The Year2/ IP4 GP Teaching Team would like to thank a) the writers for agreeing to share their essays and b) the team of teachers who put the compilation together.
NOTE: These essays are not meant to be “model” essays for rotelearning. Use them intelligently.
10 October 2008
NJC GP Prelims 2008 ? Best Essays Q
  3. Is history merely the story told by the winners? Some people, in their attempt to simplify the concept of history, have actually come up with a new, two-syllable name for it. History is “his story” ? story of the past formularised and told by “Him”, the winner. The very fact that this phrase actually sounds like the word history itself may come as an amusing coincidence at first glance. However, upon further examination of the history of mankind itself, we realise there are some elements of relevance and truth in this renaming. History bears minimal resemblance to “story” books in literature, in so far as it does contain fictional and romanticised details, and indeed, in some cases especially in the distant past, history was solely told by the winners. However, history is much more than that. It is at its core an attempt by mankind to map human behavioural and developmental patterns. In today’s globalised and increasingly democratised world, it is for most parts fair, not favouring either the winning or losing side. It must also be noted that a large portion of history is dedicated to examining events in which there is no winner. To liken the retelling of history to an account given in a story book ? a work of fiction ? is to suggest that history, too, contains fictitious elements and is at best an illustration of a fragmented, romanticised, largely unreal truth. There is certainly a level of relevance in this argument. Let us be honest, who could have come back from the Stone Age and told historians how life was back then? Indeed, when one examines the history of pre-historic Man tens of millions of years ago, it is just an educated guess by a group of scholars on what the past could have been like. Like all kinds of speculations, this one, too, contains bias and the human innate tendency to view the past as a better and simpler time than it really was, certainly tends to inflate the good parts and paint an overly rosy picture. However, one must acknowledge the extensive effort made by modern historians to rely on empirical findings by anthropologists and palaeontologists to formulate a “story” of the past that is closest to the truth. Furthermore, modern attempts at writing history are not individual but are often collective ones that involve a group of historians, thus reducing the risk of bias and oversight. The second premise put forth by the question, that history is told by the “winners” is to some very limited extent accurate, especially when we look at how history was told in the feudalistic, monarchic past of mankind. In the times of Egyptian, Roman and more recently, Chinese, Empires, history was equivalent to the history of warfare, when kings and emperors sought to expand their territories and conquer new lands. The prevalence of one kingdom and one leader, in these battles over territories was often tantamount to the annihilation of the other, giving the winners the sole right to brag about their victory and how it had been achieved. Chinese emperors have been known to burn all artefacts and works of art that told the glorious achievements of the previous rulers and oversee the writing of a whole new range of history books that elevate the victorious to the rank alongside the Gods. One must remember that in these totalitarian regimes, the King possessed the ultimate power to dictate how history was written and understandably, that history conveniently forgot about the existence of the losers and just focused on the winners. Moreover, even after the victorious King had passed away, stories told about him by the society that reaped benefits from his conquests often contained factual distortions in a bid to honour the name of their leader. For example, King Ramses II of Egypt was ambushed during his passing of the Sinai desert and lost his life in a dishonourable way. Yet, until the late 1980s historical stories told about him did not display this part, clearly because the historians of that time chose to “forget” this about the victorious King.
However, such pseudo-historical accounts of the past that are solely determined by and therefore clearly in favour of the winners hardly exist in this modern time. The globalised and relatively open society we live in today allows for easy access to national archives and debate over versions of history across national boundaries, thus limiting factual distortions by the ruling governments. In addition, the existence of photography and video cameras has negated the possibility of atrocities committed by the victorious being simply “ignored”. History as it is taught in schools in most democratic countries nowadays is by and large a universally accepted version of what the past was like. Take for example the Cold War. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991, the US under George H. W. Bush claimed victory. If Bush were the ruler of one homogenised globe, his announcement might have been put down in history textbooks as the official truth. But thankfully, he was not. Historians like John Lewis Gaddis then accessed the Soviet archives and their enduring works now presented everyone a balanced version of history that reveals not the US as the winner, but simply, the Soviet Union as the loser who gave up the war in 19
  91. Moreover, as countries now take special interest in verifying other countries’ versions of history, bias is minimised, as clearly seem in the recent outcry over the failure of Japanese history textbooks to address atrocities committed by the Japanese military in Nanjing, China, during World War Two. Clearly, the “losers” have a say in how history is written, for unlike in the far past, they are certainly not wiped out, but alive, thriving and demanding that their defeat be portrayed in the fairest possible way. Some might say that in modern authoritarian regimes such as Burma or Vietnam, surely the official histories contain a plethora of biases and half-truths. This is true, but the versions of history propagated by these regimes are not “official”, by globally accepted standards, but are nationally influenced. The fact that the world outside of these regimes is able to grab hold of a fairer version of history reaffirms the fact that history as told in our modern time is by no means merely a vehicle of propaganda by the victorious party. Moreover, the availability of different historical accounts from the West, albeit limited, in these countries has started to fuel protests demanding the governments to re-evaluate national history textbooks. We thus have reasons to believe that the global population will one day all have access to fair and objective accounts of history. One assumption made by the question which I find most flawed, is that historical accounts all contain a “winner”, suggesting that history is nothing more than the study of warfare. This is most inaccurate. History is at its core the study of human behavioural and developmental patterns to prevent the reoccurrence of past tragedies, and more often than not it does not tell the tale of any victorious country. The study of Cold War history, as mentioned above, clearly is not about any winner whatsoever, but rather is a stern warning of the dangers of leaving the fate of the world and its billions of citizens in the hands of two expansionistic superpowers. It fuels citizen activism and encourages people worldwide to exercise active citizenship and keep their leaders in check. The history of disasters, like the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant explosion, and genocidal events in Darfur or Rwanda, is not about the winners, for there is none. Rather, it activates global awareness of the need for international intervention in authoritarian regimes ruled by genocidal and greedy rulers. History also maps the scientific achievements and failures of mankind. History, to put simply, offers us a closer, largely unbiased, glimpse into how the human race has been evolving. To say that history is merely the story told by the winners is to over-generalise one of the most complex and fascinating concepts of mankind. Such understanding of the concept of history is a mere fragment of the truth, for history is about much more than the documentation of battles and conflicts where there are clear winners. Modern history is a
largely objective and educated attempt to study why and how human beings behave the way they do, and this sometimes has nothing to do with winning or losing. By Michelle Nguyen Bich Ngoc 05IP02 Marker’s Comments: An insightful answer. You could perhaps have dealt with the value of history more thoroughly.
NJC GP 2008 Prelims - Best Essays Q
  6. ‘The best way to alleviate poverty in developing nations is for richer countries to invest heavily in them.’ Discuss this view. As economies around the world continue to integrate in terms of ideas, investments and labour, the group of people opposing this trend of globalisation also continues to grow in number, as is evident in the numerous protests that are staged every time the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund have meetings. A significant majority of this group of opponents opposes the concept of foreign investments from richer countries in developing countries claiming that such investments enslave and exploit local people rather than freeing them from the cycle of poverty. However, proponents of globalisation chose to differ, claiming that such increased foreign investments have provided employment for and improved the lives of millions of people in developing countries. I believe that while such investment may be beneficial to some extent, it definitely cannot be named as the best way to free the people in developing nations from the shackles of poverty. In fact, local governments should take the initiative to develop their own industries rather than depend solely upon foreign investment, because the eventual success of foreign investment in reducing poverty levels is determined by factors such as the rate of economic growth of a country, the social outlook of its people and the efficiency of its government. The rate of economic growth of a country is an important factor that determines whether foreign investment could be successful in reducing poverty levels in developing countries. Developing nations such as India and China have attracted large amounts of foreign investments from richer countries. These foreign investments, for example, the call centres of major American companies located in India, have provided employment for thousands of Indians, many of whom were initially living below the poverty level. With a stable income from these outsourced jobs, a large proportion of the poor in India have been brought above the poverty level, and poverty levels in India have decreased from 63% in 1990 to 31% in 20
  01. However, the reason why foreign investments were successful in India is because of the high growth rates of its domestic sectors which encouraged foreign investments. This is in contrast to the effects of foreign investment in developing African countries such as Sierra Leone, where the exploitation of the workers by foreign multinational companies led to strikes and lockouts which worsened the unemployment problem and led to increased poverty levels. The reason for this was because the domestic economy of Sierra Leone had not experienced significant growth which in turn allowed foreign investments to exploit these workers by giving them low wages and making them work overtime since these workers could not switch to other jobs in domestic industries. Thus, although foreign investment might be successful in some countries, its success eventually depends upon the growth of the domestic economy which can only be driven by an efficient and pragmatic local government. Thus, the local government should take the initiative to develop the economy first before inviting foreign investments, so as to reduce poverty levels. Another factor that determines the success of foreign investment in developing countries is the mindset of the local people. Quite often, those developing countries happen to be those that recently achieved independence from foreign powers and hence, the people of these countries tend to have a sense of pride in their newfound freedom. This pride is tainted when these people have to work in foreign firms located in their own country. While these firms may provide employment and help the people escape from poverty, their presence often creates unrest among local people whom feel that they have once again been enslaved by
foreign powers. These people believe that their own country is equally capable of producing successful local firms and millionaires, and this national pride, compounded by exploitation of workers b


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