Tag Archives: memoirs

From Third World to First: the Singapore Story – Lee Kuan Yew

I was also troubled by the apparent over-confidence of a generation that has only known stability, growth and prosperity. I thought our people should understand how vulnerable Singapore was and is, the dangers that beset us, and how we nearly did not make it. Most of all, I hope that they will know that honest and effective government, public order and personal security, economic and social progress did not come about as the natural course of events.

Lee Kuan Yew is the person responsible for the rise of Singapore, from $400 GDP/capita in 1959 when he became Prime Minister to $12,200 GDP/capita in 1990 when he retired. In this book, he tells his memoirs.

When Lee Kuan Yew took charge, Singapore was part of the British Empire, 4.5 times richer per capita than the city-state. By 1990, a Singaporean was richer than a British. Singapore did not have any natural riches to sell, like oil or diamonds, or rich neighbors, not even security guarantees; it had nothing, but its people.

In a towering 750 pages book, Lee Kuan Yew presents chronologically how he achieved this amazing performance. The book is divided in three parts: internal, foreign affairs and legacy.

In first part, the Singaporean leader explains his policies to develop economically and socially the country. He also describes the struggle against the internal enemies: the Malayans and the communists. He took in 1959 an adamant libertarian, free market, pro-capitalism view, in a time where socialism and communism were seem to be on the right part of history. Even in the prosperous years, efficiency and individualism were not abandoned to socialist policies. Meritocracy and a world class civil service were his out-most concerns.

At some point, his views seem controversial, such as recommending marrying your equal in terms of studies. He himself was not though child of such parents and he proved successful.

Nonetheless, he understood that no policy is infallible and he was quick to adapt and abandon inefficient policies, including capitalist or libertarian ones. If it works was what mattered.

Lee Kuan Yew never lost the elections from his sight. He was not a despot, but an elected leader of a democratic country and he always had internal politics in mind. However, the public opinion was not driving his decisions; he pulled and convinced an entire country to follow him. And it followed, because it always came with solid arguments and it delivered.

His critics, however, remind him of his restrictions to several human rights in Singapore. Lee Kuan Yew tries to explain himself throughout the book, arguing that no former colonial territory erupted in a democracy; they all needed a steady hand.

In the second part, he recalls his experiences with different countries, leaders and parts of the world. The Great Britain, Europe, the USSR, the United States, ASEAN, Japan, Australia, India, the Commonwealth meetings are featuring in his chapters. But amongst them all, Lee Kuan Yew admires the most China and Deng Xiaoping.

The Singaporean leader is, of course, influenced personally by China, as son of Chinese immigrants. He visited often China and his leaders. He was most impressed by Deng Xiaoping, which he considered a giant among men. In Lee Kuan Yew’s words, Deng was the only leader that could gather the loyalty and respect of his fellow Chinese communist leaders in order to change the economic policies of China towards capitalism. Deng did the change in the smart way, gradually, unlike Gorbachev of USSR. Hence, the country did not collapse. Nevertheless, corruption remains a long-term problem in China, Lee Kuan Yew reckoned.

Th third part is the shortest and looks at the new generation of Singaporean leaders. Learning from Deng’s failure to have his appointees leaders of China, Lee Kuan Yew tasked his government to choose a leader.

Talking about his family in this chapter, he expresses his gratitude towards his wife, a keen reader of people and constant support, sharing the same views as him.

The memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew are truly incredible. He is not politically correct and he forcefully puts forward his arguments for what he thinks it is right. The book is a legacy of a man with keen intelligence, using the best examples life gave him: from the American capitalist policies to communist political tactics, from Chinese caution to the experiences of for colonies.

[Feature photo – Singapore by Nicolas Lannuzel]

Blowing my cover – Lindsay Moran

Our next instruction was to traverse by night over many more miles of hostile territory, to find a shelter serving as base for a suspected terrorist cell. Once there, we were to infiltrate the premises and collect as much detailed information, “intelligence”, as we could.

We were exhausted, but we knew there was no choice but to press on. That day we managed, somewhat miraculously, to make the entire leg of the trip undetected by the bad guys, although we could hear them patrolling the roads with their noisy Mack trucks, engaging the other groups in firefights.

Blowing my cover – My life as a CIA spy is a memoir of a former CIA operative, who ended up resigning the Agency after 5 years. Moran carefully describes her training and her motives to join (and to resign) from CIA. The style of writing is rather cynical, but entertaining in the same time.

I was interested in the book because she operated in the Balkans, but the former spy doesn’t dwell on her missions.

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Memoirs of a 5-years spy

The book presents in great detail how the CIA training for operatives takes place, such as escaping tails, noticing details, gathering intelligence, making contacts. This part was practical and quick-paced.

The other part, intertwining with her training and missions, was a psychological analysis of her reasons to work for the Agency. She considered her job a lonely, difficult, rather boring job, with little solace. However, the analysis does not go very deep. To provide a context, Moran worked in the Balkans around 2000-2003 and the 9/11 attacks were in 2001. In comparison with the CIA agents in Afghanistan, the Balkans must have been very boring.

The writing could have used more polishing, but it was an interesting reading.

Cronica de Cotroceni – Adriana Saftoiu

Prima mea zi la capatul a zece ani de colaborare cu Traian Basescu a fost vineri, 30 martie. Dimineata a sunat telefonul. Nu imi era greu sa-mi imaginez cine ar fi putut sa fie. N-am raspuns. In sfirsit, eram libera de contract. Apoi, telefonul a sunat din nou. «Te cauta Presedintele», m-a informat bine cunoscuta voce de la secretariat. «Nu mai lucrez la Cotroceni. Poti sa-i spui ca nu am raspuns la telefon.»

Cum promiteam cu cateva post-uri inainte, scriu in limba in care am citit cartea.

Adriana Saftoiu a fost consilier prezidential si purtator de cuvint al Presedintelui Romaniei, in timpul mandatului lui Traian Basescu. Ca fost purtator de cuvant si fost ziarist, Saftoiu are verva si stil. Am citit cartea intr-o seara, nu puteam sa o las din mana.

Cartea, publicata in 2015, vorbeste in principal de Presedintele la acel moment, dar nu dezvaluie prea multe, majoritatea faptelor sunt deja publice. Totusi confirma o serie de zvonuri, de exemplu relatia Presedintelui cu Elena Udrea. Memoriile incep si se termina cu activitatea Adrianei Saftoiu la Palatul Cotroceni, doar cative ani, dar sunt destul de savuroase si pline de evenimente.

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La Poarta Palatului Cotroceni

Presedintele mi se pare prezentat ca un om furios, frustat, dar determinat; majoritatea lucrurilor sunt improvizatii si se intampla alandala; gastile de mediocri ii imping pe competenti sa plece. Pare destul de gri, insa sa nu uitam ca Romania a intrat in UE, iar ANI si DNA si-au pus bazele in perioada aceia.

Este o lectura usoara, pentru cei vag interesati de politica si o ofera o imagine in timp a Cancelariei Prezidentiale in timpul mandatului lui Traian Basescu.

Autobiography – Alex Ferguson

I made an error at half-time. I was still focusing on winning the game and told Rooney he needed to keep running into those gaps behind the full-backs. “We’ll win the game if you keep doing that”, I urged him. I forgot the big issue with playing Barcelona. So many of their games were effectively won in the first 15 minutes of the second half. I should have mentioned that to my players. I might have been better asking Park to mark Messi for the first 15 minutes and pushing Rooney wide left. If we had employed those tactics, we might just have sneaked it. We would still be able to counter-attack.[…]

Alex Ferguson, the legendary manager of Manchester United, tells the story of his successes. He talks about his teams and players, Beckham, Rio Ferdinand, Keane, Van Nistelrooy, Rooney and, of course, Cristiano Ronaldo. He presents rival teams and coaches, such as Liverpool and Barcelona, Mourinho and Wenger.

Ferguson recalls with great clarity the big games and transfers he made over the years. The reader can see that he developed a plan for the long term, but it was not without mistakes.

Alex_FergusonAutobiography
An inspiration for long term planning

He presents, for example, the after-training of great players, like Ronaldo and Giggs, who took great care of their bodies, lengthening their football careers. He shows how players grow, perform and then have to leave the team. It is not always about tactics, but also human psychology, dealing with powerful personalities, young players in their teens, reliable players that had to go.

The United coach mentions “confidence” a lot , players with confidence will fight further, perform and recover after disasters.

While his successes, players and rivalries will fade over time, his advice, ranging from player scouting, politics and media handling to player psychology and long term team planning, remain a lesson for life.

Duty – Robert Gates

I concluded by saying that the SEALs in the room truly gave meaning to George Orwell’s observation that “people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

[…]Lessons learned from the disaster in Iran in 1980 led to the creation of the Joint Special Operations Command and development of the training and equipment that undergirded the success at Abbottabad. In 1986, as deputy director in charge of analysis at CIA, I agreed to provide more than a dozen analysts to the new Counterterrorism Center in the clandestine service, an unprecedented and controversial assignment of analysts to help inform and plan counterterrorist operations. […] (Duty)

In a surprisingly open and detailed memoirs book, Robert Gates, the former U.S. Secretary of Defense, unveils his struggles and challenges while leading the U.S. Military in two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Gates, on the left, during Operation Neptune Spear, that killed bin Laden.

The ex CIA Director reveals the strings between the Pentagon, the Congress, the White House and the Joint Chiefs, within two administrations, Bush 43 and Obama. A lengthy volume that hides candid comments and many gems of wisdom. A great read.