National Service in Singapore: Dividing the Society It was Meant to Unite
Posted by temasektimes on June 18, 2012
The NS (Amendment) Act was passed on 14 March 1967, and since then, Singaporean males both young and old have done their part in the defence of our beautiful island nation, Singapore. This year marks the 45th Anniversary of National Service, and as such, the Government is commemorating NS45 with the launch of NS: From Fathers to Sons. I can see the commemorative value in celebrating this historical milestone, but somehow I cannot help but wonder, “Is there truly cause for celebration?”
One of the purposes of National Service is to foster social cohesion within the multi-racial society of Singapore. Back in the tumultuous years of the 1960s, the Government of Singapore experienced much difficulty in integrating the different races. Such was the turmoil that it culminated in the 1964 and 1969 Race Riots, which claimed 40 lives in total.
The secondary founding principle of NS (the primary being national defence, of course) was to forge unity and cohesion in society by promoting racial harmony. One really does not need to think deeply to figure out that today’s Singapore society has not been more divided ever since the advent of NS. Why? Because foreigners (and first-gen Permanent Residents) are exempted from NS.
Due to the Government’s liberal immigration policies, 2011 saw the proportion of Singaporeans within the population of Singapore drop to an all-time low. In 2011, the population of Singapore was 5.18 million people, of whom 3.25 million (63%) were citizens while the rest (37%) were permanent residents or foreign workers. This means that a significant number of males in Singapore do not actually serve NS. This not only compromises the welfare of Singaporeans, but also divides today’s Singapore society in more ways than one:
Firstly (and obviously), these foreigners lack the NS Experience. They do not understand what it means to live life within a military construct and much more importantly, the unique brotherhood that is forged between soldiers. They do not know what it means to sweat blood and tears with your buddies by your side. They may understand the concept “No One Left Behind”, but all that lives only in their minds, not their hearts. They never lived life in a bunk with their bunkmates, complete with the craziness and boredom that can only exist in such an environment.
Secondly, they “leverage” on the 2 years they saved that we wasted to develop and grow, grooming themselves to be ever more competitive in school and at work while we languished and lagged behind in our professional development in army.
Finally, they sacrificed nothing for the nation (in fact, they get to live much better, prosperous lives in Singapore than back home; otherwise, why did they even migrate here?) while our Singaporean Sons, at best, sacrifice 2 years of their lives (and more, when one considers Reservist Trainings) and at worst, sacrifice their lives altogether. This year saw the deaths of 4 NSFs in 5 months! While they lead their comfortable lives in our magnificent island nation home, we slog it out the 2-year grind that is National Service.
When the call comes to defend Singapore, I will give my heart and soul. But I shall have nothing to do with aliens.