Sunday, January 25, 2009

Defending what's (y)ours!

Singapore faces devastating exodus of foreigners ( http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/crime/article5557447.ece)

When I read the above, I thought about the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) television advertisement, Defending What's Ours.

For more information, male Singaporeans are forced into National Service and most have reservist obligations. They also take an oath (a verbal social contract with the state):

"We, Members of the Singapore Armed Forces, do solemnly and sincerely pledge that: We will always bear true faith and allegiance to the President and the Republic of Singapore. We will always support and defend the constitution. We will preserve and protect the honour and independence of our country with our lives."

I think the oath has to be revised. We need to protect our economy, our foreign talents and do the jobs foreigners cannot and do not want to do, i.e. National Service. Mind you, time and again, the government has force fed us with the rhetoric and reason that foreign talents in Singapore are recruited to do the jobs Singaporeans cannot and do not want to do. Well, that is true to a large extent. If we saw beyond the xenophobia, we (us Singaporean men, who also happen to be voters, *hint hint*) will come to realise, "Hey, is it worth it defending what's 'ours'?"

What on earth is "ours"?

Maybe defending Singapore is about getting the injuries and post-injury conditions like rheumatism (I have that in most parts of my left leg any way) after National Service.

Maybe defending Singapore is about getting your head dunked in the water till you die from drowning, and I am sure that figures very well in defending the economic imperative. And since we like to "re-enact" and re-create history during the huge propaganda party (with fireworks) that is National Day, why not we reenact every accident and death that have occurred during National Service, right smack in the middle of the performance grounds? After all, Singapore needs to remember its forgotten sons, right? The Singapore story we are told are void of the pains and failures of Singaporeans, and that is why some of us do not identify with it.

Are Singaporeans defending the PAP government and its interests? Are we defending the stratification of society? Are we defending the large income divide? Are we defending the institutions that cause elder people to continue to work when they can retire, to continue to be rubbish bin scavengers and all?

I do not share the same definition of "ours" as the government and its self-professed state-independent military organisation do.

Most of us will not buy one morsel of the advertisement/infomercial. It is merely to justify what is already there. If such a segment is to advertise and provide information, then let it stand in a country where military service is voluntary. Let us see how many Singaporean men will sign up (maybe since times are bad, more will sign up voluntarily, we won't know).

Make National Service voluntary, and you will see the extent to which people identify with the government's message of "defending what's ours". Make it voluntary and you will get what people think about how things are run. Maybe in the advertisement/infomercial, there was a minute parenthesized "y" before the word "ours". It sort of speaks from the perspective of the Singaporean male, wherein we are asked to defend the second person (yours) that is the state and its interests.

I personally do not believe in National Service. It tears me away from my family, my work and the things I love to do. I do not want to be part of any organisation that promotes and reinforces dominant gender norms and structures.

I am not willing to do defending what is "yours". Because we have seen the way our Singaporean sons are forsaken and forgotten, and could have known even more, if not for the state secrecy and media machinery that protects the military organisation.

When times are bad, it is the (immobile) Singaporeans that stay behind, while foreign talents will become foreign talents in other places. But I guess Goh Chok Tong's "quitter/stayer" binary does not apply to foreign talents, because such a rhetoric would clearly disincentivise their arrival or thoughts of coming to Singapore in the first place. Such a binary would be a better guilt-trap and consciousness manipulator for Singaporeans. Horses for courses, and the Singaporean horse is the better horse for doing the master's bidding.

You can't buy loyalty, but you can create legal institutions to enforce compulsory loyalty. And since you have that infrastructure, you can abuse this loyalty. There is nothing any government can do if its people do not believe in its message and ideas, but to enforce rules that sanction, disincentivise and punish these non-believers.

National Service is like pouring thinner down the back of Singaporeans and setting them alight - and there's nothing any one can do about it. Our families and loved ones will also get burnt trying to put out the flames that engulf the remainder years of our youth.

National Service is currently better than going to jail because there is a greater social stigma and discrimination associated with going to jail. The only things that work in favour of National Service are external to the consciousness of some/most Singaporean men, that are the institutions and infrastructure that compel and threaten these men into service. This reminds me of the trafficking of human bodies (live ones of course), but in this instance, within borders.

I will never want to serve military service even if the SAF could give me back my confidence and sense of self-worth, my sanity, and restore my left ankle and knee to its pre-NS condition. I will also not give you son(s) if I had children; you can go "buy" other children, and defend what's yours.

28 comments:

Weiye said...

I don't like being a conscript soldier. But I have to admit that I had some of my most fun time in NS, particularly in BMT, RSAF, CMPB CPC, and SAF Bands. OCS was just err.. lots of brainwashing with weird officers who think that women should not serve NS or be in the military just because they are women. Blardy sexists.

But BMT and SAF Bands, they really changed me and my outlook on life. It helps that we have some of the most colorful characters in SAF Bands, and the neighbouring MDC. Hahaha.

Oh. And it sucks to suffer from rheumatism so young in life.

PanzerGrenadier said...

Conscription is an anarchronism in today's world. Most of the developed countries including Taiwan are either reducing the years of conscription or have abolished the system totally.

I believe that Singapore's economy and GDP is able to support a fully professional but smaller military force. As it is, our Navy and Air Force are mostly staffed by professionals/regulars who volunteer. It is the army that still relies on conscripts for cannon fodder.

It's hard to understand why we have to serve given that there's enough money to fund a fully-professional and smaller army. Having a large pool of reservists who only play-play at being soldiers 1-3 weeks a year who on paper can fight but in reality would be mostly cannon fodder against professional armies in real conflicts doesn't make much sense.

Resources could be better deployed to employ volunteers into the army who would then be paid a professional wage to do a professional job. We can even open up a wing for foreign nationals to volunteer and those who serve 10 years or so can be eligible for citizenship i.e. the French Foreign Legion model.

Of course, the State would have one less way to control/brainwash the male citizens if it gave up conscription.

Aloysius said...

Hi Sam, I'm about to enter NS soon. My main concern is similar with yours - "It tears me away from my family, my work and the things I love to do". But at the same time I see it as a life experience which simply cannot be duplicated.

I believe NS is still crucial for national security. Even though technology can make up for lack of manpower, size is still important in actual wars - psychologically and physically.

You may claim "Are Singaporeans defending the PAP government and its interests? Are we defending the stratification of society? Are we defending the large income divide?", but do these not exist in other countries as well?

The point is Singapore shares similar problems with other countries regarding defence/loyalty issues. Some may say ours is more serious. But when I say I'm defending Singapore, I'm viewing it as simple as defending my family, my friends, those whom I like and love - for those I dislike, well, you enjoy the spillover from my positive externality.

It seems to me your post is just to politicise a popular topic. Well, perhaps keeping it simple will do.

Whadda said...

I always snigger a bit to myself when I see pre-enlistees having naively optimistic views of NS.

Oh well, in just about a week I will ORD loh. Have fun.

quatscherei said...

ORD long time ago loh. NS was fun but the more you do it the more you see how it is nothing more than a big wayang show.

National Day? National Day is one of the biggest wayangs of the SAF - how do you inspire men on the parade ground that they are doing it for their nation when they were forced to anyway?

Defending Singapore as defending your family, friends, and those you like and love - also because it sure beats going to jail. As for NS and national security...i don't see how NS and national security come together, seeing that our nation is becoming so insecure in terms of identity.

(And then there's always the question of reservist...which is basically go back camp to talk cock.)

So is NS worth it? Good for fun, but good for your future? There is no reason why we should be made to sacrifice our working lives, our job opportunities even, just to carry that same old rifle and charge up that same old hill again.

guojun

Aloysius said...

"i don't see how NS and national security come together, seeing that our nation is becoming so insecure in terms of identity"

You're referring to national unity, which is different from 'national security', or to put it precisely, 'state security'.

Sam Ho said...

thanks for reading and commenting.

i think it's important to politicise things, so that we are sensitive and sensitised to structures and systems that underprivilege, marginalise and invisibilise various groups of people. once we are sensitive and sensitised, we know a little bit more on how to help these groups.

i personally see no fun serving military service because i do not like the idea of fighting and war, and also don't like the idea of mobilising human beings (or bodies of people) to die for a symbol that is the nation.

as for national day parade, i am sure the people involved in the parade were "volunteered" rather than "volunteers". and even if they were "volunteers", there would have been some degree of coercion or threat.

moreover, reservist training is disruptive. i feel (maybe i'm wrong) that it is unfair that i have to defend a lot more things than i was forced to promise to defend. suck thumb.

there's a tongue-in-cheek description of singapore as a fascist regime. but i think we are worse, for at least in northern italy there was sufficient social capital and people who (willingly) believed in it that helped the development of fascism. in singapore, people like myself are "disbelievers" who slave for a master who points a gun to our heads.

(damn i feel angsty)

quatscherei said...

Okay, so let's replace national security with national unity...

'i don't see how NS and national unity come together, seeing that our nation is becoming so insecure in terms of identity.'

So you are saying that unity and security can be kept apart. True, security is from the outside but unity is from the inside. And your point is..?

Chee Wai Lee said...

I RODed (yes, ROD ... ORD came later) a while ago and I'm neutral towards NS. Here's my take:

1) It was fun (the training, meeting new friends, etc ...) when you look back at it but certain things were also very sobering. An instructor in BMT actually dared to make a private comment saying we should ignore the Geneva convention in an actual war. Needless to say, I was shocked.

2) The training is, surprisingly, useful. I had always thought it was all wayang. I realized I was wrong only after coming to the US and playing a round of paintball (using paint balls as "bullets" in specialized guns) with a bunch of friends. Applying basic military training techniques improves your game immensely. In a real war, I am of the strong belief that the training would help prevent many ignominious deaths.

3) The period after BMT is, unfortunately, one giant wayang. OCS was a giant brainwashing machine ... I am glad I went OOC because of an injury. If I hadn't, I am not sure what kind of a bastard I would have turned out to be ... I was very naive then and bought into anything told to me, hook-line-and-sinker. Subsequently, as a clerk, I was again naive and actually wanted to do my job, which caused me more trouble than not. This was mostly due to the fact nobody else really wanted to do theirs.

4) In terms of national security, I am not sure I buy the argument anymore. Back in the 70s when NS was started, you could see the dire and urgent need for it. Now, as long as we keep our eyes open (and not sleep-walk into a situation like Kuwait), we should be fine without a 300,000 strong deterrent force. We could replace NS with a scaled-down version like what they have in China, which is more like an ad-hoc NCC thing. This way, we can continue to keep people knowledgeable about basic military skills in the event we need to quickly draw on the citizenry in a time of crisis.

5) I believe that the key cause for the simmering anger amongst Singaporeans is that we do not feel well-treated as citizen-soldiers anymore. I do not like using Israel as a model, but you can see the vast difference there. Their PM would go so far as to protect their soldiers from the ICJ (I think that's wrong, if they committed a war crime, they jolly well pay) if needed. The SAF, on the other hand, would ignore the plight of a family who has to spend their life fortune to sustain a son who is now in a coma because he somehow (it is still rather unclear what happened?) injured himself while on duty. I was disgusted they chose to nitpick on the definition of "duty".

Aloysius said...

Hi guojun, I was in a rush, didn't clarify properly.

I was referring to your post "i don't see how NS and national security come together, seeing that our nation is becoming so insecure in terms of identity" - I believe you're implying "insecure national identity--> no security, so no need NS".

My point is that national identity or unity is the basis of political legitimacy, to preserve the territorial integrity of the state, while the military serves as the physical force to maintain it. Both are complementary, along with other factors.

I may be a naive pre-enlistee, but if we work hard in the simplest of tasks, we may find some treasure within (:

kenneth said...

Just 2 things:
1. Fair Renumeration
2. Non-combat vocation national service

1. Our gahmen always say must pay private sector pay to retain talented MPs. Why not private sector pay to NSF? I served from 1997 to 2000. My starting pay is $240 and ORD as a corporal in clerk vocation at $400(i think). Anyone knows the current renumeration for BMT?

For a 'job' that requires 24hr readiness, involves handling dangerous weapons, doing guard duties, going on week long exercises, etc..., we get paid worse than our foreign construction workers. This is unacceptable. We are also mobilized as cheap labour to support extraneous events such as Shears Bridge Run, National Day Parade, etc...
There are also persons whose families are in financial difficulties who would benefit from their sons earning a higher income if they weren't forced into NS.
What happened to these people, they end up going AWOL, getting upset and sometimes physical when denied their booking-out rights.
NSF pay MUST be made equitable.

2. Persons such as followers of Jehova's Witnesses sometimes choose to go to jail, instead of carrying arms, which their religion forbids. I used to think them weird, but now i totally respect their courage in standing firm in what they believe in. By the way, I don't believe there is a God, Christian or otherwise.
Anyway, I think there should be an option in the Army to sign up for non-combat vocation, such as a non-combat medic, doing community service, mechanic, etc.
Not everyone believes in violence and killing people, whether as deterrence or self-defense.
Let these people serve their part for the 'nation' in their own ways.

madman said...

NS is killing Sg. For the last 30 years we could have

been building our talent base over which our economy can

be on rock solid foundation. Instead , we have a

NATIONAL SERVICE hollowing out our ecnonomy of talents

who leave by the thousands yearly. Even the Japanese

invasion could not have destroy sg more effectively. SAF

is the enermy of Sg, not the indonesians or the

Malaysians.

madman said...

Just had tea with my friend a Malaysian who has been a PR he for god dam years since school days till now- His son being 2nd generation PR will be liable for Ns

Yesterday he got a lette rfrom IRAS referring to him as a SINGAPOEAN . he was so mad he sai" why do they keep referring to me as a Singaporean? I am a Mysian and I have told them befor e and still thesame mistake!"

Glass Castle said...

Hi Sam, a very provocative post. I've linked to it here:

http://www.glass-castle.org/blog/2009/02/elephant-in-room-national-service.html

- Jolene

Sam Ho said...

thanks jolene, but i'd be happy if it raised some awareness among glass castle readers.

thanks so much for reading any way. national service is (un)justifiable depending on which discourse we situate ourselves.

when people start moving on from 17-20th century notions/ideas of "nation" and "nationhood", they will start question what does "service" constitute and actually protect.

"r" said...

i wish someone could start an anti-ns protest in the speakers corner and thrust this topic into the limelight. only then can there be real pressure on the pappies to bring about some change. so far ive only been seeing posts on this issue online. if that happens i'll definitely be there!!

"r" said...

i have a taiwanese friend who escaped from ns in his country and took up residence in singapore. although he's already gotten his spore citizenship he wont be able to go back to taiwan till he's 40 or something cos he has not fulfilled his national service. girls think he's poor thang, but i dont. hes now enjoying the full privileges of a sporean male. its ironic on two instances: he escaped from ns from his native ctry and and took up citizenship here where every other male citizen has to serve ns but not new immigrants like him; he also got his citizenship without serving ns on virtue of the fact that hes been here for damn long time - so then what about us, people who have lived here all our lives and yet having to slog till we r 40 for something we do not necessarily believe in?

that said, i hate the sin but not the sinner (not that my friend is one though), i just think the system sucks BIG TIME. time to vote with your feet

quatscherei said...

Aloysius: both are so complementary that if one is not present the other is endangered. It's only because there are laws that NS has continued to exist.

Like i said: i'm not against NS, but i'm against reservist.

guojun

Agagooga said...

Slavery will never be made voluntary because it serves a political purpose, and because the cost of reversing years of rhetoric about how we cannot afford a volunteer army is not worth it.

And if there's one thing I can credit slavery for, it's educating me about the Misery of the Human Condition.

Sam Ho said...

such a cost could be written off if/when we had a new government and a new philosophy of governance.

Agagooga said...

Vive La Revolution!

mcdr said...

If you give a shit why not speak up, do smth, make a difference.
Why hide behind your pc and type whatever comes into your head.

fucking abolish NS

Agagooga said...

And you would suggest...?

Sam Ho said...

this is awkward, but seen this many times.

i think it's important to type whatever comes into our heads. that's speaking up. and speaking up is doing something about it. about "making a difference", well, it depends who's judging (or spoiling to antagonise).

Agagooga said...

Don't forget that words are very powerful

They can disrupt racial harmony and cause harm and chaos

And don't forget Karl Marx: history's greatest whiner - living proof that mere words are useless

Sean said...

the problem being, do the relevant people read what you are saying here, or is it only for people who are powerless to make change. then ranting and typing here would be useless and a waste of time.

Agagooga said...

Change is effected not just by persuading those who hold power.

Ash said...

I have asked myself many times this question– if I were given the choice to go back to before I entered NS, and were given the option not to serve, would I?

Each time, I come to the conclusion that I would have simply said, "No". I would not serve.

Yet, I know, deep down, that I would have come out a much weaker and naive person from missing out on the experience.

See, NS was not particularly fun or enjoyable for me, but it did teach me lessons that I would not give up the two years of freedom for. It taught me that people were selfish and cruel, and that in the real world, no one is going to look out for you but yourself, or your loved ones. It opened my eyes to the real world, and if I had never gone through those two years of crap, I would be a far more weaker and dependent person than I am now.

For this reason, I cannot personally speak strongly against National Service. They taught me lessons they never intended, but these were valuable lessons nonetheless.

However, I would like to see reform.

For instance, that the military budget ought to be cut, or else properly audited. I've seen waste in the army so ridiculous that it annoys me how much of it could have been channeled to welfare or helping the poor. Hell, or even channeling it to our education system, which I reckon is definitely in need of some proper reform.

I do agree with you that we do not 'defend our nation' and all that it stands for, but as many others, we do it to defend our families and loved ones. Perhaps a large part of it was wayang, but the basic things like learning to duck, find cover, and operate an assault rifle, are things that would definitely serve some function in time of real conflict.

I don't believe abolishing NS is the right way to go about it. As a country this small, it is simply not wise at all to make it clear that a military is not our priority. Our military system needs streamlining, for certain, but to remove it would turn the little red dot the center of a bulls-eye.

Cheers. And don't be so angsty lah.