9 Feb 2005

National Service is a miserable failure

The following article is from Deus Ex Machina

I realise that this is my second post about this topic but it is a great source of interesting material. The last week was quite a reflective one too. You know how the government always says that NS will instil patriotism, right? Well, it has failed terribly. Before NS, I actually used to like Singapore. Our standard of living is decent; the education system actually suits me etc. This has totally changed within 3 weeks of serving the country.

It's quite foolish to think that NS will instil patriotism. It all comes down to whether you enjoy the experience or not. The majority of my squadmates and me pretty much hate it. It's a freaking waste of time. Sure, shooting and Law lessons are fun as hell, but I will rather not go for it at all, my freedom is too valuable. Think about it: If a man comes into your house and slaps you a few times, then tells you that the slapping will make you like him, will you call bullshit on him? It's the same concept; no one will like a country more when said country is forcing him to do things he doesn't like to. The country becomes associated with suffering, loss of freedom and oppression. Definitely not good for making patriots.

In NS, I met the first true patriot in my life.

to read on and read some strong language click here..


Agagooga said...

Actually there's something called Stockholm Syndrome.

Besides which, once they've finished being slaves they often become sympathetic.

soci said...

maybe the syndrom hasn't kicked in with this NS man yet.

KnightofPentacles said...

Some of us just take a more pragmatic approach of rationalizing conscription as part of the cost of citizenship.

Sort of akin to Heinlein's military society (described in Starship Troopers) where only those who serve get to participate in the political process and partake in certain economic benefits.

Unless you choose not to be a citizen of Singapore, there is really not much of a choice. Is there?

akikonomu said...

KnightofPentacles, sure you mean conscription as the cost of male citizenship?

Anyway this would make interesting sociology:

Given the 'problem' of conscription, what other responses can Singaporeans come up with, aside from seeing and constructing entire discourses of conscription as
1. national slavery
2. male rite of passage
3. patriotic service and protection of family and country?

The Legal Janitor said...


how about 1 more?

learning how the system works and gaining the necessary skills to prosper and survive in this cruel world?

Honestly, studying here in Melbourne, I never get over the fact how the kids here are so naive about how the world works.

As much as I hated my NS days, I am extremely grateful that I managed to get through it, and learnt so much from it.

redrown said...

Haha..a topic on every male Singaporean's mind.
Whatever the supposed reasons of NS, it is fairly certain that its social costs far outweigh its benefits to both individuals and society in general.

While it is much an often repeated topic, i have my own two cents worth to add about the futility of conscription in Singapore. But i guess with the current mindset of the population, conscription is here to stay!

Anonymous said...

The alternative of having NS is to Not have NS, which means that Singapore, a tiny but rich nation, would be defenceless against attacks. Any country which wants to attack us would have to think twice. They would definitely succeed in killing us all, but we'd be able to do some damage to their country as well. I find the title of the article stupid. NS is to have a defence system of some sort, and hopefully our youth will realise the threats we face, and thus be patriotic. The fact that some narrow minded and myopic youth think that a small rich nation has no need for a defence force is regrettable.

mb said...

Ah, but when a couple of post-NS Singaporean guys get together to play paintball with, say, their Aussie mates who have not served in a military capacity before, the Singapore side usually owns. At least that's what Mr Miyagi tells me anyway.

Not that this has anything to do with patriotism or anything. It's just a piece of trivia, if you like. Heh.

Mock Turtle said...

NS is great for creating mindless adherents to the status quo! No matter how much shit gets shovelled on people after NS, they will just shake their heads and sigh, "It's not that bad lah - at least it's not as bad as BMT."

Wowbagger said...

The usual "small defenceless nation" argument is heart-rending but not the whole story.

Singapore is the 2nd most militaristic nation in the world.

Luxembourg, with a population of 454,157, has no conscription and a total of 1000 armed forces (including police).

Therefore a better defence of the need for conscription is the location of Singapore in a volatile region with hostile neighbours, together with a racial composition that makes it the Israel of southeast Asia.

Still, you might wonder if it is really that hostile that we need to spend US$969 per head every year, on top of all the angst over conscription.

Wowbagger said...

Also note that alienated soldiers don't make for a particularly effective army.

Dr. Fletcher said...

The point of my article was that NS has failed to instil patriotism, not in other areas. The truth is that NS is the only viable option for Singapore unless we can count on the US Asian-Pacific command to save our asses, which I doubt. Nevertheless, the success NS has had in its task to defend the country does not take away the fact that it relies on conscription.

No one likes being forced to do anything, let alone sacrifice two whole years. It is undeniably a huge loss on the part of the individual. In this society, we so often forget the individual in favour of the "greater good" argument.

I am not arguing against the need for NS, I'm just saying that talk of it making patriots is quite fallacious.

"hopefully our youth will realise the threats we face, and thus be patriotic"?

There is no need for NS to make us realise the threats we face, the list of threats can be found everywhere. Some minister was even worried about Singaporeans getting "alert fatigue".

The fact is this: NS was, and always will be, meant to benefit the nation, not the people actually doing it. All the talk about learning stuff was thrown in as a sweetener, a happy by-product. Think about it, if NS will really benefit the indivduals so much, surely countries that don't need it will also implement it for the good of their citizens... or is our government so altruistic?

We're talking about 2 levels of success here, for a country and for the humans inside. Some will like NS, some won't. To expect everyone to love it will be the worst possible manifestation of the Confucionist desire for conformity: The country lives, the individuals die.

Anonymous said...

I said "I find the title of the article stupid."

Your title is " National Service is a miserable failure"

redrown said...

I will adopt the unpopular and unconventional premise that conscription is nothing but a farce, for both the person and the society in general.

Firstly, when you say NS is for defence of the nation, do you really think that the armies are all about defence of the nation? Was Bush's war against Iraq really a pre-emptive war against Terrorism? Or were there more sinister reasons behind it? Granted, surely our army would be used as defence should an unlikely invasion occur, but what could our army be really about? Perhaps if one is posted to an intelligence unit, you might find out what the army's real purpose is....quite an open secret actually.

Secondly, do you think in this day and age, any country will just 'invade' us without thinking OTHER consequences? Even if they do kill off our entire population, do u think they will not suffer backlash from political pressure, trade embargoes, loss of support from its populace, drainage of resources, and the potential of facing military retribution of their own? Basically, a loss of reputation on the world stage? Only if a nation has amassed enough military power to launch a World-war (or Jihad) degree of war would they dare to invade. Unlikely. So, whether we have a viable defence or not is but just another minor factor to consider.

Thirdly, do you not feel that as conscripts we are doing our part but perhaps our leaders are not? Military prowess is not the only form of defence; what about Diplomacy? If we are on good terms with our neighbours, would they invade us? Yes, the differential racial make-up is striking and this will always be a potential crack. But if we can make the sacrifice and effort to put in 2 years of our lives in military, is it really so difficult for our leaders to exercise tact with our neighbours over sensitive issues?

Do you really think our contribution to the military is anything more than a farcical facade, the reasons behind our conscription not being what we generally think it is? One that would not accomplish any 'greater good' of our nation, but merely give us the impression that it would. Ie, I've Been Bamboozled!

And I neglect to mention the costs to both society and person.

ivan said...

i benefitted personally from NS. Over and above what Shianux has said, the same goes for the youths (i've met or observed, not all) in the UK, overly naive, plus immature.

redrown said...

Sure, we all gleaned something from our NS, but we would have similarly benefited had we spent our 2 years constructively engaged in other fields (such as the civil workforce). I do not doubt that some youths in Australia and UK seem more naive and childish. But if you are insinuating if it is because they didnt go thru NS, then u are similarly stating that a fair number of half of our population (women) are also naive and immature.

redrown said...

Sure, we all gleaned something from our NS, but we would have similarly benefited had we spent our 2 years constructively engaged in other fields (such as the civil workforce). I do not doubt that some youths in Australia and UK seem more naive and childish. But if you are insinuating that this is because they didnt go thru NS, then u are similarly stating that a fair number of half of our population (women) are also naive and immature.

:) said...

1. If the benefit of NS is boiled down to learning to be worldly wise enough to survice in this world, perhaps there a a billion other ways to learn the same survival skills without being put through the humiliation of ceding one's individual rights. Moreover, much of the men in the world survive pretty well without conscription. Plus, where did the myth that local men (as local celeb Fann WOng has said) are not as worldly wise as their foreign counterparts?

2. If our leaders trul value defence and the conscripted force as much as their rhetoric of necessity goes, how did it end up that so many men feel as if they have been enslaved, under-valued or exploited? Foreign talent, valued by the same leaders, are often treated exceptionally well, by contrast.

3. One cannot equate the idea that it is important for Singapore to have a military to the idea that there must be conscription. Seriously, if a war takes place, we would probably be reliant on technology. That is the most important form of defence, not the mass of conscripted, disgruntled land forces like infantry. If the technology fails to win the war, does anyone expect the land forces to win? And the point? There is no need for such a huge number of people.

4. The comparison to Israel is a terrific hoax. The atmosphere in SEA isn't anywhere near the militaristic antagonism present in the Middle East. Of course, Singapore could be attacked by countries without the region. Yeah, Bush might decide to liberate one more country before his term ends huh.

Agagooga said...

The syndrome hasn't kicked in for me either.

The NS-no-NS false dichotomy is annoying. The choice before us is not enslaving half the native populace and total destruction. There are many in-between solutions: allowing conscientious objection, making slavery voluntary, making it a lottery (like in Thailand), having a totally professional force etc...

Indeed Wowbagger. I wonder if the slave soldiers will not just desert during a real confict. And raising the spectre of doom and cultivating a siege mentality incessantly is unncecessary (well, not from the POV of the rulers).

I think a large part of Slavery is social engineering, especially when you see how Stupidity, Senselessness and Sadism are behind much of what the SAF does. You realise that fighting a war is not the purpose of the SAF.

ivan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
ivan said...

"how Stupidity, Senselessness and Sadism are behind much of what the SAF does. You realise that fighting a war is not the purpose of the SAF."
Spoken to a retired captain who served in the US corps during the gulf war, a senior who is now in officer school in the UK, as well as a cypriot who served as an officer during his national service. Seems like all 3 of their armies endorse the same values of "stupidity, senselessness and sadism". I think all armies train alike, and i suppose there is a reason for it. If you caught BBC's special on the US marines in Iraq, they aren't smart (maybe but it doesn't show), they don't think, they are what they are, cold, calculated and obedient.

Agagooga said...

At least they aren't conscript soldiers.

But really, other militaries seem to have less BS than the SAF.

ivan said...

agagooga: they are consripted in cyprus.
Not from what i've heard first hand - SAf is on par or dishes out less shit than other countries, especially cyprus.
Which countries do you think dishes out les shit than the SAF? Malaysia :)

Agagooga said...

I don't have a basis for comparison, but shit and BS aren't the same.

ivan said...

What bullshit are you talking about. I've had countless wonderful chats with them about the military (its something that somehow bonds). The bottomline we concluded is, all militaries are around the same, you live in the same shithole, are subjected to the same inane quirks of the system, forced to lower your thinking, rewarded for slavish compliance. The US and Brit guys differ abit in experience, they are given more respect outside of training hours, but trust me things are exactly the same in Cyprus when they are conscripted as well.

Agagooga said...

I think it is the phenomenon conscription itself that results in BS.

Professional armies don't have quite as much BS.

Anonymous said...

I too started off liking the country. Very much even caught myself singing one of those badly written national pop songs when I was 16. Now at 29, the lost of patriotism thru doing my NS is unrecoverable even now. Being trained to defend your country is fine, but putting you at the mercy of screaming 8 year old (I mean 18 year old) drill instructors, is quite another. Give immature teenagers overlordship of an isolated combat training camp, is just retarded. Particular 18 year old Singaporeans.