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Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Number One Enemy of the SAF (or: Reflections on Part-Time Slavery)

Having been subject to 2 episodes of Temporary Slavery (ICT), I have had occasion to reflect more upon the institution.

While the SAF indeed is moving with the times in some ways (styrofoam ration packets having been replaced with eco-friendly paper boxes which contain a detachable eating implement, or disposable pillowcases for example), on a more fundamental level things are still pretty much the same.

I am encouraged in my reflections by a senior officer (possibly my former CO), who said that it was important to reflect, or else we would feel very frustrated about our corvée and wouldn't want to be there. Yet, it is precisely because I reflect that I feel frustrated. But no matter - it is important to study the Misery of the Human Condition.

Perhaps the most succinct way of looking at the situation is to consider the idea of the Third Generation (3G) SAF: New hardware. New technology. So we are told. But also the same fucked-up attitude.

Control

As with its full-time equivalent, Part-Time Slavery is about controlling on conscripts, and impressing on them the fact that they are helpless. How else to explain, to name the most ruthlessly enforced manifestation that is the SAF haircut? Both ICT sessions, I saw many people who seemed to have very decent haircuts, and yet they were forced to go to the barber. This is because, for Temporary Slaves, the haircut is one of the few mechanisms left by which the Slavemasters can impress the fact of their control over Slaves; when you can't knock people down or make them sign extras for petty reasons, shearing (and dyeing) them is both the most visible and the most lasting sign of your power, since it's the gift that keeps on giving (hair takes time to regrow). A bonus is that the shearing is performed en masse in a large-scale ritualistic ceremony. And perhaps most telling is the fact that even if you apply for deferment, you are forced to be sheared first, so as to spite you as much as possible.

Of course, you still have the old nonsense like charging people for not eating (or for not scanning their cards to indicate that they have eaten, at any rate). In other words, punishing people for not pretending to consume food that they never wanted in the first place.

The older bullshit is not entirely dead, and token attempts are made to promote it: the claim that Nike shoes are not allowed, NSmen should be role models for the NSFs (actually this is true - as a Full-Time Slave reservists were my role model, since they had already ORDed and left hell) and that one should wear Smart 4 (instead of Reservist 4, aka Long 4). Some are still justified with nonsensical lies, for example the claim that if you're used to wearing headgear in camp, you'll be used to wearing it in the field. But then, with the biggest lie of all, Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, the small ones don't really matter, do they?

The fact that in reservist one dispenses almost totally with regimentation and many of the other things that make Full-Time Slavery such a pain gives the lie to the claim that Discipline and Regimentation are needed for an army (alternatively, they give the lie to the claim that Operationally Ready NS-men are an effective fighting force). This reinforces the fact that the #1 enemy of the SAF is not Malaysia or even Indonesia - but its own soldiers.

Of course, the usual false dilemma is brought out. Singapore is respected for owning our security (I can't think of many countries in the world which don't "own" their security), and our political masters can do their job because of 355,000 NSmen (it's quite sad if the threat of military force is the only reason Singapore is taken seriously in the world). This is somehow the reason why NSmen are around. So this sleight of hand is supposed to demonstrate the fact that we cannot question the fundamentals of Slavery, and speaks to a (deliberate) failure of the imagination to shackle us to the existing paradigm.

Amusingly, as a (possibly) last-ditch attempt to convince us, they even mentioned migration. The senior office acknowledged that many of us wanted to migrate, but claimed that we would go to our desired countries and become Second Class Citizens. But then he didn't consider the fact that in Singapore we are already Second Class Citizens (who are Slaves to boot). He also claimed that Singapore had no natural disasters, at which point I was tempted to quote Confucius on Tigers and an Oppressive Government.

Mindfucking and the Desperate Search for Relevance

During reservist, the usual mindfucking is present. They know that we are only there for 1-2 weeks, so they have to try and convince us of the necessity of servitude. They claim that we are there because we are convinced of the necessity of Slavery, and want to be there. Yet the fact that so many try to defer is telling (and some people being charged for not turning up, i.e. being AWOL). Really, many people just want to get it over and done with since they have no choice. There is probably a name for the technique of psychological manipulation whereby the victim is given the illusion of choice so he is deluded into thinking that he has chosen his fate. At this faux realisation, he feels even more crushed and resigned to his lot. Alternatively, there is the simpler Gobbels doctrine: "If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth", or plain Stockholm Syndrome. Nonetheless, this doesn't work on everybody: one of the countless propaganda videos we were shown had one guy talking about extending his NS by 9 months. The auditorium got very excited, and I heard one guy saying the reason was because the chap couldn't find a job outside.

Of course, a familiar trope that is trotted out is that the 911 attacks and the spectre of terrorism (incidentally, a senior officer told us that after 911 they were very busy. Does it mean that before that they were very zuobo [free]?) The invocation of 911 and terrorism to justify National Slavery as an institution would be laughably ironic, were it not so tragic.

How does one fight terrorism? Primarily with intelligence, counter-intelligence, special forces and police work. Indeed, conscript soldiers trained in conventional warfare are possibly the worst way of fighting a faceless, amorphous enemy who works in small groups, strikes targets of opportunity using tactics of asymmetrical warfare and blends into the population. Actually, scratch that. The worst way would be to use old conscript soldiers who are called up for two to three weeks a year at most.

I have to admit, though, that some parts of the Fight against Terror play to the SAF's strengths. Take for example the Protection of Installations (POI). As we know, this is purely symbolic, since terrorists have a whole bevy of soft targets to hit, and the point of attacking targets is more to demoralise than to cripple key infrastructure. Want to fortify all schools? I don't think we have enough Slave Soldiers for that. Thus, it is clear that POI is wayang (acting) - which is something that the Singapore Acting Force (SAF) excels at!

What is the perfect way to demonstrate National Service's irrelevance is instead used to justify its existence. This shows that all this talk about National Service being justified because it's about fighting terrorism is merely bankrupt rhetoric: the desperate grasping at straws and scraping of the bottom of the barrel by an institution that has long lost its relevance.

National Service and Gender Relations

Usually people think that the reasons that Singaporean girls are not enslaved are:

i) economic reasons
ii) problems with integration
iii) a lack of commitment to gender equality in Singapore, which AWARE would surely decry a lack of political will to override the instinctive protectiveness that people have for females

I submit, though, that there are others:

iv) they are useless ('Nuff said)
v) A development of point iii) - most profoundly, the whole system is predicated on the idea that women (in their capacities as wives and mothers) are defenceless and need protection (together with children, who genuinely do since they are minors - significantly fathers play a minor role in the discourse, if any).

This plays upon the universal imperative to protect women (and also spoils the cute tagline, "Sons of Singapore").

For example, we were told that if someone raped our wife, we could fire a gun (leaving aside the improbability of your going AWOL to defend your wife in the event of an invasion, the possibility of asking your wife to defend herself was evidently not considered, which is quite daft given that physical strength does not matter with firearms as the great equaliser).

Yet at the same time, in exchange for this protection, women become objects on which male sexual desires are projected. This is most obvious in Full-Time Slavery, with large numbers of horny 18-21 year olds, but in Part-Time Slavery one also sees it, albeit in more subtle forms. For example we were told to hug our wives and girlfriends before we went outfield.

The attitude to women that the SAF embodies can be seen with Female Regulars. In one of the countless propaganda videos, they interviewed the First Female Tank OC (Officer Commanding, aka Company Commander) to fight ATEC (Army Training Evaluation Centre - the test for an army unit). She said she went to Germany for Ops (Operations), and it was valuable since it was the first time she took part in live firing with the guys. This does not speak well of gender integration in the SAF. Another way to look at things: If National Service turns Boys into Men (or Ah Boys to Men), what does it do to women? Can women perform rituals of masculinity without being masculinised (or already masculine in the first place)?

All this just makes it clear that one of the best ways that AWARE can campaign in the direction of true gender equality in Singapore is to get women conscripted. Of course, since they are for women's interests and not gender equality, they won't.

Miscellaneous observations/thoughts

It was quite amusing to see people scramble to become Officers in their Active (Full-Time Slavery) days, whether to bolster their CVs, get a bit more money, hook the chicks or even out of some misplaced conception of pride. How short-sighted they were! Enlistees don't need to do anything (or much, anyway), while the higher your rank is the more you must do (and the more time you must waste). All while you get paid more or less the same.

I've always known that Singaporean Chinese have abysmal Mandarin skills. I was told that older ones were better, but I observed that the ones in their 30s (even their mid-late 30s) don't speak good Mandarin either. They're not so different from those in their 20s - they just leaven their speech with more Hokkien, rather than just English.

They claimed that no one in world trains as much as the SAF, even the Israeli Defence Forces. Even assuming that this is true, as someone else pointed out, that's because they fight real enemies. Which is the best training you can get (not the SAF's vaunted "tough, realistic and safe training"). The Israelis are shot up and are operations-tested.

"Fanaticism consists of redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim" - sign in toilet. Presumably this was meant to be inspirational, when it's actually bad. That says a lot about the SAF's attitude of Stupidity, Sadism and Senselessness.

I realise I have a great aversion to be addressed as "Gentlemen", thanks to Slavery.

If a Singaporean is lucky enough to have a son when overseas, the worst thing he can do would be to register him for Singaporean citizenship, because that traps the child in a Catch-22: you cannot give up your citizenship till you are 21, yet if you do not report for Slavery at 18 you will be labelled a deserter and will never be able to enter Singapore again.

The way Humanitarian Ops are conducted (at least as viewed through the media of PR-friendly video clips), it looks like they're just rehearsing for war.

The SAF is complimented by its partners on overseas missions. That's because they generally don't send NSFs and NSmen.

I thought "Ninja Vans" were called that because they popped up and disappeared. I'm told that it's because they're actually not supposed to be there.

Unfortunate nametags:
"M Y Wang"
"C B Yeo"
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