1 May 2017:
15 February 2017:
In defence of defence.Today is Total Defence Day. On 15 Feb, 1942, the first day of the Lunar New Year, Singapore was surrendered by the British to the Japanese, thus commencing the Japanese Occupation for the next 1,305 days.
The concept of Total Defence began in 1984, comprising of the following defences: military, social, economic, civil and psychological.
I don’t have flowery theses to offer, no defence policies to put forth. But on this day, I would like to justify the need for defence, especially military defence.
Apart from the official narrative of NS, I would say that the general sentiment towards it is negative. Many would rather not serve, especially JC and poly males that creep closer to enlistment every day.
I would say that’s rather understandable. I mean, if one could choose, who would want to use two years of their lives being put into physical and mental turmoil? But of course, one cannot choose not to serve NS.
At this point I’d like to give a disclaimer: no, I was not too thrilled by NS as well, but neither did I hate it. So while I didn’t excitedly look forward to it, I didn’t enter Pulau Tekong hating everyone and everything in green.
But, I strongly disagreed with those that termed NS as a ‘waste of time’, that they had ‘better things to do’. Maybe you may call me brainwashed, but I truly believed: ‘If not us, then who?’
I mean, let’s face it, Singapore is small. You don’t need much propaganda to be convinced; just look at the map (if we can even be seen). In terms of conventional warfare, this means we sorely lack strategic depth.
We don’t have Siberia, or the Rhineland, to sacrifice to the enemy, whilst we prepare our defence. Yet, we still need to defend our country. Those who say that we are living in peacetime are hopelessly dreaming.
Traditionally, the imagined enemy has always been Malaysia or Indonesia. I think this is pretty much an open secret – our frenemy relationship with them, especially as our closest neighbours.
But, there are new threats. Terrorism is one scary one that will not go away anytime soon, and who knows when Singapore will be attacked. Also, China. It’s too early to tell, but we can never be sure China will never turn against us.
Of course, as an aside, I will concede that given these new threats, their forms of aggression may not even be conventional force, but sophisticated ones like cyber-attacks or even economic wars.
Yet, we can never assume that conventional warfare has expired, as long as there are still soldiers being trained in countries around the world. The possibility is lower, but low doesn’t equal to zero.
Really cheesy and cliché, and SPF please forgive me for appropriating your anti-crime slogan.
Back to how NS is not a waste of time. Yes, it’s true that two years of every male is being used up, but I would say that it doesn’t come without its benefits as well. There are many skills you can learn within the two years, apart from soldiering.
For instance, I worked in an office environment for the most part of my NS, and from there I learnt about office politics by being thrown into it from the get-go. Other soldiers will learn even more important skills, such as survival (literally).
Also, not every minute of NS is being taken up, actually. For most people, we do get to book-out on weekends. True, that may not be a lot of time (especially with late book-out / early book-in), but it’s better than confinement.
I have seen people pick up languages / skills during NS, or even re-sat their exams. Hence, I truly believe that for most things, it’s really a matter of motivation, despite the reduced time available.
And let’s just assume that yes, one can learn completely nothing apart from soldiering, which is not applicable in daily life (unless one signs on). But, it may precisely be these soldering skills that are required in times of war.
Would you still say that it is useless and a waste of time? To me, it’s a bit like insurance – most people don’t need it, you never know when you will need it, but it’s always good to have.
In the short term, therefore, yes it does seem useless. But again, if really one day Singapore needs to defend itself, who can we depend on? Yes we have our foreign defence alliances, but what if one day we are left alone?
Hence, I have never accepted that NS is a waste of time, even though like many others I don’t particularly enjoy it. Yet, I know that it is like a bitter pill, and so, like many others, suck thumb carry on.
Another ‘argument’ against NS that I hear is that how Singapore cannot survive any attack against it given its small size, hence why bother? Seemingly, it makes sense. I would say it’s pretty easy to destroy us.
But then, if you were a house owner, would you remove the gates and locks from your house? I mean, there are always burglars around and they are pretty skilful in breaking in, so why bother?
I certainly hope a majority of people wouldn’t agree to that. In the same way, a country should always strive to defend itself, no matter how futile it may be. Also, is it really all that futile?
Consider if we had zero defence. Simplifying things, an air attack may obliterate us. But what if we had at least some surface-to-air missiles? The air attack may still work, but at 50% success.
Wouldn’t it be better if we could save one more town or city from destruction? They could hold your family, relatives or friends. Or even, you yourself. So unless you envision waiting to die during an attack, this wouldn’t work out.
I am not against the abolishment of conscription, but if only there can be a convincing alternative. I know that there are many negatives arising from conscription, but so does a lack of conscription.
Unless there are enough people signing on every year such that we have a sizable regular armed force, sorry but conscription is the way to go. The system may not be perfect (especially vocational assignment), but this doesn’t mean it should go.
I once read on Facebook a comment about how NS is useless, since there are nuclear weapons in this day and age. Wow. As condescending as it may sound, I sure hope he doesn’t work in MINDEF. (Or that he’s trolling.)
Because: really? Singapore’s response is going to be a nuclear strike towards any sort of conflict? I wonder where that will bring us. Even if we do destroy whichever enemy, who is to say we won’t suffer?
Don’t forget, nuclear radiation is invisible and transmissible. Remember how people were advised to avoid food from Japan after the Fukushima incident? Exactly. Given Singapore’s hyper-connectedness, it may come back to haunt us.
I have always felt that those who blast NS as a waste of time are either short-sighted or self-entitled. Either they cannot recognise the long-term benefit (or negation of harm), or they only think about themselves.
I have heard people lamenting about how they could’ve achieved such-and-such in the two years, but then NS. Yes, it may all be true, I don’t doubt that. But, if during this period of time Singapore gets attacked, will you be able to defend your country?
Or, are you going to say that ‘other people will do it’, because if so, you may want to check out the bystander effect. Everybody says that, until no one actually does it. So nope, not a good idea.
Also, even if there are others who will contribute, who are you to expect them to help you instead? If others are willing to sacrifice their two years for military defence, who gave you permission to be just a selfish bastard enjoying their service?
Another point about why some people say that there shouldn’t be NS: because it takes away personal freedom. This argument, to me, is only valid with the assumption that freedom is absolute and superior.
And yes, I will admit that a military lifestyle is rather regimented. Eating / sleeping / waking times are controlled, all the more so during the Basic Military Training phase. To most people living with freedom, this does indeed result in a ‘culture shock’.
But have you considered why the need for such regimentation and discipline? Simply put, in battle, discipline is crucial (along with other factors) to victory. Discipline is doing things right, and not cutting corners.
Discipline is cleaning your rifle even though it’s damn tiring and irritating when the charcoal just wouldn’t come off (and your sergeant doesn’t let you off). But without discipline, unclean rifles will be used in the battlefield.
What follows is IA, IA, safe tilt check. Just what the enemy needs – more time wasted. Discipline is doing force prep even though what follows is lots of pumping every time something is not up to standard.
Because without force prep and standardisation, if one guy is down, his buddy cannot simply take over his equipment without first familiarising himself to the layout. Just what the enemy needs – more time wasted.
Why regimentation? Why do we suck thumb and follow orders from above? Because in war, when the order is given, there is no time for ‘But sir . . .’, it’s just go as per planned, with muscle memory kicking in.
I will acknowledge that, of course, such decision-making is not always fool-proof. A platoon commander (or even platoon sergeant) is not always the most knowledgeable. However, as a system, they are trained to be so. Hence, ideally, that’s why the men are trained to follow orders and not question them. Because the underlying assumption is that these commanders possess more intelligence (as in information, not cleverness) that is used to assess the situation and subsequently lay down an order. Again, this assumption is not always true – sometimes men are the ones who have better ideas than their commanders. Yet, at the end of the day, one cannot have troops constantly questioning itself. Any such questioning should be done during peacetime training, to synergise the platoon, where mistakes can be made. Such that, during war, the ideal of ‘Yes sir’ can take place smoothly.
So yes, if you accept that military defence is necessary, even as insurance, then I hope you will further accept that regimentation and discipline is essential. And as a sacrifice, then, freedom cannot be desired for.
Secondly, if there is no military defence during an attack and Singapore falls into the enemy’s hands (like during the Japanese Occupation), do you still think there’s freedom to ask for?
I’ve read and watched TV shows about the Japanese Occupation – I think it’s safe to say that people then had way less freedom than even in NS. At the very least, we cannot be summarily killed or beaten up, unlike back then.
Hence, to put it into perspective, yes freedom is suppressed, but for the greater good of freedom for the rest of Singapore. Otherwise, the entire Singapore may not enjoy any freedom at all.
So, there’s that. At the end of the day, I think that
- defence is essential for Singapore’s survival;
- amongst the concept of Total Defence, military defence may be the most important of them all in times of war;
- every Singaporean male should contribute through NS, even though it may serve as nothing more than insurance;
- NS is tough, but there are many things to learn from it;
- you are selfish if you expect others to defend your country while you go and get your degree or earn big bucks;
- your freedom is non-existent in the hands of the enemy;
- NS is shit, but it’s shit for everyone – just in different ways.
It is true that all of what I say may come across as propaganda, since some of it does sound similar. Maybe I have been brainwashed. But I do welcome any constructive rebuttal.
As long as anyone can come up with a viable alternative to NS, I’m all ears. But please, no nuclear options.