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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What is it like to go through National Service in Singapore?

"I know a lot about cars. I can look at a car's headlights and tell you exactly which way it's coming." - Mitch Hedberg


Gabriel Seah's answer to Singapore: What is it like to go through National Service in Singapore? - Quora
(29 votes, top answer as of the time I scheduled this post)


Stupidity, Sadism and Senselessness best sum up the SAF (Singapore Armed Forces), as its real core values (not the 7 that are promulgated).

National Service was an incredibly brutalising experience. Force and the threat of force were omnipresent. "Non-compliance will be severely dealt with" was a stock phrase popping up everywhere, for even the most minor of infractions.

The most petty ways were found to torment us - one superior forced us to indent (order) breakfast even though most of us would rather sleep a little bit longer instead of having to wake up early to go to the cookhouse (naturally, if breakfast was indented and you didn't eat it, it was a chargeable offence).

The SAF (or at least the Army) is filled with incompetent, cruel regulars, who take out their frustrations (and satisfy their sadistic urges) on Full-time National Servicemen (NSFs), even as NSFs do the bulk of the work which the regulars are unable and/or unwilling to do.

In particular, one individual stands out for his behavior. He literally treated us like dogs. On one occasion all of us were sitting on the floor of the training shed. He came in and barked orders at us:

"UP!" (all of us scrambled to our feet)
"DOWN!" (all of us sat down pronto)
"UP!" (all of us scrambled to our feet)
"DOWN!" (all of us sat down pronto)
"KNOCK IT DOWN!" (all of us went to pushup position - presumably we weren't obedient enough dogs and didn't stand up and sit down quickly enough)

(Well, almost like dogs - once on a Standard Obstacle Course (SOC) training run, he threw a dummy rifle at one of the stray dogs in camp, and on other occasions he kicked them. He didn't that to anyone of us. I think.)

The most minor infraction potentially attracted harsh recriminations. I saw people being punished or even charged for trivial offences. As Georges Clemenceau noted, "Military justice is to justice as military music is to music".

The whole system of the SAF promotes a contempt for authority and law; one rule of  jurisprudence is that laws should be sensible, justified and realistic - having laws that are openly and repeatedly flouted is bad for the rule of law. The SAF has a bevy of senseless rules, and there is tacit encouragement in getting around them (The Zeroth SAF Core Value, we were told repeatedly, was to "do anything you want but don't get caught").

For a whole year, I was targeted by my whole unit from the CO (Commanding Officer) down, because he got the idea of forcing the fat people to lose weight. While that might be a justifiable aim (within the framework of military logic), I was subject to scrutiny, snide remarks, shouts and pressure.

Perhaps the most tragic aspect of the whole experience was that with the propaganda machine going at full steam, many people actually buy into the lies it peddles:
That there is "glory" and "honour" in a peacetime army
That testosterone-fueld acts of bravado have profound meaning
That there is no alternative to National Service as it currently stands.
That everything we were subjected to was necessary for National Defence.
In short, Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori (it is sweet and proper to die for one's country).

One important thing to note is that there is no option of alternative service in Singapore, so it is hard to avoid the draft, even if one has qualities that are not a good mix with conscription (e.g. if one is a pacifist and is going to be viscerally revolted by the experience)."
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