The following letter was sent to me on Nov 18 from MINDEF.
I refer to your email dated 1 Nov 2009, requesting for clarification on whether MINDEF would be able to pay for your school fees in the event that you are unable to complete your course.
National Service (NS) is a duty to the nation. MINDEF recognises that it is not possible to fully compensate every National Serviceman (NSman) for his sacfrifice and commitment towards NS. Nonetheless, as mentioned in our earlier reply, MINDEF recognises NSmen’s contribution by providing them with service pay for each day of call-up, and make-up pay if they suffer a loss of income due to the call-up. NSmen also enjoy additional allocations in growth dividend schemes such as the Progress Package. MINDEF also tries to minimise any inconvenience to our NSmen by providing them with up to six month’s notice on their NS training.
We understand that you were called up for a two-and-a-half-week training which had caused some disruption to your thesis research and writing. For this reason, you had request for MINDEF to pay for your school fees in the event that you are unable to complete your course. MINDEF recognises your sacrifice made for NS but this sacrifice would be applicable to every other NSman as well, though they may be in other forms. We regret to inform you that MINDEF is unable to accede to your request.
XXX for Permanent Secretary Ministry of Defence
In other words, NO.
The abovementioned logic would be like the following: Well, I recognise the sacrifices made by the PAP for this nation, but I regret to inform the PAP that I will not be voting for them.
I read the news of Alex Tan of the Young PAP being banned from Facebook. I think what is worse is the knowledge that he was put into the detention barracks for five days, for allegedly blogging about (alleged) operational matters.
I guess the number of NS deaths is more an operational matter than public opinion.
What is certain is that you cannot and must not criticse National Service, SAF and MINDEF when you are in uniform! It is a cardinal sin. Like WWE’s/WWF’s icon Dwayne Johnson, also known as The Rock, you must “know your role and shut your mouth”.
Look at the rank on your sleeve/shoulder and shut up. When someone of a higher rank asks you for your opinion or feedback, you should just shut up. When you want to criticise the military, you do so in the capacity as a tax-paying civilian, and not as a member of the military.
You should not talk about operations, reveal your rank, your unit, the names of your superiors, but focus on the matter at hand instead. If the contention is with policy, stay on the path of the discussion. Don’t stray and twirl around the mine-field. The rules of confidentiality (breaches) are like huge nets that serve not only to protect training and operations confidentiality, but also double up as public relations/communications management. When we talk about public relations/communications management, it is about safeguarding MINDEF from embarrassment, erosion of public trust, faith and confidence in the organisation.
Singaporeans are the biggest stakeholders in MINDEF and national defence. In order to “make” them trust and be confident of the organisation, information needs to be controlled. You don’t need to fabricate or tell lies; you just have to disseminate the favourable bits of information to the public. Yup, favourable information, favourable truths – like enhanced safety procedures and serviceman welfare systems (despite the presence of injuries, deaths and suicides and the follow-up cover-ups, which is an unfavourable truth), or the Malay Brigadier General (despite their continual disproportionate representation in the army in general).
The problem is that critics of National Service often have the wrong or no rules of engagement with the institution of National Service. You just do not tell (true) stories of what happens in camp or during training to the public. MINDEF will definitely find a way to punish you, by saying that you have compromised confidentiality.
You should engage policy. Engage the nature of unfair treatment, bullying or torture. Do not engage personalities, because the government always prowls the internet for such things, which is very ironic. The government is funded by Singaporeans to spy on Singaporeans.
If you feel national service is a waste of time, you should say so out of uniform and make sure your name is not preceded by a rank. Make an argument without any expletives. Criticise with simple words and short sentences, so that the government will be able to engage you. Number your points, so that the government will be able to answer your questions and address your points, although they only care about the buzzwords being raised, rather than the questions themselves.
If you want to write a long essay expressing your loss of faith in NS, don’t do it. Just put all your feelings into one sentence, like “I don’t like the idea of NS, don’t support it, and have no faith in it” for example. Wow, that’s really strong. (But personally, if National Service was voluntary, I would have considered serving. But my national service experience is fraught with budget constraints, bullying, time-wasting, poor communications, threats, etc. such that being proficient in something takes probably 10 times the time it would normally take)
National Service is such a touchy thing, because it protects itself and its interests. The only way to beat it is to outgrow it – grow old.