December 10, 2012

Perhaps Be Cursed By Other People

Excerpt from Chapter 42 of From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965 - 2000 by Lee Kuan Yew, published by HarperCollins Publishers, 2000:

When I met his tutor at his graduation, he told me that Loong (Lee Hsien Loong, current Prime Minister of Singapore and the eldest son of Lee Kuan Yew) had written him a most rational, thorough, and thoughtful letter explaining why he would not go on with mathematics no matter how good he was at it. Later, I asked his tutor for a copy of this letter that Loong had sent him in August 1972:

"Now the reasons for not becoming a professional mathematician. It is absolutely necessary that I remain in Singapore, whatever I do, not only because in my special position if I "brain-drained" overseas the effect on Singapore would be disastrously demoralising, but also because Singapore is where I belong and where I want to be. ... Further, a mathematician really has little say in what goes on in the world around him, in the way things are going on in the country. This does not matter at all in a large developed country like Britain, but in Singapore it would matter very much to me. It does not mean that I have to go into politics, but an important member of the civil service or the armed forces is in a position to do a great deal of good or harm. ... I would prefer to be doing things and perhaps be cursed by other people than have to curse at someone else and not be able to do any more."

He was then only 20 but he knew his mind and where his commitments were.