Today it occurred to me: As U.S. ambassador to Singapore in the early '90s, John Huntsman must have been involved in the whole Michael Fay saga. For those of you don't remember, Fay was the American teenager who was convicted of vandalism in Singapore and subsequently punished by caning. Well, as it turns out, the Fay episode occurred in 1994, a few months after Huntsman left his post in Singapore due to the change of American presidential administrations. But lest my Nexis search go to waste, I did find some interesting comments from Huntsman about Fay, which he gave to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in April of '94, when Americans were, oddly enough, celebrating Singapore's decision to cane Fay as the sort of law-and-order attitude that we could use more of in the States. Here are the relevant bits:

And Jon Huntsman Jr., a former ambassador to Singapore, says Americans might think twice before welcoming the Singapore system, despite its role in making that city state one of the world's most law-abiding societies.

"Yes, it's nice, but at what cost?" he said. "Particularly when you look at the freedoms we hold so dear: Individual rights, the freedom to speak out. There is a price in achieving that stellar record," referring to a system that limits criminal appeals, political dissent, press, religious and other freedoms.

[snip]

Huntsman, the former ambassador, said the nature of the people of Singapore might have as much to do with the low crime rate as their harsh punishments. "People understand in that community that there is a price to pay.

"Culturally, it's a far different equation. It is a very traditional, Confucianist society in which the family is still the most important unit . . . a society that believes in the well-being of the whole, not necessarily the individual."

The public humiliation and the shame brought to a criminal's family can be nearly as effective as the direct punishment, he said. For example, litterers are fined and forced to work on cleanup details wearing bright orange vests that mark them as lawbreakers.

The death penalty is imposed for such crimes as drug dealing and armed robbery. Recently, chewing gum was outlawed.

"They are very big on keeping a clean - underline clean' three times - efficient society," Huntsman said. "They probably got tired of scraping up gum off the sidewalk." Cameras are mounted in public restrooms, he added, the better to catch and fine users who fail to flush.


--Jason Zengerle