Today, The Star Online takes a moment to appreciate ten figures who have greatly contributed to the growth of humanity and deserve a few extra pages in our history textbooks. The names below are listed at random, because it seems criminal to choose them in order of importance or greatness.
1. Salahuddin Al-Ayubi (c.1138 - 1193)
Kurdish-born Salahuddin (or Saladin), was a commander and ruler who is best known for leading the Muslim army in the Third Crusade against Christian forces. Under his leadership, Jerusalem came under Muslim control.
The founder of the Ayyubid Dynasty, Salahuddin was highly regarded for his political brilliance, military prowess, strong sense of chivalry and strict adherence to justice and tolerance.
Although history has given more attention to his contemporary and adversary, King Richard the Lionheart of England, Salahuddin has gotten more recognition in recent years, being highly respected even by Christian scholars of the time.
Although they were on opposite sides of the battlefield, Salahuddin and Richard developed a mutual respect and quasi-friendship during the war.
2. Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943)
A polyglot who spoke eight languages, Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla was responsible for developing the alternating current (AC) system.
The work Tesla produced in his lifetime led to subsequent developments of lasers, x-rays, radar, wireless communication, robotic technology etc.
The man with an eidetic memory suffered from OCD and insomnia. He was also celibate, to the despair of women (and some men) everywhere.
At the age of 86, this unsung genius died broke and alone with more than 700 patents to his name.
According to records, Tesla was a genuinely nice guy who wanted his inventions to help people and didn’t care much for profiteering from his work. He was also an environmentalist who searched hard for sustainable solutions for energy.
3. Mary Seacole (1805 – 1881)
Jamaican-born Seacole served as a medical practitioner for the Crimean War and was responsible for saving the lives of countless servicemen.
Rejected at first by the War Office, Seacole set up her own independent ‘British Hotel’ in the Crimea where wounded soldiers were hospitalised and treated under her supervision.
Because she was born to a Scottish soldier and Jamaican Creole woman, Seacole suffered from racial discrimination and limited political rights.
Discrimination, however, did not stop Seacole from her nursing duties and continued to offer medical services to those who requested her help.
It was said that during the war, Seacole would walk the battlefield to give aid to ailing soldiers, fearless of the risks to her own life.
4. Mysterious founder of Wing Chun
Wing Chun, a Chinese martial art made famous by Bruce Lee and his teacher Ip Man, was said to have been founded by a lady.
The style, which specialises in close-range combat, was passed down through oral tradition so its history is considered murky with a variety of origin tales.
One of the stories tells of an abbess who developed the art after observing a fight between a crane and a snake. The abbess was said to have taught the style to a girl named Yim Wing Chun who used her newly acquired fighting knowledge to ward off the advances of a local warlord.
5. Empress Myeongseong (1851-1895)
Also known as Queen Min, she was the politically gifted first wife of Korean King Gojong.
Throughout her reign, the educated Queen was responsible for keeping Japanese forces at bay by forming alliances with other nations to solidify Korean borders. She was considered one of the biggest obstacles to the expansion of Japanese influence in Korea.
She was a strong advocator of modernisation in Korea, looking into ways to improve the nation’s technology and economic situations.
Empress Myeongseong was assassinated at age 43, with many accusing Japan of the murder.
6. Lieutenant Adnan and his platoon men (1915-1942)
Adnan bin Saidi is considered a national hero by both Malaysia and Singapore for his bravery during the Battle of Singapore in 1942.
A soldier in the 1st Infantry Brigade against Japanese forces, Adnan commanded a platoon of 42 men who made their final stand at Bukit Chandu against invading troops.
The platoon was heavily outnumbered but managed to hold off the Japanese army for two days before perishing in the Imperial onslaught.
Despite lacking supplies and ammunition, the soldiers stood their ground and fought to their deaths, even resorting to hand-to-hand combat. Adnan continued to hold back Japanese advances despite his battered body suffering heavily from gunshot wounds.
After the battle, Japanese troops came across the severely wounded Adnan and recognised him as the leader of the platoon who just wouldn’t give up. The Japanese soldiers then tied his Adnan to a nearby tree and bayoneted him to death.
The actions of Adnan, who commanded a then-inexperienced troop in one of the most gruesome massacres in our history is one that strikes a chord with Malaysians and Singaporeans alike.
Their actions on that fateful Feb 14 are reminders of the cost of independence and our duty to honour the nations that our forefathers fought for.
7. Aryabhata (476-550)
A great Indian astrologer and mathematician, Aryabhata is said by many to have invented ‘zero’ and credited for narrowing down the value of pie to the correct four decimal places.
He studied both the lunar and solar eclipses and measured the circumference of the Earth to 99.8% accuracy.
A millennium before western civilisation was still arguing on whether the earth is flat, Aryabhata was already studying the earth’s rotation on its axis.
8. Dennis Ritchie
American computer scientist Dennis Ritchie was one of the pioneer architects of the computer age. If it were not for Ritchie, we would not be using most of the gadgets that we have today.
He invented the C programming language, one of the most widely used programming languages of all time, between 1969 and 1973.
According to computer historian Paul E. Ceruzzi: "If you had a microscope and could look in a computer, you'd see (Ritchie’s) work everywhere inside."
9. Marie Curie (1867-1934)
Polish-French physicist and chemist Marie Curie is most famed for her research on radioactivity.
She is the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in two fields and is the only person to win it in multiple sciences. In 1903, she shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with her husband Pierre Curie and fellow-physicist Henri Becquerel.
Less than ten years later in 1911, she won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
In 1934, Curie died from continued exposure to radiation. Today, Curie is not only a revered scientific figure but is known by her modest lifestyle and humble nature.
10. Bill Watterson (1958-)
Possibly one of the best cartoonists in the world, Bill Watterson seamlessly captures the innocence of childhood while deconstructing complex philosophical ideas through the eyes of 6-year-old Calvin and his stuffed tiger Hobbes.
Within his strip running a score of years, Watterson debates on parenthood, politics, imagination, love, death, art, education and a myriad of other life lessons with beautiful strokes and gorgeous landscape paintings.
Best of all, it’s a piece of work that can be appreciated by readers of all ages, whether you’re eight or 88.