When you can't live without bananas

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Thursday, December 18, 2003

Fan made Sentai with people Cosplaying - Except that this one looks like an AV. The things people come up with (Melvin, once again, unearthed this gem)

Smart soldiers decided to flee the Rings battle - Digital warriors thought for themselves - and their first thought was to run away Seems computers are smarter than humans. This is probably what will happen if the SAF goes to war ;0

Working with Fat Children - "It is amazing that so many fat children survive adolescence, given the hatred and meanness directed at them. Indeed, some do not make it, as evidenced by the fifteen-year-old high school student in Alabama who shot and killed himself in the classroom in 1997 because he could no longer take the torment." Someone should make all the people in 42SAR who are tormenting me read this. Interesting article, but it sounds just a bit too neat about how obesity is irreversible

Saudi Arabia Bans Dolls, Stuffed Animals - The latest madness from the Land Where Apostasy Gets You Beheaded With A Sword

F*** The Matrix - "Why do people have to see meanings in everything? What next? The analysis of Lara Croft's digital boobies in order to understand why the world is the way it is?! Wacky as it sounds, some wannabe writer, just to create a sensation has probably started working on it and trust me, there would be millions of people who will actually claim to have attained nirvana after reading that book." Heh heh

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Christian Fundamentalism in Singapore

Military Christian Fellowship, Singapore - Seems they've a semi-official presence in the SAF. Hell, their latest newsletter is edited by an LTC and the chairman of their council is a COL.

Bible Prophecies Indicating Napoleon was the Messiah - "This page is intended as a not-so-subtle parody of Over 300 Fulfilled Messianic Prophecies!, which retroactively shoehorns myriad out-of-context Old Testament verses to awkwardly fit Jesus, an ancient practice known as typology. As I attempt to demonstrate below, using this technique and a little work, anyone can be retrofitted into the Old Testament - making the method fairly useless prophetically. It exploits human psychology using quirks like shoehorning, wishful thinking and confirmation bias and is in no way indicative of paranormal extratemporal perception."

In the same vein, we also have: How Tiger Woods fulfills Biblical prophecies
A post before I join Nigel, Daniel and Melvin for watersports.

Word of the Day: "oubliette"

This year, we actually have to do work for our WITS (Work Improvement Team Scheme) project, unless last year when we managed to stay under the radar. Thus, we have been introduced to the horror of yet another product of the New Age Management rubbish that pervades and hinders modern organisations in the name of productivity.

The concept of WITS is actually a laudable one - to improve the way things are done by getting staff to examine how processes can be enhanced and overcome organisation inertia. However, much of the process of WITS itself is redundant - they expect us to document everything (just like ISO in fact), including thinking processes, something which is normally difficult to do, since everyone thinks differently. To solve this problem, they force everyone document their thinking extensively in the form of thinking tools like the fishbone diagram. Now, thinking tools are good for people who aren't good at thinking, but for those who have mastered this skill, trying to force themselves to think in a specific way actually hobbles their thinking, especially when the thinking tools are not applicable or otherwise unsuitable for the situation. Charts and graphs have to be included for their own sake, together with meaningless text, resulting in a flood of meaningless, useless and plain false information. WITS is also jargon filled, perhaps to make it and the people in charge of it seem important and arcane. In all, what the judges want is for us to squeeze our project to fit in their mould, probably for easier judging and comparison. But if that is the case, we should all just fill in MCQ answer sheets for our WITS project.

I am inspired, nonetheless, and if I ever have to do a WITS project again, I shall suggest "An overhaul of WITS" as my team's project and plan a trimming of the fat, redundancy and general stupidity. Perhaps then WITS will be able to live up to its original aims more truly, rather than stall due to people doing it for its own sake. But I cannot forsee it succeeding in the SAF, for it calls for a dynamic culture and change in a place where change is abhorred.

A few weeks back, we finally called in the pest exterminators, after being plagued by our resident horde of rats for far too long. Traps were judged too expensive, so instead poison was used, with the result that for the past few weeks, our pantry has reeked of the smell of decomposing rat carcasses. However, it now appears that the extermination was not total for, due to among other things, the refusal of many sickbay duty medics to throw unconsumed packets of dinner away, the rats have returned. Seeing three baby rats in the pantry dustbin on Saturday was really upsetting, for I thought we'd been rid of the menace. May the remaining rats all enter that dustbin in search of food, only to die when I pour in my toxic cocktail of Sudol and Marinpol!

TVs are now banned in my company, thanks to my CSM. I bet all of them will come out again when she leaves, though. At any rate, it makes no difference to me, since I do not watch TV, especially not Chinese TV and especially not Taiwanese variety shows with sweet young things parading around, being ogled and groped, or having their breast sizes guessed by slavering hordes of males.

I was in a Chinese restaurant, and the staff were all relatively young, and very few of them were PRCs. One waitress looked like she was around my age, had multiple earrings and piercings, one of those irritating strings tied around one ankle (which looked ghastly under stockings and which, despite enquiries, I have never found out the name of) and spoke to us in English. There were even the ultra-rare young male waiters - 2 of them in fact, also around my age (one with a spiky fringe, probably due to the fact that the restaurant disallowed a totally spiky head). One manager even spoke to us in non-cheena accented English. What a change from most Chinese restaurants these days, where the staff are 90% PRC, or the few, rare old skool ones which are staffed by geriatrics.


Some more, now is the school holidays. [Me: Go and pick up shrill, anorexic, chinese-speaking ah lians] Someone else is already doing that

Monday, December 15, 2003

Odd thought of the night to strike me.

Have been spending last few nights actually doing work (*modestly* I was working on the fringes of a billion dollar deal. Really. And I'm saying that because of the pitiful, but definitely tangible satisfaction in being able say things like that even if your role in such a deal is to provide two pages of Powerpoint slides). That, and talking to people online, in fact, I realise that more and more of my PC time these days is spent interacting with humanity, whether through sporadic bursts of blogging or posting on bulletin boards or tagboards or forums, or through long, breeze-shooting conversations online with the few friends I have.

But why does it all tempt me? Why can't i just be content to stay offline, and finish watching my first season DVDs of Alias, and Ali G, play Deus Ex: Invisible War and Lords of Everquest, while waiting for Legacy of Kain: Defiance (PC version) and Thief 3, finish reading my Robin Hobb and Dumas novels, all of this interspersed with gratuitoius masturbation and the occasional swim? God knows these days time is a valuable commodity I fight for every second; even the non-work portion of it seems increasingly devoured by picayune errands and paterfamilial obligations.

All of the sensory and intellectual stimulation I need I can obtain on my own terms sans the friction of dealing with other people. So why do I still feel this insane need for human interaction? Why am I still whingng on this blog entry, if I *know* it arises from the usual stereotypical need for people to emotionally preen, whine and posture online, to open one's self up to being judged by those reading who think the fragments of text give them some clue as to what's really going on with the person writing it? How many times have I myself just as blithely laid down the simple aphorisms to people, "if you have a problem with people reading, don't blog it; just as if you have a problem with what people are writing, don't read it." I feel like one of those apotemnophilliacs (another the word to look up, people, it's a *good* one) I was watching in a documentary a while back; the sheer compulsivness of their behaviour is bizarrely juxtaposed against the bewilderment they feel in the wake of their own personal awareness as to how insane their own desires are.

Isn't genuine catharsis what a real diary which no one reads is for?

coda for the night: "Cigarettes. Pornography. Bitching to strangers. Hollow grave, wt."

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Leaving singapore for Thailand tomorrow morning; returning on 5 January 2004. If you're interested visit
to know what i'm up to.
Putting up hopefully daily updates in the three weeks.
Survey on people's Internet usage habits for someone's Masters dissertation.

The survey creator is, in particular, looking for respondents who are blog owners and would like it forwarded to people with their own websites.

Ongoing debate on a mailing list I'm on. Some names have been changed to protect the innocent (or not-so-innocent, as the case might be).

A: In case anyone here continues to insist that our national service is purely to keep Singaporeans in line, here is a counter-example of how a 100% propaganda exercise national service really looks like. Malaysia's so-called national service isn't. The whole harebrained scheme ( which must have been cooked up by Dr Mahathir) was to instill in Malaysians a sense of loyalty and love for the country.

What's the difference between their national service and ours, apart from the length? Yes, there is inevitably the "love of country" theme being trotted out every now and then....but a country doesn't need to spend 4 billion dollars a year just to do that. For Singapore guys, whatever their feelings about the gahmen or the system, as long as you happen to hold a pink I/C you have to do it one way or another, which is in contrast to the shameful random selectivity of Malaysia's national service. Najib then tries to chide Malaysians for complaining about NS, whereas "Singaporeans don't complain." Ahem.

No I don't like my job, and most other NSFs aren't particularly wild about theirs either. But if we aren't its greatest enthusiasts, i observe that people at least do the bare minimum to make sure the stuff works- and in fact, many people go beyond that, and i think most people around here would agree. But why, apart from the carrot of perhaps a meagre number of days off and the stick of extra duties and punishments?

In contrast to what is indeed, essentially a momentous waste of time across the causeway, it's a little different in Singapore because what each person does boils down to a matter of life and death. Take what the technicians do, for instance. If a gun can't fire when you need to use it, some rifleman will die. Ditto for the grenade launcher which explodes in your hand instead of away from you. Or the tracks breaking away from your vehicle many miles away from safety leaving you quite stuck. (The last situation is something I don't want to happen at all ). And so on and so forth. It's all quite serious. Who's going to repair the multi million dollar gadgetry were there no technicians? Or take away injured people without any medics? Or "fight the front" without any riflemen? And so on.

So there is a purpose to what NSFs do, really. Ultimately, we are the first line of defense should anything bad happen, so erm, maybe it is a good idea to be at least halfway competent! Does this in any way imply that we are ready to follow a hypothetical mad dictator's orders blindly to attack another country? I don't think so. We are here for the country's defence, not for some foreign policy whim. And for that reason, there should have been tougher scrutiny over the decision to send our soldiers to Iraq. A sound decision based on national security interests or another attempt to suck up to our great benefactor, the USA?

To anyone who insists that National Service in Singapore is not so much for defence purposes than propaganda, please give a good case for the following points. If you can show that Singapore is unlikely to ever face external security threats, or would probably be much better of as either a state of Malaysia, province of Indonesia or colony of the USA, I'd be quite happy to drop my support for National Service.

Don't be softies, Najib tells first NS conscripts

85,000 Malaysians have been chosen for the first national service draft, and minister tells them not to complain

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia has drafted 85,000 teenagers for a new mandatory national service scheme and has told reluctant recruits not to be 'softies'.

Young people will find out from today whether they have been chosen at random by a computer search that used quotas based on gender, ethnicity and location.


The draftees will have to take part in three months of basic military training as well as community service, and will take lessons in leadership and responsibility starting next February, Defence Minister Najib Razak said yesterday.

'There is no escape. The scheme will not only benefit the nation, but it will benefit participants personally,' he told a press conference.

Officials said the plan will help to stem religious extremism and instil patriotism in mostly Muslim Malaysia's young people.

But critics fear it will be used to indoctrinate participants with pro- government rhetoric and steer them away from the fundamentalist Parti Islam SeMalaysia.

Recruits - who were drawn from a pool of 480,000 people born in 1986 - will be placed in 42 camps nationwide, Datuk Seri Najib said.

He said teenagers would be able to call a hotline as of today to discover whether they had been selected.

Responding to doubts by some parents and teenagers over whether the scheme was necessary, he said officials had planned a 'productive' programme that would not be a waste of time.

It would be shorter and less physically demanding compared with national service training in many other countries. Datuk Seri Najib cited the example of neighbouring Singapore, where every able-bodied male must do at least two years of full-time military duty. Afterwards, they undergo annual training for 13 years.

'Singaporeans don't complain,' he said.

'Don't tell me Malaysians are such softies to be complaining.'

Most of those chosen have just graduated from high school and those who plan to further their studies will have the next several months free.

But many resent the national service scheme because it will prevent them from taking up temporary jobs or travelling on vacations.

The scheme is timed so as not to conflict with the tertiary academic year in Malaysia, which starts around June.

Recruits enrolled in foreign universities where studies begin earlier may be able to appeal.

One teenager, Tee Ann Jie, said the scheme should be voluntary. 'National service is not going to accomplish anything but cause frustration and intense displeasure,' he wrote in a letter published at the weekend by The Star newspaper.

'Forcing us to do something is not the way to endear our country to us.' -- AP

Me: Nobody suggests that Slavery here is *purely* to keep Singaporeans in line, but can anyone deny that that is a large part of it?

I don't see why A finds the randomness of Ma-laysia's selection system "shameful". We surely do not require so many Slave Soldiers to keep the PAP in power here, so why make more people suffer than they have to? Such is a gross waste. Of course, some argue that if only some were selected, they'd feel resentful towards those remaining free, but if this is sufficient logic to deprive everyone of their freedoms, then we might as well move to a communist state, since otherwise the proletariat would resent the bourgeois. Sure, you might say that the bourgeois got to their place by means of luck and skill, but the same is true for those who, by luck and skill, get downgraded or otherwise escape the clutches of the Powers That Be in Singapore.

NSFs doing the bare minimum? Agreed, for most anyway, but I think the fear of getting charged and going to DB is great, and doing your bare minimum is not so hard anyway.

> To anyone who insists that National Service in Singapore is not so
> much for defence purposes than propaganda, please give a good case
> for the following points. If you can show that Singapore is unlikely
> to ever face external security threats, or would probably be much
> better of as either a state of Malaysia, province of Indonesia or
> colony of the USA, I'd be quite happy to drop my support for National
> Service.
You fall into the trap, then, of claiming, as the Powers That Be do, that *any* alternative to our current system would result in catastrophe. Thus cowed, the masses timidly accept the current system without contemplating anything more than cosmetic changes.

And about Ma-laysia's "NS": At least they are not emphasising the military aspect so much. Does anyone really think the SAF could fight a war effectively? What with incompetent NSFs filled with hatred against the system, Regulars whose job scope involves making NSFs suffer and who only want money and Reservists who cannot remember anything?

To quote Tee Ann Jie, 'Forcing us to do something is not the way to endear our country to us.'

Some myriad related thoughts:

I remember reading an article about how the American Right Wing has managed to mould public thought in America by its clever manipulation of language to its advantage. This puts me in mind of the SAF. Take the word "National Service" for example. It implies that it is a way of serving one's country, and has the connotation of duty. I refuse to accept the paradigm that the apparatchiks are trying to implant in me subliminally, which is why I call it "National Slavery". For, if not similar then related reasons, Chinx calls it "Neverending Slavery".

Take, then, what the SAF, with its collective wapred mind, considers "privileges". E-mart "breaks" are a "privilege". Canteen breaks are a "privilege". Booking out is a "privilege". By defining basic rights as "privileges" and using the term copiously, they get most slaves to accept implicitly that they are fortunate to be given these "privileges". I reckon that if they had their way, they would proclaim that it was a "privilege" that us slaves do not spend 2 1/2 years imprisoned at the bottom of a pit, wallowing in our filth and excrement, with naught but unleavened bread and brackish water to survive on, and "Property of the SAF" tattooed all over our bodies.

All this just goes to show once again that for all their glowing talk of "duty", "honour" and "sacrifice", and the gold medals Lee Kuan Yew gave the first batch of Slaves, it is all a sham to deceive pre-enlistees and the fortunate members of the public who have not had the chance to "serve" their country. Once you're in, the facade is dropped and you are treated like the inhuman scum that you are, not deserving of humane treatment, to be stripped of human dignity in the name of "discipline" and "regimentation", all because you have little or no rank (a concept that, in the end, is empty and worthless for a surefire way to get it is either through good A level results or signing on)

Meanwhile, in an insidious if ingenious ploy, the best and brightest, the natural leaders of any rebellion from among the ranks, are co-opted into the system as Officers and given a few more "privileges" than the rest to placate them. Some others are elevated to the posts of Specialists - junior commanders and given similar "privileges", albeit to a lesser degree. They are then turned on each other - BMT Sergeants against their Recruits, jailers in DB against the inmates and indeed, Local Third Sergeants against their Men. The fellow slaves who should stand united instead fall to the strategy of Divide and Conquer, and the slavemasters are satisfied.

More and more, I tend to agree with parts of He Who Must Not Be Named's theory - "i admit NS has become more about social engineering and mind control than it has about actual military defense." Why else do they enslave everyone when not everyone is needed? Why can't conscientious objectors choose to do non-military "service", as is the norm in other countries with conscription? And why else is the philosophy behind NS "make them suffer" rather than "make them defend Singapore"?

Caleb: Bravo Gabriel for your informed, cogent, and sane reply. I whole-heartedly agree with most of what you have to say, with the possible exception of your comments on the co-opting of 'brightest and best' to become officers and the granting of extra privileges as a divide and conquer tactic. That, I think, goes too far and begins to sound suspiciously like some pseudo-Marxist/anarchist bullshit.

The government doesn't need tactics to force through Natiional Slavery, it already has a monopoly of arms and an impressive repressive machinery. If you go AWOL etc etc, you go to DB. If you don't want, on principle, to assist in the imprisonment of someone who was merely exercising his right to freedom of labour and movement, you too will be banished to that place of outer darkness.

From what my friends in OCS tell me, most of them do it for the extra money; most of them don't enjoy it (well the intelligent ones anyway). And in any case they don't get such a good deal. Certainly not in OCS -- a friend of mine described OCS as a 'you get paid to get tortured' scheme. Once they are commissioned they do enjoy greater freedom, but this is largely because sycophantic and stupid (aren't these two qualities always linked?) WOs kowtow before their rank. Furthermore, in my unit at least they have to do more work than non-officers. The situation is even worse for sergeants. Many would love to get a better (i.e. less regimental/less neanderthal) posting.

And so, some try to get downgraded. I agree with Gabriel that those who force through a downgrade to ensure a more humane/human existence are merely exercising their will and their skill. As they say, when there is a will, there is a way.

As for DB gaolers, BMT sergreants and the like, actually they themselves endure quite unpleasant working conditions. However, as I am sure many of you have personally experienced, many of them also tend to act like mini Gestapo/SS officers. One's attitude towards such ppl should not be one of pity, or anger, or even hatred. One should merely accord them the contempt they so richly deserve. You see, such ppl display a classic case of what sociologists call 'empowerment through institutions'. In no other situation would they enjoy such power. Granted, this power is in fact extremely petty ('sing louder!' 'March properly!' 'Never greet!' et al ad nauseum). But that is not their concern. They merely take this as a chance to make themselves feel important. They are 'instructors' -- a kind of priesthood which imparts the well-guarded knowledge of how to kill other ppl in vicious and violent ways to the benighted recruits. They are 'responsible' for their recruits' 'welfare'. This illusion that their pathetic lives are actually of value and importance gives them an incredible kick. And hence, sadly, they delight in their Auschwitz-like manipulations.

The other breed, slighty sadder and slightly more worthy of pity, are those who think that by slaving away for their nation, they are doing their masculine duty and not shirking their responsibilities like pansies. For them, National Slavery is a phallic romp. This is not helped by the propaganda images of tanned, toned and gun-wielding combatants which now adorn buses, billboards, and other public places. In a way, I suppose it's a way for jocks to extend their jockhood past school.

As for A's I've-imbibed-so-much-propaganda-that-even-though-I-have-benefitted-from-an-RJ-ed\ ucation-I-still-buy-that-shit comments, allow me to add a few more derisive points:

1. Gabriel is absolutely right. While it is true that most countries require some sort of national defence to survive AND to exercise a reasonable amount of clout in int'l dealings (the second point is de-emphasised by the govt since it implies that NSFs are pawns to foreign policy considerations which in fact we are), this does not mean that conscripting every bloody person born with male genitalia for 2/2.5 years is the best way to go about meeting this requirement.

It is true that far too many ppl are conscripted (including, for those of you who don't know, post-op transexuals). It is also ridiculous and morally repugnant that no non-military alternative exists. That JWs are imprisoned for their objection to NS is testament to the fact that religious freedom in Singapore is a farce. Furthermore, conscientious objection is a perfectly sound moral stance which the state has a duty to accommodate. In fact, as I shall explain later, conscientious objection in Singapore's case is perhaps the ONLY morally acceptable stance. The argument that if such an alternative existed, everyone would opt for it is rubbish. This has not been the case in Sweden etc simply because many men think it is exciting/macho/whatever to be a soldier for a year.

Which brings me to my other point. 2/2.5 years is surely too long. This is not the 1960s where the world moved slowly and 2 or even 3 years was not such a long time. This is 2003 where 2.5 years can almost get you a degree. And believe me, Singapore and its increasingly lamentable economy SORELY need a better educated and better trained workforce. Plus, from what I observe, the SAF is not exactly the place to cultivate a good work ethic...

So you see, National Slavery is badly in need of reform. But it remains the most sacred of cows in Singapore because stupid ppl do not realise Gabriel's point: that there is no strict dichotomy between NS as it exists now and catastrophe. A good place to start reform would be to shorten the length of slavery. Conscription in all other civilised countries exists either to ensure the military remains a 'ppl's army' i.e. to inject a civilian and civilising element into the armed forces, or to ensure that when total mobilisation is needed, the size of the competent force will be large enough. Hence, the point of military service is to teach the conscripts how to carry out their specific wartime roles. NOT to provide cheap labour to beef up the manpower base of the military. The length of service with this goal in mind should thus not exceed 18 months at most.

Furthermore, disruption to continue with further studies should be granted to all, not just a select group of PSC scholars. The benefit to students (not to mention the economy) will be immense (for reasons which are too complex to elab here but should be obvious really).

2. Singapore is under no military threat. You see, the govt's problem is that it thinks we are Israel. You know the story: surrounded by hostile Muslim countries blah blah blah. Well that doesn't cut it for me. Let me explain:

a. Singapore will never be engaged in a trade/economic war. The key reason for the (now defunct) economic attractiveness of S'pore and SEA as a whole is its relatively well-educated workforce, low labour costs, good infrastructure and political stability. This would vanish with the advent of a war. Infrastructure tends to get bombed, stability will vaporise. Plus, war is VERY expensive.

So, for all the propaganda (which I am sad to say many imbeciles in the SAF have deluded themselves into believing), no, Malaysia doesn't want to 'steal' our airport. It's just not worth it, baby.

b. Singapore will not be attacked for strategic reasons, unless the war is not localised and has spread to the whole region. This is for the same reasons as those cited above. No govt wakes up in the morning and decides to take over some other country to improve its strategic position. The effect would certainly be counter-productive. Besides, no superpower at the moment considers S'pore of particular strategic importance. The only country to qualify among our immediate neighbours is Indonesia, and we aren't a gateway or anything to it. The only time S'pore might be involved in a strategically motivated attack is if a regional/world war has erupted, since in that case, economic considerations would take a back seat. However, in such a case, Singapore is unlikely to survive anyway (see next point).

c. Should Singapore be caught up in a regional/world war or an ideologically motivated war, it would surely lose. The cases I have examined above (trade war, strategic war, etc) are cases of limited war. Now in a total war, as Clausewitz has pointed out, sheer numbers are the most important factor. Given S'pore's small population and strategic handicaps, it is extremely likely to lose. The only way a loss might be averted is if it possessed an absolute technological superiority. But that would mean investing a very large percentage of GDP. Which is not exactly the best thing for its economy.

For me, Singapore's existence has always been predicated on its economic survival. It exists to make money and only for that reason. Thus its greatest threat is not military but economic.

Plus, according to just war theory, embarking a war which one is extremely unlikely to win is immoral, considering that war usually results in massive loss of life. So.

4. So, as we have seen, any armed forces which Singapore should posses should only have a deterrent function. This deterrent function should serve to discourage invasion by making the cost of attack high (i.e. destruction of enemy property by aerial raids etc). This deterrent function would obviously not be well played by ground troups like infantrymen, etc. Such ground troops should be kept to a minimum.

Singapore should rely on a largely regular corps to fulfil its manpower needs, which should be kept to a minimum. It should invest in a credible airforce, with suitably frightening bombing capability. This should be enough to deter a casual attack.

Certainly, it should NOT conscript every little boy and turn him into an unthinking pawn.

So, A, pls save your nationalistic hoorahs for the NDP. They will appreciate it there.

C: no need to be so scathing, caleb; it's enough to show A the failure of his logic - ad hominem isn't required. i assume, of course, that you're right and he's not, because your response is extremely long. if my logic appears suspect then do excuse me, i can't really be bothered to properly evaluate the debate so far.

anyway, you're as rabid an antiestablishmentarian as A is a nationalist ('papist' wouldn't be correct) propaganda-puppy, so slamming A that way is rather unfair.

the justification for maintaining a system of conscription seems to me to be rooted in the 1960s in the time when the possibility of invasion was very real. by now we've become so entrenched in the artificial culture of conscription that we can't shake off the feeling that we need a civilian army to protect us from the barbarians at the gates. we're paying through the nose for teeth and claws to scare off our neighbours just as Israel does. no one high up in government is bold enough to speak up and say that the entire juggernaut of NS isn't in concord with the defence requirements of this nation - that it should be revamped, reshaped and streamlined radically. i sure wouldn't have the balls.

of course, i don't know about the true political/strategic situation we're facing at the moment, or will be in the coming decades. if there IS a significant risk of war hidden somewhere beneath the veneer of diplomatic relations, if some hidden, volatile tension simmers, then there'll be grounds for a big ol' civilian army. and we're a pretty kiasee bunch.

D: i'm not taking any sides. i just want to make a few points about the ideas and arguments that have been exchanged so far.

first. A argued that because the SAF is primarily formed to play a defensive role, there should have been more debate before sending soldiers to iraq. i would completely agree with him if the soldiers who went were made to go en masse as part of their unit duties. that, fortunately, is not the case. as far as i am aware, when soldiers are needed for dangerous overseas missions (like in iraq and before iraq there was east timor), the units from which the relevant soldiers will come from will appeal for volunteers from their ranks. selection is strictly voluntary and no one who does not want to go will, in any way, be pressured to go. this explains why people who go are all regulars. they stand to benefit from promotions and lump sum bonanzas upon return. because these people, knowing the risks they would be facing, made personal decisions to take up the challenge, i am completely supportive of the sending of soldiers to iraq. after all, the move benefits singapore's international standing (which could in turn rake in many economic payoffs). if people were forced to go or "volunteered" en masse, however, it would be a different story but that is not the case.

second. gabriel and caleb both seem to be for the idea of having a non-military option for people who, perhaps due to ideological reasons, refuse to serve in the military. in theory, i am very much in support of this idea. but it seems to me a practical impossibility. if such an option existed (say people were given the choice to teach, do community work or serve in the civil defence forces), i'm pretty sure more than half the people would suddenly claim to be pacifists because of the significantly less hardship they would go through in non-military service. i'm not saying that pacifism is bullshit. it isn't. there are people who are strongly pacifist-leaning in this world (caleb would probably be one of them), and they should be entitled to their views. but it is impossible for us to distinguish between the real ones and the ones who just want to have an easier time. if 10% of the population opts to do military service (the crazy 10%, that is), will we still have a credible military to speak about? if there is some way of finding out for sure who the real pacifists are, i am in favour of excusing them from military service. but there isn't.

third. about gabriel and caleb's point that we don't need so many people in the military and that the remaining people should not be made to waste their time. i cannot agree more that the SAF is overstaffed. many people are doing nothing. many jobs can be made more efficient and many posts and be compressed into fewer. but the solution is, i feel, definitely not found in balloting. democracy is not just about maximising the society's welfare (presumably, if you do a ballot and spare some people from ns, you're freeing up productive labour and maximising society's welfare). it's also about equality of opportunity. now, this is not a communist/marxist idea. the communists want equality but democrats dream of equality of opportunity. the equality of opportunity epitomised in the words "all men are created equal" and the famous sentence, "I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood." That's what democracy is about. that people will be given the same opportunities and a level playing field. it's not happening everywhere of course. but that's where we should be headed. and balloting is one big step backwards. i am more agreeable to the suggestion that we cut the length of ns equally for everyone.

finally. about caleb's point that we will lose a war anyway if a regional/world war breaks out. he's probably quite right. in a regional war, we will probably be overpowered eventually by numbers. the question, however, might well be how quickly we fall. if we fall in a week like we did against the japanese then the consequences will be catastrophic for the nation. but if we build up an armed forces strong enough to hold up long enough, our allies, or other world developments, might just be able to come to our rescue in time. britain barely hung on in the second world war and might have fallen eventually had the US not decided to step in. what we want potential aggressors to know (and fear) is that we have an armed forces strong enough to give a heck of a fight and to hold on until somebody somewhere decides to do something that saves us (perhaps our sending troops to iraq might be reciprocated then by uncle sam. we are, after all, the most important economy in south-east asia).

for those who know me by now, you probably know that i'm not a patriotic, pro-establishment yes-man. i have plenty of grievances and ns is certainly one of them (i'm for cutting the length, remember). but some points you guys made, i feel, need a little more perspective.

E: Hi there,

I'm not a 'propaganda puppy,' but I would like to contribute some views about why I believe NS is still necessary. A common perception is that the Singapore military exists to repel invaders in case of a war, and this is a pretty valid interpretation, since militaries are obviously used to fight in wars. And this argument extends that since the prospect of war is increasingly unlikely in an inter-connected world, the necessity for NS consequently decreases, and there's no need to maintain a strong army anymore.

However, I believe that a strong Singaporean army is still necessary even at such a time, for two reasons. First, while it may not seem immediately evident at first glance, I would suggest that a capable military provides the necessary preconditions for strong investor confidence in Singapore, particularly when we are nestled in an area surrounded by Muslim states, and particularly when we have frequent diplomatic squabbles with our neighbours. MNCs would be deterred from investing in a country that they perceive as being 'unstable,' or 'insecure,' especially if they are going to sink in millions or even billions of dollars into building factories/other infrastructure here. They'd rather go to Hong Kong or some other place that is free from such uncertainty. So in a sense, the lynchpin for our phenomenal economic success is our stability, and the lynchpin for that stability is the existence of a strong defence. Of course, this argument can be mocked by people when they say "oh are you therefore implying that if we don't have a strong army then all the investors will immediately pull out?" And to that I'd reply that it's always dangerous to pigeon-hole arguments into extremes. Rather, it's a kind of a spectrum, where the weaker our army is, the lesser confidence investors will have in our economy, the lesser jobs will be created, and so on.

And like what C said, if we were to make NS optional, while there would certainly be some people who would want to be 'macho' and continue in the army, the majority of people would just take the 'path of least resistance' and opt out of it, and since a perfectly legitimate alternative exists, and one's social status would not be diminished by choosing the non-military option, thereby increasing its appeal.

The second reason why I think a strong military is important is because it gives us a vastly increased diplomatic leverage. This is particularly important when a small country (ie Singapore) is involved in perennial negotiations and disputes with a big country (ie Malaysia). A strong military by the smaller country would tell the bigger country that you had better not bullshit around with us, you had better not boss us around, because we have the military might to back us up. Why do you think Malaysia balks at the idea of cutting off our water supply? It's not because they don't want to lose the three sens per gallon that they charge us for the water if they cut off our supply. It's because our civilian leaders (esp LKY) and military leaders have publicly declared in the past that if such a scenario occurs, Singapore will not hesitate to launch a pre-emptive attack on the southern part of peninsula Malaysia to secure our water supplies again, and I believe that Malaysia is taking our threat seriously.

So while the possibility of a full-fledged, regional war might not be as pervasive as it was three or four decades ago, I think a strong military exists for two other important reasons, namely as a lynchpin for economic growth in a volatile region and for increased diplomatic leverage. While the causal links are not immediately evident, and the successes in these spheres can easily be attributed to other mitigating reasons, I think the necessity of a strong military is inescapable. Of course, ideas such shortening the conscript duration can be examined, but to suggest that the necessity for a strong army is anachronistic nowadays would not be entirely accurate.

Caleb: Hello again

Yes i must admit the ad hominem vitriol was somewhat excessive, but i find 'if we had no conscription we would be putty in the hands of (name country of your choice)' arguments truly annoying. I am not suggesting that we do not need any defence capability, what I saying is that we are not best served by the current system of maintaining a large conscript army (with large infantry and armour regiments). To serve as a deterrent, our military only needs the capacity to inflict significant harm on the potential aggressor such that, when they do the cost-benefit analysis, it's not worth the money, loss of int'l credibility, etc etc that aggression would entail. You must remember that in today's world, a reputation for military adventurism would be absolutely disastrous to a country's FDI prospects. Even Singapore has been trying to spruce up its int'l image, what with the open arms for gay civil servants and all. And it was doing quite well (that is until Headmaster Lee ratted on about how he 'made a few phonecalls' to get preferential treatment in an NHS hospital and threatened to 'break heads' if the union boys at SIA got naughty). Sigh.

As for the M'sia and the water supply issue, let me offer a few thoughts:

1. The endless scuffles between S'pore and M'sia should merely be seen as the result of puerile attempts by the M'sian govt to shore up domestic support for UMNO. This is a favourite tactic of Mahathir, as Paul Krugman likes to point out in his NY Times Op-Ed. It is inconceivable that M'sia would actually cut the water supply *until the agreements run out*. This is because Msia and S'pore are too closely linked economically to for this to bring any benefit to M'sia. But, then again, even if it did cut the water supply after the agreements run out, there isn't much S'pore can do about it. Launching a 'pre-emptive strike' on M'sia would certainly not be a good idea, since it would then be illegal under int'l law.

2. S'pore fails to see that security is regional. Consider the EU. It is not inconceivable that France and Germany should ever go to war. Yet 60 years ago they devastated each other. Why this sea-change? Because their far-sighted leaders took pains to achieve 'ever closer union'. In contrast, ASEAN is a farce where leaders congratulate each other constantly and basically get nothing done. If S'pore had been more persistent from the start in integrating the region closer together, our security and economic situation would have been far better today than it is presently.

Well, just a few thoughts ya

Caleb: Oops I meant 'it is inconceivable that France and Germany...' not 'it is not inconceivable...' Sorry guys.

To address C's point about non-military alternatives, one would have to ask why the exodus he predicts from military NS has not occured in Sweden and other countries which have conscription. Furthermore, I would like to point out that non-military alternatives need not be cushy. My French teacher, who was one of the last batches of French citizens to serve NS before it was phased out in the early 1990s, opted for a civilian alternative and was duly sent to teach French at a Ugandan university. He once contracted malaria there and almost died. So, civilian service can actually be equally if not more risky/unpleasant.

Btw, since D mentioned the need for reform, why don't we discuss reforming the SAF? I mean for an organisation which has such a pervasive influence, it has very very little accountability. The Hu Enhuai thing was probably only saw the light of day in the media because the advent of the internet meant that such a atrocious lapse was already known by quite a large number of ppl. I believe there was a similar case in the ninties where a guy was killed (combat engineers) due to the negligence and stupidity of his superior officers. But, this case was not at all publicised. Why is this so? The govt likes to cite 'national security' as a blanket excuse, but I think that as citizens of an (ostensibly) democratic country, we have to right to know. Plus, there is almost no way for ordinary citizens or even MPs to have a say in how the SAF is run. In other countries which practice conscription, the military is expected to be fully accountable to the public. (This is with the exception of places like China and Russia, but well, let's not go there).
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