The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Why National Service is a National Disservice

Is a pianist worth more than just another unit of cannon fodder?

The question above is blunt and, perhaps, puzzling, but I shall explain - especially to my international readers. Singapore is a country with National Service. This is a period of two years in which all male Singaporeans must serve their country in the military or the police (usually the Army). During this period, they train as soldiers (or police), have little time to themselves and are "paid" so little it wouldn't keep them in soft drinks (or alcohol, for that matter!). It is a form of national servitude in more ways than one, given the pay and conditions. Yet, the powers-that-be in Singapore insist on it for all male Singaporeans - even if it is detrimental to the nation, in some cases.

What does Singapore do if a young man has a special talent that he must pursue, but is of the age of National Service? Well, an enlightened country would let him pursue his talent, understanding that it is of value to the nation, in another way. Singapore, however is not an enlightened country (and probably never will be). In Singapore, National Service is regarded as more important than anything else, for a young man - indeed it is mandatory, with severe punishments lurking for those who seek to avoid it, somehow. So, in Singapore, if you have a special talent, that is just too bad - because Singapore won't let you pursue it - you will just have to do National Service instead.

An example is the musician Keegan Ng. Now, you have probably never heard of him. There is a reason for this - you see the Singaporean Government didn't let him be a musician: they wanted him to be a soldier instead. This was no ordinary young man petitioning for a chance to follow what he loved: this was one of Singapore's most gifted musicians. At the age of 11, Keegan Ng won The Marion S. Gray Outstanding Musician Award, demonstrating that he was probably Singapore's best musician in his year. In his late teens, he wanted to further his study of the piano at the Eastman School of Music in New York - but the Singapore Government had other ideas: they were desperately short of one unit of cannon fodder and insisted that he do his National Service first.

Now, it seems to me that no-one in the Ministry of Defence (or whomever makes these decisions), has actually given any thought to what it means to be a pianist or to have any special talent. A talent needs to be nurtured, to be looked after. The skill level needs to be maintained with constant practice and/or study. If constant attention is not given to the skill, it fades away: in mere weeks, there is a decline in facility, in months, things that were easy start to become difficult, or impossible, in TWO YEARS the great skill that once was, will be no more: a pianist will have become an ex-pianist. You see, as Keegan Ng found out, there is no time to practice when you are having fun being shouted at, ordered around and generally experiencing life as cannon fodder. Keegan Ng tried to practice as much as he could, but there simply wasn't the opportunity while serving NS. By the end of the two years, Keegan Ng would no longer be at the skill level required to pursue a career as a pianist - where once he would have been able to rise to the challenge of the Eastman School of Music, as a pianist, there is just no way his skill would have been good enough to do so, after two years of fallowness. So, Singapore gained a unit of cannon fodder - and lost a great pianist. More to the point, of course, Keegan Ng, lost the love of his life and the sense of purpose being a musician would have provided him all his life long.

There is a name for what is going on here, in Singapore, with regards to National Service. It is called Stupidity. It is stupid to deprive talented young men of the chance to pursue their talents. Singapore loses much more than it gains by opposing the progress of such gifted young men. Singapore does NOT need another unit of cannon fodder - but it does need pianists and other gifted young men (I say "men" because girls are not called to be units of cannon fodder).

It is time for the special needs of some young men to be recognized. People with something special to offer that NEEDS ATTENTION/PRACTICE/MAINTENANCE, should be exempt from National Service. I don't mean that their National Service should be postponed - I mean that their National Service should be completely cancelled. There is no need to sacrifice the talents of Singapore's young men just so Singapore can have another unnecessary unit of cannon fodder. There is no need to worry that this proposed policy would deprive Singapore of an effective defence force since the numbers involved will be small. People of gift are rare - so it is not going to inconvenience Singapore to lose these few men from the battle field. However it does a great disservice to Singapore, to lose them from the creative, inspiring careers they would otherwise have led, were it not for the rigidities and stupidities of the present National Service system.

National Service should be there to protect Singapore. Presently, however, National Service is doing great harm to Singapore by depriving it of the talents of its most gifted young men. It is no wonder that Singapore is often accused of being a dull society - for National Service ensures that none of the young men with something to offer ever get a chance to shine.

Do Singapore a true national service: cancel "National Service" for any and all Singaporean young men with a special gift that needs constant maintenance. To do otherwise is to do Singapore a National Disservice.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:12 PM 


Anonymous te said...

Having gone through NS myself, i can speak from experience that serving my nation in the army has benefited me, in ways which an outsider cannot understand.

While i do agree with your stand that talent, in Singapore, should not be wasted, it will difficult for other Singaporeans to accept why other talented boys can be exempted while their own is deemed not talented enough.

As it is, the SAFSA scheme already allows talented sportsmen to 'serve' NS while training- In actual fact, they do not serve at all, rather they are more like full time sportsmen. But of course, to outsiders, this is not known.

For those who are inclined towards the arts, there is the SAF Band and the MDC (the drama company of the SAF), which has no military training at all- But rather allows the personnel to practice their music/dancing...etc. They often perform locally and take part in overseas events as well.

But i would have to agree that MINDEF has to adopt a more flexible arrangement so that talent can be properly nurtured, while at the same time protecting everyone else (including foreigners, who can flee) on this 'little red dot' (as a former Indonesian President once commented on Singapore), set in a region that has been often been envious and perhaps even hostile (as shown in the Confrontation) towards Singapore.

NS needs to stay. Believe me. It is not perfect, but nonetheless vital for our safety. But, our talent should not be wasted either. All should serve, whether deferred, or in a non-combat unit. But no one should be so privilege, and above the rest, that they can be exempted.

Oh, and on the issue of pay- It would be great if they could increase our pay.

On a side note: Although i was in a stay-out unit(i.e. able to go home everyday, unlike combat units), i often stayed till 1930+ before leaving (all on my own accord), doing my work proudly. I have even burnt my leave, and off days, and weekends to meet project deadlines and work commitments.

But looking back, i have not one bit of regret.

12:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dear mr. cawley,

i agree with you in principle, but here are some obstacles:

1) compulsory conscription (at least for males) is one of the few bastions of egalitarianism in singapore. from the individual's perspective, national service is more often than not, a trite affair. but true as the latter may be, the symbolism of conscription must be given its due.

2) how do we go about measuring "special talent"? how do we go about exempting some individuals and not others if all are equally physically capable of national service? acceptance into an internationally renowned institution such as in the case of mr. ng?

i would be happy to hear your thoughts.

5:36 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said... may be difficult for other Singaporeans to accept that some could be exempt owing to talent considerations - but without such exemptions Singapore loses the benefits of those talents. This makes Singapore a much less rich and vibrant place. Can not Singaporeans except the exceptions to make Singapore a better place? There wouldn't be many such exemptions, I don't think.

7:51 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

A little bit of wisdom would be all that is necessary to assess "special talent". A simple look at the person's past achievements and proven needs for time to their talent would establish the point. It isn't that difficult to "measure" - that, you are right, is probably one of the excuses that would be given for why it should not be done. I think it should be done...Singapore is loing much that would be of benefit to it.

Keegan Ng will not the be the only case of someone whose gifts have been lost to Singapore because of NS...each case is one too many, I think.

Egalitarianism is not being served by NS - because people's situations are not equal. If Mr Keegan Ng needed those years to keep his piano skills alive, he should not have been required to serve NS. Serving NS meant killing Keegan's gifts and careers - that is NOT equal treatment - for in other cases NS would not kill that person's career. The effect on each individual's situation should be noted so that all have equal lifetime opportunity to fulfil themlselves. That would be true egalitarianism.

Thanks for your comment.

7:56 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Te, regarding the SAF Band - it seems from what we know that Keegan Ng wasn't assigned to the Band (for why else did he not have any time to practice?). This is evidence of more thoughttlessness and stupidity on the part of MINDEF, in his case. Was it really necessary to destroy his career and gifts, to add one more soldier to their roster? It is quite silly from a global perspective.

Kind regards.

8:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Valentine, welcome to Singapore.

If the Singapore Govt finds it difficult to make an exception to one talented young man, it will take the easy way out and lock up all the young men,so that it need not make that decision at all.

Read up on the pianist Melvin, and you will see that we are still quite 'small' in our thoughts. Better for all to 'suffer' equally than to give one or two rich well endowed boys the luxury of playing piano the rest of their lives.

Why should the rich young man be exempt while the masses have no such luck at all?

Personally, I wish that NS be abolished for all.

9:51 AM  
Anonymous te said...

You are right that MINDEF is FAR from perfect. In fact, there are many stupid policies, directives and decisions made. In this case, i agree that MINDEF has to refine and improve upon their manpower decisions, especially those involving personnel who are identified as gifted.

Even so, that is not an excuse for certain people to be excused from NS (other than those who are physically/mentally incapable). I reiterate my view that a deferring (like what some scholars and all doctors-to-be are granted) of NS is possible for these talents.

As an example, our 20 year old gold medalist (SEA games) in triathlon Mok YR, did serve his time in the army, even making it to Officer Cadet School before being granted deferment. His example shows that it is possible to cultivate one's talent and yet serve the military.
I also have former classmates who are now part of the waterpolo national team (which has been SEA champions for over 20years)- They too did their time (some till completion, others were granted deferment), and yet never gave up on their passion.
In my unit, i had two personnel who were also part of SAFSA- one in track (i believe, in the national team), and another in soccer. Both did their duties diligently, and were also granted time off frequently for training.

Perhaps MINDEF has yet to improve upon its policy regarding those talented in the arts and music. That is one area they must work on.

Time has shown that MINDEF is relaxing it's policy on deferment. In the past, one could not hope to get a degree first before serving- and now, i have former schoolmates and friends who have just started their NS, after attaining their degree.

Perhaps, through pressure from the parents and from society, MINDEF will look into the current system and alter it, so that talented individuals in the arts can be identified, and their skills nurtured without compromising their service to the nation.

The military isn't perfect. It's not even close to perfection. Hopefully, the scholars within will improve upon it.

10:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For one with such talents and prodigal decree, I think he didn't do enough to bring his case up to MICA, of which a referral can be made to CMPB, whom can consider his case to be special as "his hands" are much importance for him in the future as a pianist.

This will put him straight to MDC for an audition of which I think he can easily pass. Thus his "National Service" will be doing something he love for 2 years.

There are ways tackle every situation, just have to ask around on ways to do it.

Personally I enjoyed my experience during my 2.5 yrs in National Service, of which I was proud to serve my country...

10:29 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi, I don't think this is about rich young men having a life of freedom...I think it is about talented young men losing their talents due to two years of inactivity. Wealth is not the issue (though it is easier for the son of a wealthy person to have the chance to develop such a talent, admittedly).

A system that is not flexible is a system that will be unjust to some.

Thanks for your comment.

10:41 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Te,

Deferment might be OK for some, as an option - but deferment just doesn't work for people talented in an area that needs constant maintenance to keep the skill set alive. Whenever NS occurs for these people, it will bring their skill to an end. The only option for such people - if Singapore wants to benefit from such gifted individuals - is to give them complete and permanent exemption from ever serving NS.

Thanks for your thoughts.

10:45 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Anonymous of 10.29, we don't know the circumstances regarding his deployment for NS. We don't know what he did or did not try to do. We only know that the situation he found himself in prevented him from being able to practice to maintain his gift.

Clearly, the system is failing to accommodate people of special circumstance.

10:49 AM  
Blogger PanzerGrenadier said...

The National Service system sucks because it takes the inputs of fresh recruits every-year, grinds them into cannon fodder or officers/specialist leading the cannon fodder and spits out "operationally-ready NS men" who are harassed with operational manning (mobilisation), annual IPPT, reporting overseas trips to mindef notification centre, annual ICT (low and high key) etc.

SAFSA is a joke. You can have PES C or even E soldiers running around playing squash and rugby but they cannot be involved in military maneouvres?

Why is Singapore bending over backwards to welcome foreign "talent" when we treat our own so shabbily?

I think in the quest for "egalitarianism" we have missed the bigger picture, i.e. to provide more avenues for people to contribute to the country (in their own ways e.g. music, arts, IT) instead of becoming an infantryman, artillery gunner or armoured infantry.

BTW, egalitarianism for men but then why are women exempted from conscription?!! Why is it members of a certain race / religion in Singapore cannot be found in certain formations?

Egalitarianism as it's being practiced by the SAF is a joke.

Majullah Singapura.

12:12 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, I had noticed the race, and religion discrimination at work in Singapore's Armed Forces (and other areas of life, actually). Singapore has a long way to go before it truly treats all equally well.

Your thinking is my thinking re. other ways to serve. There are more useful ways to contribute to Singapore than pointing a gun at someone. Singapore is such a limited society, it really shouldn't strive so hard to limit its people further.

Thanks for your comment.

12:23 PM  
Anonymous sgcitizen said...

there once was a musician who skipped NS and returned later to Singapore to perform, all he had to do was pay a fine of $5k for escaping NS. that's the value of NS Singapore views it. abolish NS, there's nothing left of singapore to protect with the heavy influx of FTs. what's the portion of singaporeans now, 45%?

12:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe the case of the triathlete is different, since it depends on fitness, which is emphasised in OCS (I hope so), so it is not quite fair to compare.

I think if nsfs were to be fairly compensated (pay, respect, job oppurtunites etc), then people would not mind if a few people here and there are exempted.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes. Pay of NS men should be benchmarked to the pay of soldiers in developed countries of similar GDP per head. That would be the fair thing to do. After all, the principle of benchmarking to comparable people is well-established in Singapore's political why not for NS men too?

1:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After the Melvyn Tan fiasco, Mindef "tightened" the rules and no deferment is allowed unless one is completing Polytechnic or ITE courses. There is no deferment allowed for university studies. Recently a young man was disallowed a few months' deferment to take his university exams to complete his degree. He had to "defer" his exams for 2 years while completing his NS. Too bad if the break in momentum affected his studies / exams. National service = stupidity. Well said !

3:52 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

As an outsider, it seems to me that a country run with such inflexibility is setting itself up for failure in a big way...I mean, failure as a nation state.

The harm done to the young man in not being allowed to take his exams is palpable. I don't know of any other democratic nation that would behave in this way.

Let us hope that Singapore evolves into a more accommodating nation: otherwise, its people will grow ever more disgruntled.

4:57 PM  
Anonymous te said...

Allow me to share my opinions.

Firstly regarding NS being "two years of inactivity". I strongly believe that how you spend your time determines if it has been time well spent or time wasted. True, academically, many of us, including myself, deteriorated. And yet, i have emerged with experiences in leadership, manpower management, planning, and execution of plans- all of which cannot be replicated in a classroom. So is that "inactivity"? As for my men, many of them have actually started doing their revision during their time of service. I myself took the SATs during my Officer Cadet School(OCS) days; studying for it during nights off and any free time i had.

It seems to me that this discussion is more on the arts rather than the sports inclined people. Saying that "SAFSA is a joke" is very true, but that is precisely how the SAF gets around the issue of everyone serving at least a minimum militarily, while developing their sports talent. I had the opportunity to represent SAFSA- but chose to decline in the end, as I had work commitment which i believed would be unfair for others to be burdened with.

About the issue of FT. Although i disagree with the government's treatment of FT compared to citizens, there are some FT who have decided to take up citizenship by serving. In my circle, i have encountered Malaysians, Indians, Indonesia and HK who decide to settle here. Anyway, this FT does not concern the discussion which is on talented ( in the arts ) male citizens being excused from NS.

True, there are other ways for these people to "contribute to the country"- And i would readily support it given a fair method of judging one's talents- But until that is set up and until the masses can accept these exemptions, i can only see deferment and SAFSA/MDC being the few ways to continue cultivating their talent while serving the nation. Perhaps MINDEF only needs to start the ball rolling and the masses will soon grow to accept these exemptions.

On certain races being excluded from certain units- Irrelevant but anyway, my thoughts are that it is time for this to change. This policy has served its purpose in the past but is now outdated.

To those who want NS to be abolished. Consider this: Singapore will be like HK, but without the protection of mainland China. Given our region, it is best for Singapore to be able to defend ourselves, unless of course someone can provide an alternative for this protection. Think of the Confrontation campaign. Like Israel, Singapore is not located in a very friendly environment.

On the triathlete- While fitness is supposedly emphasized in OCS, i can speak from experience that unit personnel actually have more sustained physical training compared to cadets. The reason being our schedule is packed with lessons after lessons and outfield exercises one after another, including two overseas exercise trips of 3-4 weeks each. Cadets are already supposed to be fit- and the physical training is more for maintaining our fitness. Furthermore, as a triathlete myself, military fitness does not equate to sports fitness. It is different. Just as swimming fitness does not equate to running fitness.

On the pay issue: I totally agree that our pay should be bench marked like the government's pay is. However, if one would take the time to research, you would find that in other countries with conscription like Greece, South Korea, and Finland- the wages are comparable; with those in Finland earning about 3.6 to 8.25 Euro pay day- which is in fact lower than in Singapore. Nevertheless, the similarity in pay does not mean we should be contented. I am all for increase in pay. And for the work most NSFs put in- we are worth every cent of it.

On deferment by Anonymous of 3:52PM: There IS deferment for university studies. I have a former schoolmate who has just completed his degree last year in Canada and has just started serving NS. I also have another friend in my unit, who started serving after his degree too. And i only ORDed 13 months ago, so i believe my knowledge is more up-to-date. But, yes, the case brought up about having to defer the exams for 2 years is inflexibility on MINDEF's part. As i mentioned, no organization is perfect. Hopefully when i next meet up with my SAFOS/SMS friends, i can convince them to change the system once they're in charge.

7:02 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

If you, Te, are in a position to urge more flexibility on the system, that would be a good step forward. It may not just be Arts talent, however, who need exemption: there may be individual cases outside of that that also have to maintain skills for fear of gift impairment/loss.

Thanks for your considered thoughts.

7:56 PM  
Anonymous Onlooker said...

And usually The White horses are send to OCS to boost their fragile EGO.
oh before I forgot SAFSA have a lot of sub breed(ie non pure linage) White horse too :)

7:58 PM  
Anonymous te said...

To Onlooker: Yes. I agree that there are many white horses that are sent to OCS. Some do not deserve it; but some do. I hope that people will not assume that they are ALL undeserving. Coming from OCS (jan bmt batch) myself ( i am certainly not a whitehorse or even so called non-pure lineage; just an ordinary "farmer" as the non-scholars/non white horses call ourselves ), i do know these whitehorses. Among cadets, we certainly do not treat them any differently. At higher levels though, i do not know. But i'm very sure that some form of advantage is given to them.

On them having fragile egos- I'm not sure what experience you have that allows you to make that assumption. Kindly share. From my experience, only some of them do get a bit arrogant (actually only 1). The rest are just like everyone else. In fact, i didnt even know of some till i was told of their background.

8:31 PM  
Anonymous te said...

To Onlooker: Yes. I agree that there are many white horses that are sent to OCS. Some do not deserve it; but some do. I hope that people will not assume that they are ALL undeserving. Coming from OCS (jan bmt batch) myself ( i am certainly not a whitehorse or even so called non-pure lineage; just an ordinary "farmer" as the non-scholars/non white horses call ourselves ), i do know these whitehorses. Among cadets, we certainly do not treat them any differently. At higher levels though, i do not know. But i'm very sure that some form of advantage is given to them.

On them having fragile egos- I'm not sure what experience you have that allows you to make that assumption. Kindly share. From my experience, only some of them do get a bit arrogant (actually only 1). The rest are just like everyone else. In fact, i didnt even know of some till i was told of their background.

8:31 PM  
Anonymous d said...

To Te,
firstly, it is not a clear cut issue on whether the SAF actually allows such 'gifted talents' to continue practicing while serving national service. To actually be placed in the MDC, one must also be a downgraded personnel. In other words, even if you are a fantastic musician, but are not unhealthy, then too bad my friend.

Also, to my knowledge the official stand for deferment for university is that it's only allowed for SAFOS (or other equivalent scholarships) and doctors-to-be. You could be accepted in law at Harvard but the SAF will find some way to grab you back. This was what i gleamed from the captains and commanding officers during my ns days (ORDed less then a year ago), when a friend wanted to defer for his scholarship at Cambridge. Unfortunately, his scholarship wasn't prestigious enough to warrant an early release.

8:37 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Te, do share what a "white horse" is so that my overseas readers might understand. I am I don't know what that is.

8:43 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...


Deferring a scholarship to Cambridge is a really bad idea. Cambridge is a very demanding place to be...depending on course, the work load can be insane (Natural Sciences, for instance, which I took, is quite mad in what it requires its students to cover per year).

I think it most likely that, by the time the person you refer to finishes NS that they will be utterly unable to cope with what Cambridge will demand of them. Their entire academic career will be completely screwed. That is one big wasted scholarship.

This system needs intelligent reform. Intelligence may not actually be found in "scholars"...diligence usually is, and that is a different thing.

Ah well.

8:47 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

By the way, when I suggested benchmarking to overseas salaries -I meant to the salaries of PROFESSIONAL SOLDIERS...after all, this is an involuntary situation for most why shouldn't they be paid a proper salary for their two years of life and lost opportunities? That, to me, seems fair.

8:48 PM  
Anonymous te said...

To d: You are right that it is the downgraded personnel who are in MDC. But i'm sure you know of unreasonably fit sportsman who are non-combat fit too. If one is truly talented, there are ways to downgrade, especially with help from the CO and MO.

Regarding the deferment, there are a few cases.
One is the so-called early release- Poly students ORDing in September are usually (in my unit's case, all were allowed) given the privilege to start their studies while still serving. Personnels must seek approval from their CO first.
The other deferment is competely defering NS till after studies. Yes, you are right- Only a few prestigious scholarships get to enjoy this. For the rest (whether on a scholarship or not), it is still possible, but you have to apply (or rather inform the authorities of your intention) early. In my friend's case, at the end of Sec 4.
And then you have the so-called illegal group of people who have managed to get a place in universities abroad like Imperial College. For them, although they are not allowed to start early, COs can close one eye and grant them so-called extra overseas leave to start their studies even before they ORD. My sources tell me that a good proportion of male students in a particular overseas university (for this academic year) belong to this group.

For all: White horses are your sons of ministers/politicians/high ranking military personnel. They are usually given informal leeway during their service.

Agreed. Scholars do not usually bring positive changes- just some crap ideas that never work. Blame the education system for that.

On the pay: Yes! I agree! We should be paid the same amount as the regulars here!- Although i am skeptical that it will happen anytime soon.

9:13 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you, Te, for your clarifications and amplifications.

Kind regards

9:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I believe we can both retain the egalitarianism and nurture with only one solution: totally eliminate national service. I disagree with the group-think that says NS is necessary. Prove it. Has an economist done an analysis on the effect on Singapore's economy of taking so many workers out of the system, where they forget their talent and postpone their education?

I advocate a paid, professional, small army. If there is a war, 2 year conscriptees will be exactly what you said they would be: cannon fodder. I'd feel much safer if our resources were put into a professional force instead, giving everyone back their lives.

In summary, I question the necessity of NS and challenge the assumptions that it is overall beneficial to our society.


10:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OCS is a joke. Enough said.

11:10 PM  
Anonymous tiredman said...

If there is really such a new policy for the talent, chances are the gahman will play with the “eligibility to apply”. Eligibility is a tricky issue. I believe it is already known that white horse’s son takes scholarship even if their ability is questionable. So, we cannot be 100% sure that they can use this as a loophole (if there is such a new policy) to escape National Service. Given that no one likes National Service, in the long run this kind of policy may be abuse by the rich and the “heavy weighted people”. A person like Keegan Ng has to play with the system. There is no choice. This is to be fair to the common people...

8:31 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Daniel,

I, too, think there should be a professional army - just as in most developed nations like the UK and US. These countries have no conscription. They are good, however, at fighting wars.

Singapore, as usual, has taken the cheap option (ie. make everyone do it basically for almost free)...than the professional option of a real, professional army.

I think it is a shortsighted policy.

8:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Consider this:

Due to the attrition inherent in warfare, it is difficult to maintain the numbers needed for a wholly professional military, especially in a lengthy war. Complicating matters is the fact that military service in such times becomes more and more unattractive, even if the war has broad support. It is for this reason that the previously all-volunteer Union Army and the World War I British Army switched to conscription after a few years of combat and its associated losses.

9:17 AM  
Blogger PanzerGrenadier said...

To even discuss the possibility of an alternative way to staff a military defence force without using conscription is fraught with difficulty.

I think too many people are sold on the "National Education" (propaganda) narrative of Singapore being small and requiring the presence of our military forces as being the reason why conscription is necessary.

You can have a professional military force and still have a credible defence force. Conscription is one means to provide manpower for such a force. An all-volunteer system which ironically is already in practice almost 99% by Air Force and Navy is already in existence.

I for one do not buy the argument that Singapore cannot afford to pay for a all-volunteer ARMY. The Government has shown its willingness to spend BILLIONS investing in failing US banks. What is $10.6b a year for military defence on a fully-volunteer force?

I've gone through 2.5 years in full-time NS and 10 years reservist cycle and I can say many of the skills you learn there can be learnt at less personal cost and at a much more relaxed manner. Learning to shout at people and use vulgar language to get things done is not the epitome of people management 101.

Majullah Singapura.

10:25 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Consider this:

Singapore is incapable of fighting a "lengthy war"...not even if the entire population were fighting. Singapore is so small one bomb would do it (nuclear). Or perhaps a night or two of conventional bombing...there would be little left in no time.

Conscription should not occur in peacetime, when it is wholly unnecessary. If you find yourself running out of soldiers in wartime, then use conscription - but only if you are at war. To use conscription in peacetime is to ensure that many lives are wasted fruitlessly (some even die in training to no purpose whatsoever).


1:17 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Many countries have a professional military without conscription - the UK and US for instance. Why not Singapore?

1:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Because unlike US and UK, our nation is small- i.e. how many regulars will we have? US and UK are by far so much larger in population. Just 1% of the US population would make Singapore entire population look like mere dust, what more those who sign on. I suggest you give a comparison that is more similar to Singapore's environment, and size.

Your logic that with more money = able to pay for more people has forgotten that we wouldn't even have an army if it were purely regulars- too few sign-ons. $$$ does not equate to a sizable army. What professional army can there be if it cannot even be considered an army. Unless of course your army is simply a couple of Bn.

Or maybe we could hire FT!! haha. That'll be the day i look forward to!! haha

2:17 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Your figures are somewhat incorrect. 1% of the population of the US is only about two thirds of the population of Singapore.

It is relatively easy to have a professional army in ANY nation - just make the army attractive financially and in terms of prospects. That is what is generally done in developed nations. You get a good education in the army and out of war time it is a pretty good employer in many nations. All Singapore needs to do is make the Army a good occupational choice ie. be good to their recruits and they will have enough recruits.

Even small nations have armed forces...I will look into it, when I have time, to provide some figures.

As for FTs, there already ARE FTs in Singapore in the armed forces line of work - they are called Gurkhas. All Singapore would have to do is hire a lot more Gurkhas to solve the problem. They probably fight a lot better than pampered Singaporeans, too. (Unlike Singaporeans they have a reputation for being good at war).

Singapore is not that small. There are many nations of similar size, even in Europe.

Anyway, all this talk of Singapore being like Israel is utter nonsense. The neighbouring countries do NOT bear the kind of ill will towards Singapore that Middle Eastern countries have towards Israel. Singapore is not at permanent loggerheads with its neighbours and doesn't go in for shelling them and sending the tanks in every other week. The situations are not comparable. I think that kind of thinking can only lead to antagonism and trouble.

Best wishes.

5:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

lol...Gurkhas DO NOT fight battle at the frontline in case u didnt know...

I dont think we want to be like UK, when sometime back, the new gov of Nepal threatened to recall ALL Gurkhas from the UK... now then... would u wan ur defense to be at the MERCY of another country???

i dont think so... i rather die for my country than see it go down due to some hired army gone bad... sometimes $$$ cannot buy loyalty either. U have to DO IT yourself...

8:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi mr cawley,

I am a full-time NSF serving my 2 years now. I agree with what you mentioned in your post. I am also a musician, aspiring to be a young conductor but my study plans are being hindered by NS.

te: Yes there is the SAF Band and MDC for those who are more inclined towards the arts. However, my appeal to join the SAF Band has been rejected (or rather ignored) countless number of times just because I'm a Pes A(combat fit) soldier. This is despite e SAF Band 's willingness to accept me into their unit. The band cannot accept me as long as my current unit refuses to release me.

I've already gave up and accepted my current situation. So much for setting up so many channels to voice out our individual problems, heh pointless. All of my appeals are being ignored, totally.

10:59 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Your experience makes it most clear that, for Singapore, a unit of cannon fodder is vastly more important than a unit of culture. No wonder Singapore doesn't really have a culture (it is the most culturally bland country I have ever seen...and I have visited more than 20 countries). Here, culture is killed, ironically, by the culture itself!

I wish you luck on becoming the conductor you wish to be. In my eyes, a good conductor is of much more long-term value to a country (and rarer) than yet another infantryman.

Best wishes.

11:40 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. Gurkhas, fighting...I recall newspaper stories of them being involved in fighting for the British, when I was growing up...and they are famous for being good fighters.

Anyway, that wasn't my central point. The point was that if you make the Army attractive financially and in terms of other opportunities (like the free degrees that American armed forces get to study), then you would have a lot of interest from Singaporeans in serving willingly. Make the conditions good and they will come. You won't need foreign fighters then.

On dying for your country: I doubt you will think such keen thoughts, if the day comes when you are lying, dying on the battlefield. Then one's thoughts will probably turn to family, loves and a life lost...not to one's country (which doesn't seem to care all that much about its people anyway, if you ask me.)

You, however, do sound like just the sort of person to volunteer for a professional army: perhaps you should?

11:58 PM  
Blogger Agagooga said...

Whenever debates about such matters as you describe come up, there is a chorus of cries from ex-slaves who want to make others suffer as much as they did, which is somehow taken by the SAF as "support for National Service".

Basically it's like why crabs in a bucket never escape - those who climb up the walls are pulled down by the rest.

Other possibilities like allowing alternative service and allowing more scope for deferment are very feasible, but I doubt the government will spend the necessary political capital to push it through (if they want to, they can - look what happened to the IRs: after 3 decades of being brainwashed that gambling was evil, they got rammed through in the face of strong public opposition)

Slavery serves a political purpose, and allowing more flexibility goes against it.

8:43 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

It is evident to me that the "scholars" in power are not long-term thinkers, nor are they imaginative or creative or flexible or able to see the big picture. They are, in my terms, rather limited. If they had any of the qualities I have mentioned, we would not be having this discussion because they would already have recognized the need for alternative means to serve and for flexible deferment. That they haven't indicates a profound lack of ability to understand the true national situation. But heh...they are "scholars" we can expect no more.

Merry Xmas Agagooga.

10:13 PM  
Blogger Agagooga said...

If they were those things, they would've quit after their bonds were up.

But again, perhaps the political benefits of screwing Singaporean males outweighs the benefits of flexibility. After all, we can always import artists (either temporarily or on a longer-term basis) and the top scholars get deferred anyway.

I don't know how merry it is in this country (hurr hurr) but FWIW MC to you too.

10:19 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Agagooga, I don't think a country can ever import a SOUL and I think that is what this country is losing by this policy. External artists can lend a nation a national character, a national culture - they can only bring their own. Singapore is committing a kind of national suicide by this NS policy. It is ensuring that Singapore leaves nothing enduring to the world - that, in the long view of history, Singapore is NOTHING at all.

Thanks for your MC. Kind regards.

10:27 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Of course I meant "external artists CANNOT lend..."

10:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello All.

I should be proud to count myself among Keegan's friends, and I can say that they did not let him remain in MDC. As he was not suitable first-grade cannon fodder, they let him stay behind and do administration for better cannon fodder. His days in MDC were terribly limited, and came at a very great expense of trouble - of struggling to find people who were indifferent to his supreme talent.

Both he and I have taken solace to music teaching, although I am keen to say that he is definitely slated for larger things than this. This is probably a blow to our morale, to our practising habits and definitely to his career, which I am sure would have been meteoric. (I am sure, still, that he will make it big.)

I am myself a musician who understands the pangs of having such a stiff system. As other anonymouses have said - take Melvyn Tan for example. As Dr. Chang Tou Liang rightly said, the poor man's NS was having to hide in the winter of the UK practising scales and arpeggios while we can eat green packs along Poyan Reservoir and all. He effectively lived an exile's life and was even turned away at our doorstep - to do our nation a favour at the NPVC of 2005 - after a fine. Or a more recent example would be Ike. While I don't know Ike that well, suffice to say he has succumbed to the very tough and uncompromising policies of Mindef.

I may not be Eastman material, but having seen what is going on around me, I couldnt concur more with what you have said. Bravo!!

- IMY.

10:11 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you, IMY for your personal insight into Keegan's situation - and that of all talented NSFs who have something better in them, than becoming cannon fodder.

Your approval is appreciated.


11:37 PM  
Blogger Kai said...

I feel that National Service is a great fun to interact with other people. It gets you out of the box, and anyway, can't that musician like, practice during the go home breaks (cor)

4:02 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Kai, a skill such as classical piano requires constant daily practice of several hours, to maintain. It is not something which can be kept up, every now and again. Non musicians don't appreciate this. An enforced demand on the time and energies of a young musician can easily prevent a musical career.

We each have different lives and different talents - it would be better, for Singapore, were there recognition of this, in the rules over national service. Otherwise, national service will only cause the loss to the nation of the talents of quite a few young men. I don't see it as a wise policy.

8:02 AM  

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