Singapore now has the distinguished reputation of having one of the longest conscription period for its’ male citizens – 24 months.
We are also one of the few countries in the world that still enforces conscription on its male citizens – and we are not at war with any one ever before.
The recent spate of accidental death involving peace-time NSF soldiers have also provided a bad image to the whole military force.
However, I was heartened to know that our NSF soldiers are now adequately compensated with an allowance of $480 for new recruits compared to the measly $90 I received during my time – almost thirty years ago.
NCOs and officers used to serve 30 months as recent as two years ago but now most national servicemen (NSF) serve only 24 months on average when our government decided to reduce conscription period as there was much resistance from the male population.
Prolonged conscription slowed down the progress of our male population who has to wait till they complete their national service liabilty before they can continue with their tertiary education both locally or abroad.
By the time most males finished their university education, there are in their mid 20s whereas most of their female counterparts have already graduated, started working and moving up the corporate ladder.
Those who study medicine may even graduate older – when they hit 30 years old due to the long internship programme.
More signficantly, they still have to serve the current 10-year reservist liability after NSF which can really interfere with one’s career and family.
There is also the recent online debate whether our reservists should fight so hard during a war-like situation when 1/3 of the country’s population are foreigners.
Of course, on a more positive note, NS will do alot of good to our current crop of young men who are seen as pampered and soft. We will never forget the NSF who allowed his maid to carry his army back pack for him and got blasted online for many weeks.
Reservist duties – disruption to one’s career and family
I have also heard in the latest news that reservist officers now have to serve until 50 years old further interfering with their career in the private sector.
This is perhaps one huge reason why our local employers prefer to hire foreigners over local staff as they don’t have to bother with the reservist liability of their executies which can go into 2-3 weeks of continuous absence from work.
If you are a small local SME consisting of five executives, the prolonged absence of one key personnel can make or break your operation.
That is why many reservists try to defer their reservist liability until they have exhausted their deferment quota.
I remembered how one reservist friend hated having to return to serve the country regularly as a reservist after NSF that he opted to be stationed in Indonesia for the long term so that he could defer his reservist duties.
Back then, you could defer your reservist duties when you are living abroad for work assignment and he was away for a good ten years!
He was posted to the civil defence to serve out his reservist liability later on but it was a piece of cake compared to the many trips that some of us have to make to ROC for strenous overseas exercises.
I remembered not sleeping for 72 hours straight when we were deployed for an exercise in ROC and on the fourth day I could not even stand straight!
I slept for the next 24 hours without even bothering to wake up for my meals. I was just too tired…
Conscription – hard to escape
Not many male citizens I knew could escape conscription as even the most un-fit male has to go through NSF carrying out clerical duties except for one known case whereby he was totally exempted from servicing a day of NSF.
He faked mental illnesses and managed to escape conscription when the medical doctor gave him the no-go after interviewing him for many rounds. They fear that he would create havoc in the training ground.
He was probably the only one that I knew who managed to escape conscription totally and he was proud of it.
The army has a fitness classification category from PES A – fittest to PES E – least fit. I am sure that the army will try their best to fit in our male conscripts however obese or physically unhealthy they can be.
There are also a few friends who managed to escape reservist liability citing medical history but these were also far and few in between.In fact, it is easier to lose your rifle during army exercise than get a permanent downgrade from reservist liability!
During my NS days, I remembered spending half a year of my remaining service idling around before my ROD and felt that it was a such a waste of time then. I was a NCO then.
Though I benefitted from the physical nature of national service and was much toughened up by it, I felt that the length of the conscription was too long and glad that national service was reduced from 30 months to 24 months for NCOS and officers few years ago.
Though we continued to perform our respective routine duties during the last few months of the service, nobody really bothered to disturb you or ask you to work harder as they knew that you are months away from your ROD.
In a way, my last few months of national service was perhaps one of the most lazy period of my life! I went to camp, rested, waited for lunch at the cook house at 12 noon, napped till 2pm, woke up and waited till 5pm for camp book-out.
National service has now also became a hot national issue for foreigners with permanent residence status. Right now, there are half a million PRs here with as many as 20, 000 male PRs below the age of 18 years old.
National service and our foreign PRs
Institute of Policy Studies (ISP) has recently conducted a study and found that half of the male permanent residents below age 18 years old will renounce their status when they reach NSF age in order to escape the drafting liability.
Of course, this has sparked off an uproar from citizens here who have all along questioned the loyalty of our foreign friends. It is unknown still how many male permanent residents have already renounced their PR status when they reach NSF liability.
By renouncing their PR status before conscription, these male foreigners risked having to leave their families permanently behind and not being able to take up any work opportunities here in future.
Singaporean male citizens who choose to live abroad when they are very young have to also post a $75,000 bond with the government and if they fail to return home for conscription, they risk forfeiting the huge bond. They are also at risk of being arrested at the airport as failing to answer to the call for conscription is a crime.
However, the important question to ask is why do our government insists on having our male citizens serve an average of 24 months of our most productive life span in the training field when potentially we are not in any war-like situation with our neigbhours?
Will reduced conscription attracts our male PRs to take up arms before they are offered citizenship?
Moreover, will our reservist force be any use if there is a war-like situation as we could only train 3 weeks in a year max and will no way be as militarily fit as our professional soldiers?
I dread the day when I will be activated for active reservist duty because of an external aggression. I also know that I am not in the best of shape plus skill-wise I will be rather rusty as I could only train a few weeks each year.
Ironically, when we are still insisting on a 24-month commitment to conscription, many countries have started to reduce the peiod of compulsory conscription to ridiculously low level.
It is not difficult to realise that conscription is a huge national burden imposed on our young shrinking male population especially when globalisation has adversely affects our employment opportunities here. Every day serves in the field is a day wasted in the working world.
Many male citizens have also questioned why they have to serve NS when foreigners are welcome to live among us as citizens without having to serve a day of NS in the field.
Conscription and other countries
Taiwan which is technically at war with China has recently reduced it’s national service liability from one year to only four months from early 2015 – benefitting from the improved ties with China (Channel news asia 14 Dec 2011).
Taiwan intends to have a fully professional military service of 215,000 soliders down from the current 275,000 conscripted and professional soldiers at present.
As for Israel – military service is mandatory, beginning at age eighteen, for male and female citizens and resident aliens. The length of compulsory military service has varied according to IDF personnel needs. In 1988 male conscripts served three years and females twenty months (Wikipedia).
However, its understandable why Israel has such a strong conscription philosophy as it is always in a war-like situation with surrounding Arabic countries. It will be terrible just to rely on trained professional soldiers to maintain peace in a region that is strifed with armed conflict. In fact, there are large military divisions that are staffed mostly with reservists and volunteers.
Conscription, or mandatory military service or compulsory national service, is legislated in South Korea, with military service stated as one of the Four Constitutional Duties (along with taxes, education, and labor) for all citizens. The current Conscription Law, however, applies only to males, although women are allowed to enroll in the Reserve Officer Training Corps as of 2010.
It is administer by the Military Manpower Administration. There are two tiers of service: active duty or non-active duty service. Length of service varies according to branches: 21 months for Army and Marine Corps, 23 months for Navy, 24 months for Air Force. The non-active duty service, eg civil service or public service worker, is from 26 months to 36 months (Wikipedia).
The consciption period in South Korea has not changed even though the citizens have call for a reduction.
Again, South Korea has every reason to have a solid conscription programme as it is in a war-like situation with neigbouring North Korea – not unlike that of Israel.
Does Singapore requires such a lengthy conscription period?
But does Singapore – situated in a peaceful geographical region, warrants a rigorous conscription programme of 24 months on average? if it should be reduced, what is the desired length? 20 months? 18 months?
Since independence, Singapore does not have the dreadful opportunity to go to war with any neighbouring countries and many have commented that perhaps we have a strong deterrance force in the form of superior weaponry – purchased at exorbitant cost of more than 30% of our yearly budget.
The Defence Ministry continues to top the expenditure estimates list with S$12.3 billion set aside this year, which is four per cent higher than last year’s (defence budgetChannel news asia 18 Feb 2012).
I can’t seen to find any figure for the size of our professional army but my estimate is that it will probably reach 20,000 to 30,000 in numbers.
The army has being trying to attract qualified young people to join them as prfoessioanl soldiers and I heard that starting pay for local graduates are in the mid $3000s plus you get a handsome gratuity when you have finish your contract.
A friend of mine who finished off as a major engineer managed to receive a golden handshake of half a million dollars after serving in the air force for well over 20 years!
He later joined DSO but earned only 3/4 of his regular army pay which wasn’t that bad as he may even get less than half if he joins the private sector at the matured age of 50 years old.
The professional army pays well and it should be as there are lots of sacrifices involved.
Many people have say that once you sign on with the army they will want your body, soul and blood.
So the important question to ask is why does our government still insists on having a lengthy conscription period when we are having so much peace regionally?
So is pure deterrance the only reason for the lengthy conscription as given the limited size of our population there is a limit to how large our professional army can grow to?
Moreover, our immediate neighbouring countries like Malaysia and Indonesia do not have sconsciption but relies on a professional army to defend themselves.
Many military analysts have speculated that because Singapore is such a small country it has always to be on its toe and ready to defend itself against any potential aggressor – however far-fetched it might be.
Moreover, Singapore will never ever be able to recover after entering into a war-like situation with any neigbhouring country because of our strategic location.
Our limited geographical space will also not allow any protracted war to be fought on our island. It will be disastrous to have a war situation occurring around our highly-populated HDB flats and congested MRT trains.
Foreigners will probably be the first to run off followed by our wealthy citizens with overseas PRs.
Political reason for lengthy conscription?
Yet some sceptics have came out with the theory that serving national service has forced our male citizens to stay very compliant and obedient – even in the face of some recent horrendous policies.
We witnessed how plane-loads of foreigners descended on our tiny island taking away jobs, homes and even treasured relationships without even a slight whimper from our people.
Why does our people harbour such deep-seated inertia in the face of some recent damaging policies? Even some of my foreigner friends who are long-term PRS here have expressed shock that the locals accepted the policies almost in resignation and without a fight.
We saw how the Arab Spring civil uprising – instigated mostly by brave young men fresh out of universities - caused some centuries-old empires to topple.
Our government has taken the smart step of locking away idealistic active young men when they turn 18 and put them away for 24 months in a military camp for conditioning.
In the online medical dictionary:-
During our army training, we learn alot of aversive conditioning whereby if we step out of line or disobey intructions from our officers, we will be punished.
This form of negative conditioning probably follows us after our ROD and tend to stay with us through our adulthood so much so that we don’t question authorities anymore.
All of us know that young people between the ages of 16 to 18 years old are often rash, emotional and tend to move in groups. They flare up easily and are very vocal when their rights are slighted.
After serving out their national service, you will notice how our adventurous creative boys have turn into obedient compliant boring men.
More seriously, all individual rights of our young men are stripped off once they don on the army fatigued uniform as they blend in together as one compliant obeying force. Either they die or survive together – there is no more individual voice anymore when you serve in the army.
That is probably why you seldom hear of any subversive voice coming out of the masses and even if it comes up it will usually be alone and faint. We don’t want to be seen as standing out from the crowd – after being conditioned for 24 months in the army to blend in with our uniformed buddies.
Thus, it is not surprising to hear that our young male graduates are often on the complaint list of many employers for being uninspiring, uncreative and unmotivated.
In fact, our female local counterparts are seen to be more assertive, inspirational and domineering than our male peers! For example, my previous three bosses that I worked for in different companies were all females and they also report to their own female bosses above them!
Our young male graduates also need alot of instructions from their bosses and are often clueless when left alone to manage problems – understandable after being conditioned in the army for 24 months to always listen to instructions from their officers and not to act on your own initiative.
When Transitioning staged a series of protests at Hong Lim Park recently against the foreign influx, less than 20% of the participants were below 40 years old and the attendance seldom reached 150 people.
Though many thousands lambasted at the pro-foreign policies of our government online, less than 10% will take the important step of venturing out of the comfort of their bedrooms – it feels strange to go against the authorities here in the open.
If you do that in the army, you will likely end up in the guard room. Many brave young men became nervous wrecks after spending a week in the dreadful guard room and I don’t blame them.
I heard that the guardroom is a terrifying place and you have to march almost half the day round the square under the hot sun.
The two years of army conditioning of obeying orders and rules have caused many of our young men to toe the line – even when they have long left the army.
We are taught in the army that if you disobeyed rules however silly they could be, you will be in trouble.
I was also affected by this conditioning phenomenon so much so that when I came out to work later on, I merely took instructions from my superiors and never questioned why I have to do them.
Suffice to say, I was very uninspiring in my work and merely became a worker than a trail blazer. I even feared some managers who tend to talk loudly as they reminded me of my senior army WOs!
I lalso acked initiatives probably blunted by my compliant nature long conditioned in the army camp and naturally I failed miserably in the creativity department both at work and in my personal life.
I am not saying that we should disobey all the orders of our superiors in the army and became a rebel but when it affects how we think and behave whenever we see someone in uniform or authority then something is psychologically wrong with us.
The fear to question authority here is also disturbing as not everyone high up in power is correct. Just think of Hitler and Mao Tze Dong and you will get the drift.
Governments are also very afraid of mass revolts as it can turn ugly very quickly and difficult to contain when it goes out of hand. That is probably why our government will go through all means to suppress any potential uprising as it has the likely chance of toppling a regime.
We should be questioning why such a rule or policy is in force especially when we feel that it is not right and we should be bold enough to question the authorities about it using all means possible.
Right now, though many Singaporeans have awakened from their political slumber and began to speak up abeit via the internet, there is still a sizeable population out there who wants to stay out of trouble by remaining uninvolved until they are hit with the same problem.
I have first-hand experience of this phenomenon when I interacted almost on a daily basis with jobless PMETs.
Many of them who are in their 40s only began to wake up when they were out of job and felt the foreign onslaught.
Before that, when they are gainfully employed, they are oblivious of the impact of our negative pro-foreign policies even though they may have read of it in the news.
Our self-centred nature may have play a big part in our unhealthy inertia which has allowed the government to dictate what they want to do as there is hardly any current strong opposition influence in Parliament to check them.
As for the unhealthy army influence, for a long time the look of any uniform - like the ones that are wore by the police officers have also cause me to behave properly in front of them as they reminded me of my no-nonsense army officers in uniform during my NS.
I only managed to break out of this unhealthy compliant nature when I left to stay abroad for a period. It was a healthy breathe of democratic fresh air in Sydney as the police was also both friendly and approachable.
I remembered two police officers on bicyles greeted me when I jogged past them in my residential area in Sydney!
You will never see that happening in Singapore – our policemen are always scrowling as they patrol the grounds as if they own the land.
I began to wonder how far we have drifted away from the true-blue democratic values that modern developed countries embody.
Conditioning is such a powerful psychological tool which the ruling party has always used to good effect.
Seeing how other suppressed Arabian countries fell so easily when the young people take to the streets in revolt recently, our government will try all means to contain any subversive elements from rising up and seize political advantage.
The Marxist conspiracy has also caused many people to look behind their shoulders whenever they talked about the negative stuff of our government.
In fact, it has caused Singapore to move backwards in democratic terms for at least a decade!
More seriously, it has also allowed the ruling party to cement their grip in power for a good two decades after the mass Marxist arrest as no one dares to step out to challenge the authorities during general election until GE 2011.
So the next time when you are returning for reservist duties, ask yourself when you put on the uniform, what psychological effect does it has on you?
Chances are it will cause you to properly behave yourself and be very compliant as a person and citizen.
You then have to ask yourself is that all good…especially when we know that the current regime has being misgoverning for a long while?
Remember that not everyone in high authorities are doing everything just for the country’s good sake…
Again think of Hitler and Mao Tze Dong.
Written by: Gilbert Goh