Becoming a soldier is a grueling process. Learning to survive in the wilderness, shooting a gun, rappelling down walls, parachuting off planes, and becoming a cohesive unit with strangers are activities outside the average person’s comfort zone.
The military is regarded around the world as a place for the patriotic to fight for their country and protect what they hold dear. In most countries, military service is voluntary.
But this is not the case for countries like South Korea, Taiwan, and our very own Singapore.
What sets Singapore apart even more, however, is that permanent residents (PRs) are also required to complete the two year national service. PRs are not citizens, nor do they hold Singaporean passports. Should those that have no political affiliation with Singapore be required to complete a two year military service?
A recent poll from the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) shows that 68 percent of Singaporeans polled believe that national service (NS) is a rite of passage for Singaporean boys and that going through national service is an important characteristic in being Singaporean. Dr. Leong Chan Hoong of NUS goes as far as to say that NS “goes beyond meeting our defense imperative, it is an institution for nation building and embodies many [Singaporean] values.”
There are expats that are PRs who have no problem with the idea of serving the Singapore military. Senior Christopher Thompson said, “I’ve heard some people say it’s fun forming bonds with the locals, and others say that it’s a complete waste of time and super boring. I don’t really mind going though, I think camaraderie between two soldiers is something worth experiencing.”
While 43 percent of polled expats thought that NS was a worthwhile experience, the majority are opposed to this mandatory service. Tsubasa Watanabe, a senior who holds a Japanese passport, said, “I could be going to college and getting work experience earlier, it feels like I’m just going to be wasting two years.”
It is not just expats who are against national service. A Singaporean blogger by the name of Alvin Lim explicitly states that his time in national service was “representative of modern slavery.”
Lim recalls being fined multiple times for not following conduct, and compares it to “whipping slaves to do their bidding.” Now in his thirties, Lim still must report to the Ministry of Defense for health checkups, fitness training, and reporting his overseas travels. “I spend 18-20 weekends a year doing Remedial Training. I would much rather spend those weekends with my son,” Lim wrote on his blog.
Opinions on the NS experience are clearly divided. One may form unbreakable bonds with his comrades, but someone else may be fined and punished for unacceptable conduct. In the end, the NS journey is what one makes of it.