Thursday, January 29, 2009

Huat Ah!

Happy belated CNY to one and all!

Pardon my lack of updates. I've just spent a good part of CNY un-hooked from the Intrawebs, and am currently a bystander of some unnecessary drama.

I will get back to updating this blog fairly soon. As a teaser, my current bloggable topics include:

(1) Controlling the Centre Line (for martial arts, inspired by watching the movie "Ip Man")
(2) Personal Benefits for NS (or lack thereof)
(3) Unnecessary Drama

Stay tuned.

Friday, January 23, 2009

In Defense of Defense Part II - Everybody Dies

I've been chewing through some of the comments that have been put on my blog from my entry. One of them fascinates me, so I will spend some time talking about it.

PanzerGrenadier wrote:

"The far greater price that we NSmen face is DEATH while serving the country."

He also wrote some stuff about the accidents happening in NS, and the risk of death in NS.

Let me start by saying, my utmost sympathies for those who have lost loved ones in the course of serving their NS. This post may offend you, so please don't read on.


Death is inevitable. We all have to die some time, and the only question here is when, how and why. Those are the questions that we need to ask when trying to make MINDEF responsible for loss of life (or anything else for that matter).

I have some sympathy for MINDEF, not a whole lot, but some. The high-level problem that MINDEF faces is that it needs to impose regimentation and fairly rigourous training standards, while taking disproportionate amounts of liability for these standards.

In that sense, I can see why MINDEF would want to defend itself from liability in this way. It cannot be that MINDEF is legally culpable for every act within it's military premises. If a man keels over and dies while binging on cheap Tiger beer at the mess, it's going to be a stretch to argue that MINDEF is responsible.

On the other end of the spectrum, if someone gets squashed flat by a tank during exercise, why yes, MINDEF should be responsible.

What I'm trying to do here is to inject some sense into this issue - it cannot be that MINDEF is responsible for everything. Arguing along this line does not make sense, and in fact, demonstrates everything that I've argued in the previous post - that we are not in fact trying to get what is fair, but merely trying EVERY means to pin some fault, ANY fault on MINDEF. That makes us as bad as MINDEF is.


What I -do- think will help NS safer is a Freedom of Information Act, and more frequent external audits. Take to point the issue of the NS man found mysteriously dead in a bunk. We don't know for sure the circumstances of his death. There isn't a way for finding this information out, so whatever MINDEF says will essentially become the "truth" for the purposes of liability.

Without a Freedom of Information Act, this kind of fact finding cannot be tested by external pressures. It enables the "cover-up" culture to continue, and weakens the credibility of everything MINDEF does.

I don't accept that everything MINDEF does is secret. Take the health of its NSMen for example. That information is fairly widely available in the public domain for the purposes of insurance, court cases etc. It cannot be that NS medical data is somehow special once it crosses the border of a military camp. In the event of a dispute, disclose that medical data.

The other method is to use external auditors to check accounts, training etc. I accept that this method has its limitations, in the sense that they can easily be undermined by whatever administrative roadblocks MINDEF chooses to throw up. However, the reverse side is true - the more admin roadblocks they throw up, the stupider they look when something eventually happens.

I'll get back to my writing about personal benefits (or lack thereof) of NS in a bit.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

In Defense of Defense

My experiences with NS and as a citizen soldier has lead me to question quite a bit about our national policy towards NS. Personally, I do not think it is NS per se that causes resentment among Singaporean males. It is a whole combination of factors.

The heart of the matter is that NS is a massive obligation with few benefits. When I say "benefit" I mean the whole gamut of benefit - financial, social, personal. I think enough has been discussed about financial benefit so I won't go there. What I will focus on is social and personal benefit.

My biggest gripe about NS is that it is viewed nationally not as a necessary sacrifice, but as a "haha-sucker" sort of obligation. Witness Taiwan - I am told merely wearing a uniform there raises your esteem in the eyes of the locals. A similar but more sombre zeitgeist pervades Israel, Finland and Switzerland. Why is this so?

The problem with Singapore is the issue of "us" and "them" isn't so clear cut. The "us" versus "them" mentality is encouraged, even inflammed, by government propaganda. The problem with encouraging this mentality is that this bleeds over to every aspect of life.
  1. "Me" versus "the government", i.e what I can do to get out of NS in the first place?
  2. "Me" versus "everyone else in NS", i.e can I get other people to do my job in NS?
  3. "Me" versus "society" i.e Now that I have (on paper) served NS, what else can I get out of this obligation that ALL taxpayers have to bear?
Note that this mentality spreads even to non-NS serving citizens - i.e women. I've never met a Singaporean woman that gives respect to our men purely because they have to serve NS. It's always a mixture of relief and schadenfreude (that they don't have to serve), combined with just a little bit of "haha-sucker".

In short, what social benefit is there from serving NS? You don't get any respect out of it, you hardly get recognised for hard work, and if you do, in fact, put in hard work out of moral obligation, people laugh at you and call you a sucker.


More on (lack of) personal benefits to NS in another instalment.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Off to Reservist

See you all at the end of 2 weeks.