Wednesday, November 3, 2010
C2D: Bridging the gulf in opinions
This PR exercise didn’t come cheap. It cost tax payers more than $100,000 and resulted in cutesy and heart-warming responses from kids, students and older Singaporeans who penned their responses on thought bubbles.
The exchange between a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Operationally Ready National Serviceman (NSman) and a political heavyweight - a former Prime Minister and Defence Minister no less – underscores the gulf in opinions towards commitment to defence.
The Straits Times newspaper reported the exchange that took place during a talkshop held at the Nanyang Technological University last Friday.
NSman Lim Zi Rui, 23, told Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong he did not know what he was defending.
“When I was younger, I was very proud of being Singaporean,’’ said Zi Rui, who claimed he is an NS officer.
“But that was about five, 10 years ago. Five years later, with all the changes in policies and influx of foreign talent, I really don’t know what I’m defending any more.”
Zi Rui said he was venting the feelings of his men, who had to compete for jobs with foreign talent.
“I feel that there is a dilution of the Singapore spirit in youth… We don’t really feel comfortable in our country any more.”
To this, SM Goh replied: “This is one early sign of danger… If this is happening, it is very serious.”
I bet defence watchers from around the region are also taking note of Singaporeans’ commitment to defence – known in Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) jargon as C2D.
Our problem is a potential adversary’s strategic advantage.
Our society’s challenge in C2D is their opportunity.
This fissure is something they will attempt to crack.
If one assumes that a hot war scenario will be preceded by a period of tension (POT) of, say for example, six months, then MINDEF/SAF can well expect potential belligerents to use every trick in the book to unsettle NSmen. The weakness of Singapore's citizen's armed forces was addressed in an early post here.
One bright note from the exchange was hearing the NSman pledge his personal commitment to defending Singapore, come what may.
“This is your country,” said SM Goh. “What do you want me to do to make you feel you belong?”
To this, the young officer replied: “For my part, don’t worry about me. I will definitely do something. But I can tell you honestly that the sentiment on the ground is a bit different.”
Looking at how NSmen responded to the National Service Recognition Award (NSRA), announced during this year’s National Day Rally, it is heartening to see NSmen of all social classes and backgrounds sound a similar note.
True, there are disgruntled voices unhappy with the payout ratio and eligibility criteria. But amid all the sound and fury, the average NSman would still stand by his flag.
MINDEF/SAF must never take such goodwill for granted.
Officialdom has, time and again, drummed home the Total Defence message that complacency is an enemy Singaporeans must guard against.
This message cuts both ways.
NSmen are like the faithful friend who stands by with an umbrella on a rainy day, is there to provide emotional support when needed and unasked, is a walking ATM to a friend in need – only to be rebuffed and ignored when convenient. Still he stands by, because that is the right and proper thing to do.
The NSRA episode – which will likely be played out during the General Election hustings – speaks volumes of how much officialdom values the contributions of NSmen from yesteryear.
Comments voiced by Zi Rui are only the tip of the iceberg, if sentiments voiced by people I know are anything to go by.
We can dance around such questions and provide fluffy non answers, or take heed and do something proactive.
Politicians have a limited shelf-life. The same applies to goodwill from NSmen.
Posted by David Boey at 1:16 PM