So… I just finished with Ah Boys To Men 2 and I was pleasantly shocked at how good it was. Aside from being blatant propaganda for Singapore’s National Service (NS), it made me think seriously about our men and their compulsory two years of service for our nation.
My dad recounts his days of NS (he was the second batch) as being extremely tough, but it was a time when he had no other option but to pull through. I remember he recounted an occasion when he and his sergeant had to eat the fruit offerings at a cemetery gravestone because they had no food while they were out at field. He didn’t feel guilty, either, or worry that anything supernatural would come after him (his response when I suggested this was: “Aiyah nonsense la!”). Another story involved him waking up (sans tent) with a wild boar sniffing around at his feet. His stories always began with: “The youngsters today are not tough la, Alisa! They don’t know what war really is. War sure all die.”
And he’s probably right. These days, I’ve heard from friends that NS men in the jungle can order food (like MacDonalds) and have it delivered to them. These days, parents have all the power — and they use it to complain about how badly the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is treating their sons. My dad will say that parents these days are as weak as their sons, and that the younger generations in Singapore do not know hardship anymore. (You know, there may be a co-relation between the increased number of deaths in the military and the increased cushy-ness of our lifestyle. I mean, seriously, a housekeeper carrying an NS man’s field pack?)
He speaks from experience. My dad was born after the war, but his parents and siblings were around to see it. The Eurasians were transported to a separate camp, where they had to live. My grandmother was pregnant with one of my aunts when she was in there, and from what I understand, life wasn’t easy. My grandfather told me of the Japanese occupation, of the cruelty of the Japanese soldiers, of the harsh living conditions and the admirable lengths human beings will go though just to survive.
Because of their stories, I realise despite our safe little bubble, war is very real. And because of their stories, I admire the men (and women) who willingly and eagerly serve our country. I know many boys complain about enlisting and while I understand the hesitation, I have hope that they come to realise the importance of what they are called to do. One question in particular jumped out at me during the movie, and it is this: If you don’t serve, who will?
I believe NS changes a person. They come out mentally tougher and stronger after Basic Military Training (BMT). Being pushed to your body’s physical and mental capabilities and still come out alive is bound to have a positive effect on people. I also believe that they come out better men (and women), having learned values that can only be taught under stress and duress. Well, most anyway.
You may have guessed by now that I have a very strong allegiance to Singapore. It’s not about having a strong allegiance to any political party — it is about our country. And I love my country. Many people are quick to tie everything to politics, and jump at chance to pass judgement at the policies we have in place by the ruling party but they miss the point. There is a certain camaraderie that develops amongst the boys who serve NS, and it’s the same camaraderie that binds us all as Singaporeans. I love the safety of being in this land, the structure, the ease in which we live and function… All of the things that many of us take for granted. And it’s this sense of security that we protect by sending our boys to NS, by asking them to do a service to our nation.
My husband serves Singapore full time, as part of the SAF and he does it, I believe, because he has pride in this country. He is hopeful of our future, and goes to work each day knowing he plays a part in safeguarding the present. It’s the same reason why I do to work each day. I am a civil servant, and I joined to make a difference, and to serve my fellow Singaporeans. Not everyone in the civil service has the same mindset, but I believe there are enough like-minded people who are intent on playing a small role to ensure the success of our country. I know many Singaporeans won’t understand this, and I don’t blame anyone for not being able to. It’s much, much easier to sit down complain, but I’d just like to say that it’s a lot harder to get up and start helping, with the hope of a better tomorrow.
So the next time you hear someone complaining about Singapore, or its policies (like NS), challenge them to do something about it. Challenge them to make a difference from the inside out, or else, stop complaining. Because incessant complaining is never of benefit, to anyone, or in any situation.