Saturday, September 09, 2006

Duty Honour Country

Two days ago, I wrote about the ongoing discussions about National Service and foreign talents at Mr Wang Bakes Good Karma: Rethinking NS - Part 1. I said that I was surprised that after 35 years, the resentment against NS has not changed much. I also said that I did not want to participate in the discussion because I sensed that the generation gap was too big.

Meantime, the discussion at Mr Wang’s site rages on. Last time I checked, there was a whopping 90 comments posted. This being such an important topic, close to the hearts of young Singaporeans, I think it is simply wrong for older Singaporeans like me, who have gone through the entire NS experience, not to share our thoughts. I hope some of the other ‘lau pengs’ like Chris, Victor, Frannxis and Peter will say something too.

Firstly, I want to tell these young men I understand your feelings of resentment, frustration and even sense of betrayal. When I was in the university, surrounded by Malaysians, I felt exactly the same. While my friends were charging up Peng Kang Hill, feeding the mosquitoes in the jungles of Mandai, and going through all the extra drills and change parades, these guys were enjoying the privileges that have been provided through our parents’ hard work and sacrifice. Before long, they will graduate and take away our choicest jobs, and when we finally join the working world, they will become our bosses. Plus they are taking away our girls too! (which was why I decided to take back one of theirs by marrying a Malaysian girl .. .. Haha .. just kidding lah). So criticizing our government was a favourite past time in those days; and the situation was not helped by the presence of some very persuasive and eloquent student activists like Tan Wah Piow. But strangely, I felt very angry when I hear my Malaysian friends criticize our government.

But that was 35 years ago. I thought that things would have changed by now. Today’s NS enlistees are children of first generation NS men themselves. How come so many of them still do not accept NS? How come there is still all this foolish talk about engaging foreigners to defend our country? Maybe there is a weakness in our national education. But to be honest, I think the problem lies with the parents. I think we fathers have the duty to explain to our sons the meaning of NS. Maybe we should all follow the example of Yue Fei’s mother and tattoo the words Duty, Honour, Country on the backs of our sons, because this is what the whole issue is all about.

It has nothing to do with the foreign talents, or the shabby way in which our government appears to be treating us, while pandering to the foreigners. It has to do with the relationship between you and your country. Yes, you may feel angry that our government has cheapened this country by making Singapore citizenship so easily available to foreigners who do not share the same love you have for it; but it is still your country. You were born here, you grew up here, your girl friends live here and your parents will grow old and die here.

So first ask yourself this question. Is Singapore your country?

If it is, then whose duty is it to defend Singapore?

Finally, do you love your country? If you do, then it is not an obligation, or a ‘necessary evil’, but an honour to defend it. Somebody has to defend it; if not you, who? And that involves sacrifice. It has to cost you something doesn’t it?

And how can you defend it if you are not trained? Do you think that with 3 months of NS without live bullets, like what our friends in Malaysia are doing, you can acquire sufficient skill to keep yourself alive during a war, let alone drive away attackers?

Let me end by sharing a story my pastor once told us. He was a medical doctor, and he had a Jewish friend who was a brilliant and very successful doctor in the United States. Once he met this Jewish doctor at an annual conference in New York. He told my pastor that he would not be attending the following year’s conference.

Why? Because he was migrating.

Where to? ……Israel.

My NS Stories

A Jog Down Memory Lane
What Melvyn Missed
The Dangers of NS
Pay Correct Sir
My Commanders
The Dangers of Kenging
I Remember Gillman Camp


Anonymous said...

Chun See,

I was enlisted during 1990-93 and these are my experiences/feelings about my NS, which I'm sure is quite familiar to many others:

1. BMT: Being from an uniform group I actually enjoyed BMT quite a bit in terms of learning new things and making new friends. This was the memorable part of my army life.

2. OCS part I (tri-service + service terms): I had the privilege of having a fantastic and motivational instructor which taught us many things which I still apply today. But I'm just plain lucky as my friends in the adjacent platoons were all heavily 'tekaned' by juvenile instructors many times just for the sake of it.

3. OCS part II: It all went downhill from here. I was sent to a formation (haha guess?) where the people inside tend to lead by fear and worst of all abuse.

4. Unit life: Arranging flower pots for NDP, building chairs for NDP, last-minute Guard of Honor for VIP, meeting WITS 'quotas', day-long meetings with my attendance 'just for the presence' etc etc

1st year - learnt something useful.
2nd+ year - learnt what NOT to do in all my future endeavours.

What has all these got to do with 'Duty Honour Country' here? At most times during my stint these concepts seem far away. Defending the nation? Yes I felt that way when I was charging up Peng Kang Hill. No I didn't feel that way when I was arranging the flower pots for the upteenth time. As I looked at the hundreds and thousands of us toiling each day in tasks like these, with peanut allowances, it was then I realized the distinction between serving the COUNTRY vs serving the GOVERNMENT.

Chris Sim said...

I'm surprised by the many negative comments about NS in Mr Wang's post. Like Chun See, I've thought that the sentiments towards NS has changed, in part, due to 911 and the constant reference of Singapore as being just "a small red dot" by regional leaders. Have we forgotten how a certain leader in the region joked about "bombing" Singapore? (watch the clip here if you've missed it. We had also been told to either "compromise or go to war" in our bilateral disputes. Thanks for the joke Dr M, but I'm not amused. If a war does break out in future in the home front, your job, your career, your money would be of secondary importance. So, who should defend Singapore?

I guess the problem with many of the younger generations is that they've known peace for too long. We're a young nation after all, and lack experience in war, unlike soldiers in the Middle East who are proud and honoured to be chosen to fight the war. Until a war strikes here, I think many of the young people would not truly appreciate what NS means. Peace is something that we've taken for granted.

Anonymous said...

You like to hear what a lau peng will say?

Initially I thot well of NS because I was fired by nationalism. Why?

1. Our school instilled in NS a sense of duty and honour. No wonder we raised S$37K for the National Defense Fund in 1969 when the country needed $$$ to buy weapons (so we were told....). How did we (I) participate - we held a school fun-fare in our Bras Basah school grounds.

2. We got kicked out of Malaysia (so we were told.......) and we had to defend ourselves and the Brits did not make it easier because of the military withdrawal in 1968 (withdrawal began much earlier before 1971). So young minds like us thought of nationalism first to the extent when we turned 18 we were serving in the Special Constabulary (aka police force)when we were in our J2 Yr. Got paid $1.20 for 1 hour of duty, no tranport allowance, twice a week "kri kan kri" and during school vacation had to do foot patrol in HDB towns.

3. The money was good. Better to be fed inside the army than outside. I remember many of my friends who could not gain part-time work because they had not served NS. Have you tried working part-time at A&W in those days (like McDonalds's)? The firm(s) won't hire you. If you got called-up in April batch when you finished your A levels in December the previous year, you "chiat kaki" for 3 months until SAF gave you your first pay check.

By the time we got to NS, all our aspirations and beliefs were slowly eroded. How come the sudden change? There were many questions in my our mind: we were supposed to be citizens army but the "superiors and system" inside there were treating us like idiots.

We all learnt there is no such thing as faireness in any system - it's "Big eat small" be it in civilian or military.

Many of us could not find the answers (including first generation NS guys like me) and perhaps failed to communicate to the next generation of NS enlistees the true worth of NS. By the time got to Reservist, all the "fire inside the body" became smoke only. SO nobody wants to talk about it; fathers to sons.

Now sons also ask the same questions like their fathers, except the difference there are more variables in the equation.

To me I have no quibble about NS as to whether it is wasting time or interrupting one's academic studies - that is purely an academic debate. NS is beautiful only to the extent that it teaches one to be independent and self-responsible - that's it. Sure we talk about different era but when it comes down to "self-development", I opt for NS. period. Beyond this I am too tired to ask and debate - because many things cannot be changed.

Fox said...

I do understand the point about country and honour but some things can hard for young people to swallow today.

I don't want to make a comparison but I have a few questions to ask:

1. How many percent of the students in the University of Singapore were non-Singaporeans in the 1970's? Want to guess?
2. Were non-Singaporean students entitled to subsidized fees in the 1970's?
3. How many non-Singaporean students in the University of Singapore were on scholarships provided by the Singapore government back then? What is the ratio of foreign undergraduate students on scholarships to local undergraduate students on scholarships in the 1970's?

Try guessing the corresponding figures for NUS and NTU today. If you compare the figures, perhaps, that will explain the anxiety and unhappiness felt by young Singaporeans.

Lam Chun See said...

What can I say. It's an imperfect system designed and operated by imperfect people. So even if you asked an Israeli soldier, he'll probably have some 'flower pot moving' stories to tell.

As for the university nos. I don't know. I do know that there were very few Spore males becos I was the 1st batch of "full time NS after JC" system. In order to have more Sporeans males in the uni, they balloted 1 out of 4 (I think) and I was one of the lucky ones. But after a couple of years, the flow returned to normal.

Situation shd be different now. We are now a developed country and thus have some obligation to help poorer countries thro scholarships etc.

fr said...

When I was doing NS, I also did not support it. But things changed years later. I read more about Indonesia’s confrontation when we were part of Malaysia and later I read Lee Kuan Yew’s Memoirs. I remember vaguely something about the then Malaysian PM Tungku Abdul Rahman threatening us with cutting our water supply and our LKY hinting that if that happened we would not hesitate to send in the SAF.

I feel it is quite natural for those negative feelings towards NS. As you have said ‘the resentment against NS has not changed much’. These people are still young and do not fully understand the situation. I’m sure many of them will have different perception when they grow older.

And I believe young people who support NS do not want to make comments just like people who are pro-government. Otherwise they will be hammered by others.

I agree with Ivan this type of posting always attracts the cynics and anti-estabishment. No need to waste time debating with them.

Victor said...

I am a 100% true blue Singaporean;
I wanted to serve, but they didn't want me the way I wanted it to be;
I wanted to pull the trigger of a rifle, but they made push a pen instead;
I wanted to march with soldiers, but I ended up fraternizing with CMPB SAF girls instead.

- From a 50-year old who was base-employed not by choice. (But I guess it is still better than moving flower pots.)

fr said...

Chun See, my views are quite similar to yours.

I feel that NS is about Nationalism; it is closely related to our sovereignty and independence. It is independent of our immigrant policy or who forms the government. The only question is : Is it good for the Country?

Whether you think the country treats you unfairly or whether the Workers’ Party forms the government is irrelevant.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

"Is Singapore your country?

If it is, then whose duty is it to defend Singapore?

Finally, do you love your country? If you do, then it is not an obligation, or a ‘necessary evil’, but an honour to defend it. "


These are absorbing, interesting questions ... I can only refer you to the link on my main post which will remind you of parliamentary debates in 2002 - sparked by PAP Minister Vivian Balakrishnan's anecdote that his own young sons questioned whether it is a smart idea to die for Singapore.

For better or for worse, the mentality of citizens is the way it is. We can wish it to be otherwise; we can wish it to be another form; reality is what it is.

If we had national leaders who did not say things like: "If you do not pay me world-class ministerial salaries, then I may become corrupt and start stealing from the national coffers" ...

If instead we had national leaders who said things like: "Oh, you do not need to peg my salary to the highest earners in this country. I serve my nation out of patriotism and pride, not for money" ....

well, who knows, things might be different, among the general population, concerning attitudes towards NS.

But this is wishful thinking. We should confront reality as it is, not as we imagine it to be.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Some months ago, I gave a talk, with Yawning Bread, at a students conference. In an entirely different context (no reference to NS), the concept of national pride, national identity etc came up, and Yawning Bread made an interesting observation:

nationhood is an entirely manmade and artificial concept. It really wasn't that long ago, in the history of the human race, that nations did not exist - people lived wherever they lived, hunted for food or grew crops wherever they found themselves to be.

In the evolution of society, humans then identified themselves with the family unit; subsequently with the clan; eventually with larger and larger units like villages and towns; then with provinces (eg Fujian etc)

nations came much later - the result of the accidental histories of political & military leaders drawing lines on maps, staking territories and calling them "countries".

As the world gets increasingly globalised, and more and more people travel more and more, moving from country to country, I find it interesting to consider questions like: "Why should patriotism exist? Why should anyone be loyal to his nation?"

Singapore as a nation, exists only because certain political events surrounding one particular person LKY and his manoeuvres with another bunch of people in Malaysia. In turn, Malaysia as a nation exists only because of certain manoeuvres between certain politicians, in Malaya and the UK. And the UK exists only because of .....

You get the point. In an important sense, nations are just abstract notions. How much will you sacrifice yourself for this kind of abstract notion? LKY has previously mentioned that one day, Singapore may rejoin Malaysia. If that happens, say, next year or in 2010, is your patriotic love of Singapore suddenly to be readjusted to encompass Penang, Johor, Kuala Lumpur, Trengganu, Sarawak ...?

But I digress, probably way too much, from the original topic. Really the point is that you appealed to Singaporeans' sense of patriotism in serving NS, and my response is to invite you to consider what patriotism is all about. One day, my own son will be 18 years old. If by that time, 50% of the people living on the island of Singapore are all foreigners or PRs who don't serve NS .... well, should I encourage my son to think positively about defending Singapore for the sake of saving that 50%?? Somewhere along the way, the logic has collapsed for me.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


How interesting (your above comment) - this morning, I just posted a comment on my own blog and it seems so appropriate for you. Here is the relevant excerpt:

"Finally (for now), I subscribe to the school of humanistic psychology, and personally I had an NS experience which overall I enjoyed very much. This leads me to the idea that either at the pre-enlistment stage or in the early phase of NS, NSFs should be allowed to rank their preferred choice of vocation in the SAF - so that there is a higher chance that they get a vocation they like, or a vocation that they hate less. Obviously this is heavily subject to operational requirements - hardly anyone, I imagine, would elect for certain types of gruelling yet unglamourous vocations, yet those vocations need to be filled. But I imagine that out of 18,000 recruits a year, if even one 1/9 of them (or 2,000) could be channelled to their preferred vocations, then that is a significant achievement; the SAF may benefit from better performance, and overall NSFs will be happpier.

To give you an example, most combat-fit NSFs (say, 95%) would hate to go to Hendon Camp, Commmandos unit or Navy Diving Unit; yet a tiny minority (say, 5%) of NSFs would love the chance - these are the adventurous, rugged types. In the current system, no one gets to choose; after the medical classification, it all seems like a rather random process. Why not attempt to match individual preferences to system needs?

I had a friend who was Pes C - severe myopia with the risk of retinal detachment - a former President's Scout and track & field star, he would have become a clerk in NS. Instead he and his parents wrote appeal letters to MINDEF and to their MP and fought a tremendous bureaucratic battle before he was eventually allowed to go to OCS. He ended up winning the OCS Sword of Honour and I think overall he found his NS experience vey fulfilling.

Obviously these people are a minority, but as I said, if even 2,000 out of 18,000 NSFs get to go where they want to go, this is a significant achievement and on an overall basis will probably significantly cut down Singaporeans' dissatisfaction with NS.

Lam Chun See said...

Mr Wang, thank you for your lengthy comments. Frankly, I am overwhelmed - so many issues. But I would like to comment on just 2.

1) Regarding how Spore came into existence, I don't quite agree with your theory.

But anyhow, I am old enough to remember the racial riots of 1965 and the racial tensions of 1969 (a spin off from the May 13 riots in Malaysia). In '65, I was in Sec 1 and I remember the fears and sense of panic and loss because our govt didn't seem to be in control of the situation. But in '69, we had our SAF soldiers patrolling the streets. I remember seeing them outside our college in Linden Drive. The sight of them in their smart SBO's (skeleton battle orders) with bayoneted AR-15s, and the sound of the metal-studded boots were very re-assuring. Everytime I see news of rioting in other countries; e.g. Timor Leste, I say to myself; "Thank God for NS".

2) Your views about nations/nationalism seem to be similar to those of the hippies which were so popular during my varsity days; and so well captured in John Lennon's song ("Imagine no countries, nothing to kill or die for"). But I think that's where they will always stay; in pop songs and poems.

10 September, 2006

Anonymous said...

Chun See
You were referring to IS Exercise during 1969 at the height of May 13, 1969. Got a question for you. Why did you think SAF stationed them under "Internal Security (it was cllaed IS) Exercise" in Linden Drive and not other place? In my time we also did IS Exercise in Queen Astrid Park and Bin Tong Park (District 10 area). SAFTI deployed all the SSL coys(SISPEC equivalent today)out in the street. We wore smart #4, inner liner, SBO and shining boots. Have you asked why?

As to why we were a part of Malaysia (or the origin of Singapore), should read "Between 2 Oceans". You will find your answers in there because they came from de-classified British Government documents. It appears it was a British design for all intents and purposes but unfortunately the plan failed to work after merger between Singapore and Malaysia for obvious reasons.

Victor said...

Mr Wang, thanks for the very interesting excerpt. Coincidentally, the reason why I was considered medically unfit was that I suffered from severe myopia too and I also happened to be a scout, though not a President one.

Hey, I never knew that I could have changed my fate like how your friend had. It would be interesting to know if your friend was rich and/or influential, perhaps like those White Horses. Well, being an 18-year bloke at that time, I forgive myself for being naive because I didn't know that I could have asked and I might have been given.

Now I am pondering this question: Where is the fairness in the system if there are exceptions based on who asked and who is persistent in "fighting a bureaucratic battle"? If I had known that such exceptions existed, I would have readily taken up that challenge too. I am sure that I stood an equal chance of winning that Sword of Honour too.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


Again I digress, but since you gave examples of national insecurity, I just wanted to say that the SAF has actually started to grow a little less relevant ever since 911. The SAF is geared for conventional warfare, not anti-terrorist operations; and terrorist activity seems to be the far likelier threat today than a conventional war.

John Lennon / Imagine - nice song, but I wasn't thinking of music. If anything, my comment was influenced by my daily reality. I am based in Singapore, and work in a global bank. I work with plenty of foreigners (Brits; Americans; Indians; Koreans; Taiwanese; Australians; Japanese etc etc) - people who grew up in Country A; worked in Country B; then came to Singapore and have been working here for the past 10 years; and may well fly off tomorrow to spend the next 10 years in another country. One of my Singaporean colleagues has just resigned because she's looking for a 5th country to work in - she's not yet 35 but has already worked in London, Hong Kong, Tokyo & Singapore. And I just interviewed a French lady who wants to join my organisation; she was born and grew up in France (couldn't even speak English then); she worked 10 years in London; now she wants to come to Singapore to try it for 5 years. This is the reality of the globalised world. This is really what led me to comment about the notion of nations.


I also changed my fate in NS. Yes, it is possible even if you are not a White Horse. Read the last part of this post to see what I did during NS. :)

Lam Chun See said...

Peter, of course I can guess why the troops were there at Linden Drive in May 69; but that's not the point of my comment. I just wanted to share with younger readers who have not experienced the fear and insecurity of '65 what it was like to see those soldiers.

Anonymous said...

If we live in a hotel, it is only natural that we are not too concerned with it because we do not own it. We just stay for a while and then move on. But it is different for a country where the citizens all have their stakes - their lives, properties, children's future, their livihood, their values, their cultures and other sentimental attachments, all tie to the land they live in. Sir Winston Churchill said that his "Blood, Sweat and Tears" were all for his beloved country Britain. He urged his country men to fight for every field, every street and every house in order to save England from the Nazi in WWII. Everyone worth his salt should love his country, with or without a good Government which comes and goes like the four seasons. Even a dog will never give in an inch over the owner's house compound where it patrols.

Anonymous said...

But it is different for a country where the citizens all have their stakes - their lives, properties, children's future, their livihood, their values, their cultures and other sentimental attachments, all tie to the land they live in."

This is the problem for Singapore, is it not. Things have changed such that:

Singaporeans don't need to live here;

they can buy properties elsewhere (much bigger ones for a lower price);

those who have children often emigrate precisely because they think Singapore is a bad place to raise children;

others don't want to have children, precisely because they think Singapore is a bad place to have children;

they don't like the government to prescribe their values, and they can take their values wherever they want;

we have no culture to speak of;

and as for sentimental attachments, alas, the government keeps demolishing them to build yet another stupid shopping mall.

Lam Chun See said...

I think anonymous has a good point there.

"as for sentimental attachments, alas, the government keeps demolishing them to build yet another stupid shopping mall" ..

This one I fully agree. Plus condos; (Sigh - I have been wanting to post an article entitled .. "We don't need another condo".) and now they want to build more hotels.

Which is what prompted me to start this blog in the first place.

fr said...

as for preserving 'sentimental attachments', i think you have to look at it from another angle too..

it is easy to say but you need money to maintain and to run them and if only few people are interested in them, then i see no point keeping them

you interview people they say good, keep the building... but when you ask if they are willing to donate money, then another story and how often do they visit it?

some chinese temple can survive because they get a lot of support (Including finance) from devotees and clan associations

as for people who choose to have negative feeling about living in singapore, i think they must be quite miserable. Even if they manage to get another country who would accept them, i think they will also find faults with this and that after a while

i believe our life depend largely on what we make it out to be

Anonymous said...

So, Mr Wang's efforts and those who voiced out their unhappiness about NS are also finding fault with the system?

Lucky that the old singaporeans found fault with the British rule?!

Sometimes I have this feeling that the oldies don't want Singapore to change because any change might upset their nest eggs and nicely accumulated well-being...

Afterall, just tahan a few more years after they enjoy and die, then who cares, right?

I actually have this friend who is applying for Australian PR. He tells me he tries to discourage others to apply so he has more chance and he doesn't want too much competition there!

Lam Chun See said...

Dear Anonymous. I have a son who is going for NS is 2 years time. I think I speak on behalf of Chris and Victor when I say I want, as much as anyone else, to see the system improved.

Jevon Louis said...

Dear Mr. Lam,

35 years ago the situation was very different, as you well know. Globalization was not even heard off.

I am 27 years old and served what I like to call a transitory stage of NS. I say transitory because I believe standards were better than what you had (surely) but it was still 2.5 years, as compared to the 2 years presently being served.

I agree with you that in order to sustain our country economically, there is little we can do but to welcome FTs to our country. However, there MUST be a distinction between being a citizen and a PR or FT in Singapore. At present, I find it hard to see any tangible difference as they seem to enjoy all the rights (except voting but whether or not that's a right worth having in Singapore is another issue) but none of the obligations, such as NS for example.

Given that the economical scene is vastly different from 35 years ago, simply saying that is boils down to courage, duty, honour is an over-simplification of the NS issue, which is an issue that is political, social and economic in nature.

Lam Chun See said...

Hi Jevon, I think you did not quite understand me. I did not express any position on the FT issue. I merely try to emphathize with the young people by saying that I too had those feelings before.

My main point was that the NS and the FT are 2 separate issues. The NS issues boils down to nationalism, patriotism etc. Spore, like every other country needs defending and that responsibility falls on its citizens.

But of some of the readers do not fully agree.

Anonymous said...


Are we debating about NS on a)As a policy matter and/or b) As a personal feeling?

I have 2 boys in their early 20s: they completed their NS not too long back. Sure they complain but they don't make it the #1 issue because life challenges are more than just NS right? Why do I see it that way? NS is only 2 years but your career life-span could be worth only 10-15 years and then you get "early retirement". This is even more worrying if you have to get married and get rich quick before nobody wants to hire you.

I once asked the officer who showed us around Tekong BMT. What are the assurances that bullying from people with ranks (remember what I said: Big eat Small) do not lead to a situation where life and death is at stake? He (a 2LT) said: Call MINDEF 1800XXXXXXX hotline to lodge a complain. Somewhere in the recruits' handbook it says complaints must go through proper channel...i.e. if you have a go at your immediate superior, you still need to file your complaint through him.

I was not exasperated because I knew 30+ years ago, it was the exact practice. Some things don't change do they? So this is an example for system improvements.

On whether FTs should do NS, is a policy matter that has political implications. It should be decided by politicians and we; the electorate. Strangely the votes don't seem to tally with the intensity of the opposition. I am perplexed.

Chris Sim said...

25 comments and still counting. Frankly, after all these comments, and in today's climate, I still cannot fathom how one should find NS a bother. Or was it the FTs that's rather the pain? I want my boys to go NS. And I just can't wait.

Well, migrate if you have the means and are really dissatisfied with the way things are in Singapore. For me, each time I touched down Changi airport, I feel glad "to be home". What? To give up my heritage, my home, my values and yes, my "sentimental attachments" here, just to be a 2nd class citizen elsewhere? I don't think so.

Indeed, I have Malaysian relatives who commented, "Haiya.. why did our great-great grandma not settle in Singapore when they uprooted from China? Why Malaysia?". So, are conditions in Singapore that bad? Again, I don't think so.

Well, maybe "different strokes for different folks", I guess. :P

Anonymous said...

Serve the country? How many of our leaders set an example for us to follow? These people expect ot be paid a market salary, so where's the sacrifice? Where's the duty? Is this really MY country, or am I just an economic digit to serve the 'greater' good (ie the good of the 'greater' men). What does it mean to be a Singapore citizen? If Singapore expects Singaporeans must compete with the world even in their home, then it is only right that Singaporeans ask Singapore to compete with other countries for Singaporeans' loyalty.

Chris Sim said...

Oh... but the high salary tagged to market rate is to "deter" corruption, so we were told. We were also told that they have the capacity to earn much more if they were to strike out on their own in the private sector. Wasn't Ng Eng Heng a successful cancer surgeon in private practice before he decided to serve the country? Are we not one of the least corrupted nations in the globe? Yes, the system is imperfect, that much I agree. But show me a country that's perfect.

Anonymous said...

I notice many comments have quoted Israel quite liberally. I like to question some of the assumptions made here.

Firstly, is a large conscript army really a deterrence to an invading army? History has shown that the answer is 'no'.

Secondly, does the need for self defense warrant recruiting every single young adult at the age of 18 into the armed forces? And more over, I think less than one-third are in a fighting unit.

Thirdly, if we are all so serious about patriotism and fired with nationalistic ideals, then explain why the level of our regular soldiers and officers so low? Many of our high ranking officers are tough talking wimps sporting pot bellies.

Israel was born out of war. Jewish, WW2 veterans from the European battlefields got together in the M-E and fought under equipped, disorganised Palestinians and Arabs. Singapore was not.

Patriotism can very easily become nationalism, and nationalism robs us of our common sense, in the name of patriotism.

Jimmy Mun said...

Singapore was never terribly corrupt before the million dollar salaries. Or does this Chris have things to say about Goh Keng Swee or Hon Sui Sen?

Sometimes, I wonder if the NS situation is this rotten in the first place because the people who are no longer bothered by it, doesnt give a damn. Well young Singaporeans, you see how cold these old people are. These old people who consumed the best years of Singapore's economic growth and are leaving an empty shell for young people.

Anonymous said...

My own younger brother has also these ideas that Singapore is not a good place for him and his family to live. Hence he moved to Australia and family a few years back and became a citizen there. Now he has heavily subsidised health benefits (including his family), own properties, car(s), free education for his children (upto university level)in a vast liberal country. In fact whatever he wants in Singapore can be found in Australia, including visiting a Buddhist temple (in Australia). Surprisingly he still misses the land of his birth, at the slightest excuse he would return back to Singapore, at least a couple of times each year, happily travelling around in MRT or taxi whenever he is here. He eats our hawker food with relish, plays mahjong with gusto, see as many movies, buy as many things as possible saying that are very cheap compared to Australia. My goodness, he even asked his son whether he would like to serve NS, become a Singapore citizen and work here. Obviously this country is not as bad as it is pictured to be.

Lam Chun See said...

Agreed that my example of Israel for illustration is not very good one. Israel is unique.

Anonymous said...

Once upon a time the logic for home ownership was to provide a stake in the country and a piece of the homeland to defend. But with the HDB flats priced at "market" rates, the line of argument was destroyed. Dhanabalan said the land for HDB flats could have been sold to a private sector developer for many times more. Today, another nail has been driven into the coffin of nationalism. From 30,000 in 1980, the number of foreigners living off our land is now some 700,000 or nearly 20% of the population, effectively diluting our share of the country. Should our sons lay their lives on the line for this red dot?

Chris Sim said...

Jimmy Mun, I have nothing to say other than that though we can't weed out corruption totally (I don't think any government could), we can aim to be the least corrupted. And the gahmen think a high salary is one way to tackle this problem. Is it a success? I'd say yes, and not least because I'm a Civil Serpent myself. Haha.

As for your sentiments about the older folks having consumed the best years of Singapore's economic growth, I don't quite agree. The economic downturn affects every country, not just Singapore. But hey, the economy has never been better, so we were told. Or is this just another propaganda bullsh**? It's so easy to pass the buck to the gahmen. You want a better economy, you need to attract foreign investors. You want investors, they must have confidence in your country. To have confidence, you need stability. Stability? aahhh... that's where National Service comes it. Pure and simple.

Victor said...

Ahh... Chris, I see that you are in fighting form again, even after the tooth extraction this morning. It just goes to show that nothing can put a good soldier down.

Although my Chinese is not so good, I think that there is a saying that goes something like this: Train an army for 10,000 days but use it only for 1 day. For Singapore, that day hasn't come yet (fortunately). So all this talk for and against NS is only hypothetical. Just ponder, what if you need to fall back on the army one day to defend the country but you don't have one. Then how?

Anonymous said...

What a young blogger wrote about Singapore.

"I thanked Singapore for being so safe even though we're one mini-dot on the map and that any country could take us over with just one atomic bomb. I'm proud to say I'm born a Singaporean and not anywhere else where politics, natural disasters and wars are everyday life. I love Singapore because of the friends and family members that is here together with me now, and I wish Singapore will never have to be involved directly with war or be targeted as the next terrorist act."

Lam Chun See said...

I asked a friend, another 55-year old lau peng for his views. He is Chinese-educated and a Nantah graduate, and doesn't blog. He has only this to say:

国家兴亡, 匹夫有责。

Whether a country propers or disintegrates depends on it's ordinary citizens.

Anonymous said...

I have heard more criticisms than support for NS too. Those who criticise often fall into these categories: (1) not fit (for some reason) to be a soldier (2) was in NS but they couldn't figure out how they could benefit from what they learnt or were trained to do. My view: those in cat 1 should keep their mouths shut. Those in cat 2, I say this. If they continue to think "what's in it for me?" then life will be one self-centered quest. Pretty pathetic.

The army isn't just about the individuals. Of course, indivs count. But to those who think the army is less relevant given the current geopolitical climate, I wonder if they thought about this: Is the army revealing as much as we think it should? I think it may not be. Or not yet.

Many analysts and observers have thought for a long time that armies must learn to fight in urban terrain. That does not mean conventional methods are no longer relevant. Many armies have adapted in big or small ways to urban fighting too, including this one here. And it only revealed that in recent times.

Adaptability--that is the big key. The enemy adapts. So must we. Whether you are in the army now, in reservist, or done with it, continue to adapt. In real war, most of the rules and strategies you have been trained will go out the window. Technology may not work for the advance fighting units. Victory and survival goes to those who think out of the box. Think different. Think smart. The opponent holds his cards close to the chest. Wouldn't you?

Anonymous said...

Just becos u r born in s'pore, doesn't mean u have to be loyal to s'pore. If war starts, i'll NOT put my life in danger for s'pore. PAP doesn't give a shit abt u, so why should u defend those bloodsuckers in wartime?

Anonymous said...


I hate to point this out but this sounds a bit imperious. Allow me to explain:

"You want a better economy, you need to attract foreign investors. You want investors, they must have confidence in your country. To have confidence, you need stability. Stability? aahhh... that's where National Service comes it. Pure and simple."

Please allow me to refute this set of assumptions.

I think foreign investors are only interested in profits. This sometimes contribute to the economy when they give jobs, and when they pay their taxes. I think its more appropriate to say that its is a combination of attracting & moving capital (foreign or otherwise) and developing of domestic companies and the financial institutions which improves the economy.

I do not think investors care much about one's confidence in one's country. Koreans and Indians are known to be highly confident in their own country. However, their economy is still considered emerging markets with high risk for investors.

Many countries with no mandatory national service enjoy stability as well. Some of these stable countries have professional standing armies, while some others use mutual economic interests.

I have argued before that NS was created after '65 merely to give the new Singaporeans a semblence of ownership. It's not really meant as a deterrence. Does anyone really think you can deter say, Indonesia, back in the late 60's?

Victor said...

To "finished but still fighting fit" (see 3 posts up):

I belong to category (1), not "cat 1" as in fighting fit or PES 1, but cat (1) as you have defined it, i.e. "not fit (for some reason) to be a soldier". But let me state categorically (pardon the pun) that I support the notion and practice of NS. Fyi, I did serve my NS in a service vocation and is still serving in the defence industry after 3 decades.

Anonymous said...

finished but fighting fit:

how many wars have you've been in? Lots of bravado! (clap clap)

People bother to comment here because they love their country. And you put everybody down. Is PES 1 less Singaporean? They pay less tax? Are they immune from national security issues? I admire PES 1 but who still volunteer to do some small bit for NS than some 'no choice' fighting unit, super on officer. Back in OCS and brig recce company, I recall these guys are the most unreliable, dishonest talk cock kings - always recce from the rear.

only those who cannot argue convincingly feels the need to shout others down or tell them to shut up.

That's why the ministers can draw a million dollars each and there's no one to speak up. Because everyone has been 'shut up'.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 14 Sep 2006

You mentioned you'll not put your life in danger if a war starts. No one can force you. As for me, for the sake of my family and country, I will do so. But I am not sure if SAF is willing to take this lau peng back... who can hardly charge up peng kang hill and do a couple of chin ups.

Anonymous said...

Victor and klimmer:
Maybe you misunderstood me. klimer, at no time did I put everybody down. I said those critical of NS and for some reason themselves did not serve NS. "For some reason" is used broadly--not necessarily medical reasons. Some didn't serve cos they were not citizens or PR. If these people have not participated, how would they know "it is a complete waste of the prime years of a man's life"?

The sad fact is most people only have small individual roles to play in the military. What they don't realize is all those individual roles form a much bigger picture. So how seriously you take your training affects how effective that army will be.

Defending this land is about defending your dignity, the sovereignty, defending Singaporeans. It is not about defending the policy makers who put you there, not about the talk cock kings with big mouths.

Victor said...

Just some terminology here. The fitness scale at my time was PES 1 or Physical Employment Standard 1 means combat fit. PES 5 means 'based employed'. Hence the term '5BE' (that was me).

still fighting fit:
I didn't misunderstand you. I was only stating my stand. Although you didn't put it down very clearly, I can tell that you are a supporter too.

anonymous (see 7 posts up):
"If war starts, i'll NOT put my life in danger for s'pore. PAP doesn't give a shit abt u, so why should u defend those bloodsuckers in wartime?"
The cold hard fact is this - when war starts, your life will be in danger, regardless of whether you are in the army or not. You only have the army to rely on to keep you away from danger. Remember how the nearly 3,000 victims of Sep 11 died? Most were civilians and they didn't even have a chance to fight back!

BTW, PAP is only the current government, it doesn't own the country. Citizens like you and I do.

fr said...

Right, Vic, loyalty has nothing to do with who forms the government. Some people seem to link loyalty with government. Do they mean if this party forms the government I am loyal to Singapore, with that party I am not loyal. Ridiculous!

Anonymous said...

I seriously doubt with all the arguments made against NS, it will never be changed (even if the old leaders kick the bucket). Why? Think about it this way from a larger perspective; without NS would there ever be a "Singapore Technologies" company? Every time a new ship is built, a new plane is purchased or a new camp is built, the defense industry benefits.

Why should a country should give up an industry sector because some individual feels strongly about FTS not serving NS?

Anonymous said...

I agree with you on your last comment. If you feel that Singapore is your country, then do not complain and just do your duty.

For me, I did my NS and did not feel that Singapore was my country. So no complaints - I worked and saved enough and emigrated 5 years ago. Now I am very happy living in the US, thank you.

Jimmy Mun said...

There is an obvious trend in taking extremes on the matter in a Bush-like matter: either you are for NS or against NS. But this is an intellectually lazy approach. From what I see, most young Singaporeans are not against NS, but are speaking out about the length of NS, the pay and the reservist commitments. In contrast, the oldies are just clinging on to the status quo with dear life. If NS is so good, why not make it TWENTY years, and let the women and foreigners run the economy? If NS is contribution to the nation, why should the NSmen be reimbursed their wages? If all these oldies are so much into duty/honour/country, do they donate back their extra tax breaks/Progress package for NSmen back to the Singapore government? No?

Then all I see is the oldies just agreeing to whatever the government dishes out to them, with no ability to discern what is right or wrong.

What's worse, these oldies attempt to censor other Singaporeans by accusing them of being whiny or complain kings. Why? Because these oldies want to believe they did everything right. They fear change, unless the change comes from the government.

Victor said...

Hi Jimmy Mun, your view seems quite extreme to me too. It is over simplistic to say that this discussion is about oldies (perceived to be blindly supporting NS and the government) who are arguing their case against the youngsters (whose loyalty are in question). Even the terms 'youngsters' and 'oldies' are vague - youngsters will turn oldies eventually but nobody can even draw a line neatly to separate the two groups. Can you?

Anonymous said...

Jimmy Mun

How "old" is old and how "young" is young in your opinion?

Do you refer to the oldies as being the government, the PAP or to those who have contributed their view?

Can you give examples of which oldies group still cling on to their status quo?

Anonymous said...

Twenty year NS? Sorry lah Jimmy boy. We had our fun already. Now is the time to sit back and watch you guys get tekaned. Just hope that those army big wigs who you so freely badmouth are not watching this blog. Otherwise they surely will prepare a nice welcome for you.

Chris Sim said...

Well Jimmy, u just gave our big brother some fresh ideas! Guess what, looking at the world today, the 20 year NS may just become a reality. Good luck.

Who's afraid of change? The world has changed. Conventional warfare remains a threat. But a bigger threat facing our home front is the threat of terrorism. So, young people (I assumed your are) should also change their mindset. Thankfully, not all think like you do. And not all oldies are "yes" men as you implied. Guess you've not taken enough taxi rides to chat with the uncles. The issue here is not about the old supporting NS or the young against it. I believe we have representatives from both groups. So just stop generalising.

Jimmy Mun said...

Let me ask the questions again: Why must NS be 24 months? Can it be 18 months, like what Taiwan have now? Can it be 36 months, like Israel, but with no reservist training? Can it be just 18 weeks fulltime, followed my annual refresher training, like Switzerland? Why is it that women are exempt? Why dont we follow the Israeli model and only exempt the married or pregnant women? (How's that for boosting the birthrate?)

Once you stop asking "Why?", you are no longer young. I suspect some of you were never young before.

Now let me ask you old fogies another question: If Singapore's defence is so important, why is it our bigwig generals are kept so young and come and go so quickly? The youngest Chief of Defence Force, Lim Chuan Poh, was only 37 when he assumed the post. You may point out that I am stupid and naive, but I happen to believe that experience is very important for effective leadership and it takes years on the job to gain that experience.

Oh, BTW, I am long done with my full-time NS over 10 years ago. If I am fighting to change NS, it is not for myself. Is that a new concept to some of you?

Singapore is a troubled nation. We have the highest emigration rate in the world. We have the lowest fertility rate in the world, far lower than that of Japan (Is that news to you?). The Singapore citizens are commiting population suicide. If the needs of the citizens are not adequately addressed, there may not be a Singapore in 50 years left to defend anyway. But of course, why would you care? You be long dead by then.

Chris Sim said...

Why indeed? And why do u suppose Taiwan and Israel and Switzerland incidentally have different duration of NS? Can our population of 4.5 millions affords us the luxury of serving less time in NS? And with dwindling population, how do u think we gonna further cut our NS?

There's a reason why the generals come and go and seemingly so at their prime, in case u haven't known. Surely u don't want an army of "lau pengs", do u? How to fight a war??

As for the low fertility rate, it's a GLOBAL problem, and not just unique to Singapore. Is that news to you, too?

Let's not talk about "adequately addressing the needs of the citizens". I'd like to quote John Kennedy, cliche as it may sound... "ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country". Ahem.

Lam Chun See said...

Thank you everyone for helping me see a record of >50 comments. Jimmy is right. We old foggies don't like to think too hard. We rather reminisce about the good old days. Everyone is invited to read my fresh post.

Jimmy Mun said...

"As for the low fertility rate, it's a GLOBAL problem, and not just unique to Singapore."

Such spectacular ignorance. Let me wake you up. Singapore has a total fertility rate of 1.06. Worldwide, fertility rate may be falling, but Singapore as a nation has the LOWEST birth rate. Japan has a fertility rate of 1.40. Italy has 1.28. Both countries are described to have a very serious greying problem. Only Hong Kong and Macau has a lower fertility rate, 0.95 and 1.05 respectively. No other territory where such statistics are compiled have a lower fertility rate.

Source: CIA World Factbook

There is a good reason why Singaporeans do not realise the situation is that bad: both the politicians and the media avoid highlighting that we are in deeper shit than Japan or Italy.

Well, you dont want "lau peng" to fight? Then how do you explain Winston Choo or Ng Jui Pin? Are you telling me they were seriously incompetent years before their retirement as CDF? Not terribly reassuring to me either way.

If you add the NSF and the OR NSmen together, the number of boots we have today is easily double or triple that in, say 1975, not to mention we have a reserve of "lau pengs". Did you feel unsafe in 1975 because the number of boots were so few? So why are you so fearful if there is a cut in fulltime NS now? How many soldiers do we genuinely need? If your argument is the more the merrier, than it is time to include the women too. Heck, why not make NCC compulsory for all kids as well? And yes, make NS twenty years. Let's see how many Singaporeans will hang around to serve NS.

Anonymous said...

Jimmy Mun

You should pose many of your questions to the PAP - duration, pay and how you like to structure NS. They got the answers (and the power to do it) not oldies like us or even you.

Like one blogger said, you are debating on the merits of a government policy. Sure it has lost its meaning somewhat after so many decades. Don't you think oldies hate to hear the same ministers spinning the same old tunes, day in and day out?

You were in NS 10 years ago - the SAF has changed for the better by your time. Try to transport yourself back to the period 1967-1979, then you understand the situation. The system has improved but not the POLICY.

Chris Sim said...

I really don't know who is the ignoramus here. I think someone is right (was it Ivan?). This issue of NS has been debated for too long and it's really pointless to go on. I've said my last piece. And let's enjoy Chun See's lastest post!

Anonymous said...

We plant a tree to provide a shade for our children in the future. Currently we are happily resting under the shade of a big tree. Who planted this tree ?

Anonymous said...

having serve 2years and 4 mths of NS in the police force last october. and only gotten back from my first reservist training for a 3 weeks stay in.

the only thing i enjoyed about NS/reservist is the getting together and bonding with other guys my age from walks of life that i'd most probably may not come across in my normal day to day.

do i agree with the "defending singapore is my honour"? hard to say since i did not have the chance to actually train in a military unit. as opposed to my being in a paramilitary unit.

do i have anything valuable to contribute here? perhaps not, but should every other singaporean go through NS? yes they should. but they should be thought to understand why they are going through NS first before they get to hold a gun. because it never made sense to me to go through my training. not at least until the later parts of my NS life.

but even then. my opinions greatly defer from the regulars. it seems to me there's no real love for the country. just for the sake of a job that pays their bills.

did i resent my 2yrs and 4 mths? did i resent my reservist? surprisingly no i don't. what's probably surprising is i don't understand why my peers resent it so much. did NS made me a better man?

i dunno. but when people talk about foreigners taking away our jobs and such even though we serve NS... then how about our own people who go to foreign land and take up choicest job offers abroad?

that's all in my little melayu head.