS JACKSON, AFP/Getty Images

On April 21, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will turn 92 years old. To mark the occasion, there are usually a series of gun salutes around London: a 41 gun salute in Hyde Park, a 21 gun salute in Windsor Great Park, and a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London. For the most part, the monarch celebrates her big day privately. But on June 9, 2018, Her Majesty will parade through London as part of an opulent birthday celebration known as Trooping the Colour.

Queen Elizabeth, like many British monarchs before her, has two birthdays: the actual anniversary of the day she was born, and a separate day that is labeled her "official" birthday (usually the second Saturday in June). Why? Because April 21 is usually too cold for a proper parade.

The tradition started in 1748, with King George II, who had the misfortune of being born in chilly November. Rather than have his subjects risk catching colds, he combined his birthday celebration with the Trooping the Colour.

The parade itself had been part of British culture for almost a century by that time. At first it was strictly a military event, at which regiments displayed their flags—or "colours"—so that soldiers could familiarize themselves. But George was known as a formidable general after having led troops at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, so the military celebration seemed a fitting occasion onto which to graft his warm-weather birthday. Edward VII, who also had a November birthday, was the first to standardize the June Trooping the Colour and launched a tradition of a monarchical review of the troops that drew crowds of onlookers.

Even now, the date of the "official" birthday varies year to year. For the first seven years of her reign, Elizabeth II held her official birthday on a Thursday but has since switched over to Saturdays. And while the date is tied to the Trooping the Colour in the UK, Commonwealth nations around the world have their own criteria, which generally involve recognizing it as a public holiday.

Australia started recognizing an official birthday back in 1788, and all the provinces (save one) observe the Queen's Birthday on the second Monday in June, with Western Australia holding its celebrations on the last Monday of September or the first Monday of October.

In Canada, the official birthday has been set to align with the actual birth date of Queen Victoria—May 24, 1819—since 1845, and as such they celebrate so-called Victoria Day on May 24 or the Monday before.

In New Zealand, it's the first Monday in June, and in the Falkland Islands the actual day of the Queen's birth is celebrated publicly.

All in all, just another reason it's great to be Queen.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
What Is the Meaning Behind "420"?
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Whether or not you’re a marijuana enthusiast, you’re probably aware that today is an unofficial holiday for those who are. April 20—4/20—is a day when pot smokers around the world come together to, well, smoke pot. Others use the day to push for legalization, holding marches and rallies.

But why the code 420? There are a lot of theories as to why that particular number was chosen, but most of them are wrong. You may have heard that 420 is police code for possession, or maybe it’s the penal code for marijuana use. Both are false. There is a California Senate Bill 420 that refers to the use of medical marijuana, but the bill was named for the code, not the other way around.

As far as anyone can tell, the phrase started with a bunch of high school students. Back in 1971, a group of kids at San Rafael High School in San Rafael, California, got in the habit of meeting at 4:20 to smoke after school. When they’d see each other in the hallways during the day, their shorthand was “420 Louis,” meaning, “Let’s meet at the Louis Pasteur statue at 4:20 to smoke.”

Somehow, the phrase caught on—and when the Grateful Dead eventually picked it up, "420" spread through the greater community like wildfire. What began as a silly code passed between classes is now a worldwide event for smokers and legalization activists everywhere—not a bad accomplishment for a bunch of high school stoners.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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