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 +

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A debt of national gratitude.

The Singaporean nation has a debt of gratitude to any National Serviceman who is harmed while serving NS.

A case is presently in the courts concerning a serviceman who appears to have suffered a head injury while doing NS. Mindef (the Ministry of Defence) are claiming that it was not suffered on active duty since he was back at camp, at the time. In other words, they are seeking to weasel out of paying for his medical support.

The National Serviceman's situation is dire. Jeremy Tan Chia Whee's head injury has left him unable to move or speak and he is fully dependent on doctors and nurses for his needs. Despite this, Mindef, who had been paying 80% of his ward and meal charges (the amount of support for non-service related injuries) stopped paying any support in February 2007. Since then, his parents have had to find 133,000 dollars for his care.

His parents are suing Mindef for full support of his medical costs. I think their suit seems more than fair. Here is a young man, whose life was ruined, while an NS man. He appears to have fallen from a height and sustained a head injury that has severely damaged him. The least that Mindef can do is support is his costs of recovery (if he ever recovers).

It seems to me, that Mindef demands that the young men of Singapore sacrifice two years of their lives (plus 10 years on call), exposing them to risk of death and injury, yet, in return, Mindef is unwilling to bear the costs that result when things go wrong. What kind of values does this reveal? It appears that Mindef does not value the lives of its recruits as much as it values its "right" to expend their lives in its cause.

Jeremy Tan Chia Whee may never live a normal life, again. That he is in this position is the responsibility of Mindef. I think they should show an honourable response to this situation and pay for his full medical costs until such time as he recovers.

If Mindef are going to impose risk of death and injury on young men, they must, in return, be responsible for any and all medical costs incurred - even if they are for the duration of the lives of disabled ex-servicemen. This should not even be an issue that I have to write about - it should be an automatic response, in thanks for the sacrifices the servicemen have made.

Furthermore, if a serviceman dies on duty, the family of that serviceman should be compensated for their loss. After all, for some families the lost son may be the only means of support for his parents in their old age - with him gone, what will they do? There should be generous compensation in all such cases, so that one worry, at least, is not heaped on the family's sorrows: that of finance to replace the support of the lost son.

If service is to be compulsory, it should also come with generous support in the wake of anything untoward happening to a serviceman. That would, I think, be the moral stance.

There should be a collective national debt of gratitude to any serviceman who suffers loss, death or injury in service to his nation. Let us not forget to pay it, when the time comes.

(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 @ 4:18 PM 


Anonymous te said...

I totally agree with you.

MINDEF's compensation scheme goes something like this if i'm not wrong: MINDEF will pay for any treatment for any injury sustained during any training/activity being conducted- during the 2 years and during ICT. So, injury sustained outside camp will not be compensated.
Also servicemen are entitled to free dental and medical treatment during their 2 years of service.

In this case, i'm not sure what MINDEF's excuse is, but nevertheless, EVEN IF they are not required to pay, surely someone inside will have the heart to realise that the family has already suffered enough. Is it so tough for MINDEF to help the family financially?

Like you mentioned, giving up 2 years of our life is bad enough. The least we should get in return is a guarantee that should anything happen, our family will be compensated.

One idea is for MINDEF to pay for insurance for ALL servicemen during their 2 years. As of now, insurance is offered during BMT, but it is of course payable.
I believe MINDEF should pay for this insurance, so that should any misfortune occur, compensation will be paid out.

I wonder what MINDEF will do if the serviceman was a white horse.

11:12 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

From what I have seen of this nation, I would guess that a "white horse" (son of someone in government or military figure etc.) would receive the best of care gratis, at the least. There would be no talk, I am fairly sure, of being unable to offer compensation of some kind.

Mindef has a duty of care, in my eyes, to ensure the safety of its recruits. If it fails in that, it should compensate the victims (for they ARE victims...victims of a coercive system that makes them serve in the first place).

I would like to see change. The present way of doing things makes me uncomfortable.

Thanks for your comment.

11:19 PM  
Anonymous te said...

Not only recruits, but all NSFs in general. The regulars can take care of themselves, since it is their job.

I still feel that insurance for all is the best policy.


2:41 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

If there is insurance, it should have two elements: coverage of all medical costs, to an unlimited extent - and compensation for the victim/families.

7:41 AM  
Blogger beAr said...

i've realised very early on that MINDEF does not care for its soldiers; the proof being its refusal to insure every soldier without the soldier having to pay for it.

hence, i do not believe in giving my life for MINDEF. and consequently, singapore. somehow, i think i got the better end of the stick.

10:49 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi BeAr: does that mean you have left Singapore to escape Mindef's ways?


11:03 AM  
Blogger beAr said...

nope i'm still in singapore. looking forward to the day that i leave this place.

te: the ironic thing is that the regulars probably are covered by some sort of corporate insurance, similar to how employees of other firms are covered.

11:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe it is a matter of status again. Had Jeremy been a son of an MP or a high level civil servant, I am sure that he will get first class care in the hospitals, with all expenses paid for.

Oh. By the way, he wouldn't even be a corporal in the first place.

12:19 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Surely, NS men should have the same coverage as regulars...

12:21 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I don't know where this idea of "status" comes from, personally, since I don't see anything special about these people. Perhaps someone could explain why they are considered special. From public declarations, local politicians seem very ordinary mentally speaking, in my estimation.

Thanks for your comment.

12:25 PM  
Anonymous te said...

They are considered 'special' because of their parent's (political/military) status. You don't have to be smart to be special. You only need to have power and control.

It's like how the daughters of Obama will be treated in their school and how children of top civil servants in China are treated too- Unofficial treatments. All to suck up to their parents and to present a good image.

All countries have this problem, so it's not 'Uniquely Singapore'.

beAr- You are probably right that regulars will be treated as an employee in any other firms and as such will most likely have some form of coverage.
By the way, are you currently serving? And where will you be headed? If you intend to escape, it's important to settle elsewhere. I know of classmates who have escaped to Canada and the US and who never intend to return unless they are guaranteed no charges.

Anonymous of 1219- Haha. Right on. Most likely will not be a CPL. I mean- Surely they must be better than that right? Fortunately, most of them do not have an air of superiority (judging from my encounter with them).

NSFs should be treated in the same way as the regulars (if not better), since we did not volunteer to sign on.

12:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unless you are in the elite service or you are a wealthy businessman with the right connections, don't let your son serve NS.

There were more horror stories but untold.

1:08 PM  
Blogger PanzerGrenadier said...


Mindef has only very recently introduced an insurance for all full-time NSFs, i.e. conscripts. It costs $12.80 a month but Mindef is increasing the allowances paid to NSFs by $20 to cover this. It is a personal accident policy that covers $100,000 life insured.

It's better than nothing during my days as an NSF. I had to buy my own NTUC insurance during BMT covering $50,000 for $21 a month (for first few years) back in 1990.

I think it's sad that Mindef spends $10.6 billion annually on our defence budget and cannot find savings from there to fund disability/hospitalisation payments for its conscripts?

The US has Veterans hospitals and medical for their all-volunteer force. We who are conscripts are treated rather shabbily in contrast for the risks and sacrifices we put in.

That is why I am glad my child is a girl and not a boy.

1:59 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you, Te, for your explanation. Singapore advertises itself as a meritocracy. In a true meritocracy only the truly special are, in fact, special. It would seem that Singapore is not actually following a truly meritocratic model, therefore...

Yes. I agree and in fact was going to propose it: that NS men get BETTER treatment, because they are not voluntary - that would seem fair.

I wonder, Te, do you, or anyone else, have any figures for how many people escape Singapore, annually, never to return, just to avoid NS?

Kind regards

2:18 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you, anon of 1.08 pm for the advice. Perhaps you could share some of these horror stories and allow them to be told?


2:20 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Panzer Grenadier,

Your comparison to the American situation is telling. I know an American combat veteran, in his sixties, who served in the military only for a handful of years...yet about thirty years LATER, the US Military saved his life by giving him a FREE HEART OPERATION, with a FREE VALVE REPLACEMENT and FREE PACEMAKER. He also has an artificial hip.

Would Mindef cough up for a heart operation for someone who once served with them?

I think not.

Furthermore, this former veteran, has been drawing a disability benefit for a minor matter, ever since the day he left the service. The US government will continue to pay him this compensation for the harm done to him in service to his country, until the day he dies. Now, that shows gratitude.

Singapore could learn a lot, in moral terms, from the US example.

2:24 PM  
Anonymous te said...

To PanzerGrenadier: During my time, only a few years ago, there was also no such extra money to buy the insurance. We only had some agent visiting us in BMT and telling us horror stories of personnel who regretted not buying insurance due to accidents...etc. Unfortunately, i was so tired that i slept through most of it, and decided not to buy the insurance.

The US case- Well, one can only hope that someday this will happen here, though it is unlikely to be anytime soon. In fact, is it only the US that provides this kind of wonderful treatment?

To Mr Cawley: There is no true meritocracy in my opinion. It exist only in theory. Having a powerful parent will always bring benefits- whether tangible or intangible.

3:40 PM  
Blogger soup said...

I agree. How can I, as an NSman, serve my duties fully to the best of my abilities if I cannot be assured that I will be taken care of should anything happen to me? My ICT is coming nearer and this is worrying.

3:46 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. Meritocracy. That is a pity. For at least meritocracy is not discriminatory and everyone can strive to attain their optimal, natural position. However, when power comes into it, this picture is distorted - and those who are naturally the best, may not end up in the best positions. That way leads to poor government, poor leadership, poor businesses, poor schools, poor everything. Is that happening?

5:31 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

re. The US Case, Te:

No, other developed countries in Europe in particular have free healthcare for ALL - whether or not one is a veteran. In the US it is just for veterans. So the US is the LEAST generous Western model. The funny thing is it seems awfully kind compared to the Singaporean model.

Kind regards.

5:33 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Soup: every NS man should have that security: would it not allow men to fight better, should the day of fighting ever come, to know that the society for which they fought would look after them and their family, in the event of harm?


A country that cared would be one that looked after all injured, maimed NS man - and the families of those killed. That is just basic.

The more I think about the issue, the less happy I become with the way things have been. I hope for improvement.

5:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

to VC: 'status' meaning their parents hold high positions in the civil service, thus they are 'protected' because the regulars in the army ARE in the civil service. They do not want their iron bowl to be toppled just because they ill-treated a son of some high ranking official.

Which is the reason why I mentioned, if unfortunately, a son of a high ranking official is in the exact same situation as Jeremy, he would have all the medical coverage.

But I disagree on the preferential treatment of NSFs and Regulars. This might make NSFs softer, which defeats the purpose of having a conscripted army in the first place. BUT NSFs should have a decent coverage, and compensation MUST be given to the family if something happens to the child during service.

6:30 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Ah...anon at 6.30 pm, so it is the FEAR of reprisal that leads to special treatment for certain people...and not because they are actually special, inherently. That would seem to indicate that power is being used for personal ends, in some cases (otherwise why the fear?).

Yes. I think most agree on the need for compensation for those who suffer harm in the NS.

7:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Valentine,

I am currently serving the last 6 months of my national service, and yes, i have just been propositioned by various people to sign up for the supposedly "free" insurance (in reality, deducted from the additional $20 per month).

I refused.

This led to a lot of negative responses, to such an extent that the CO (Commanding Officer of the battalion) had to come down to personally speak to us about the so-called benefits of the insurance plan, citing its status as the "lowest-costing" plan available that actually covers injuries sustained during military service. Adamantly, I still refused.

My primary reason for rejecting the insurance is because since I only have 6 months left in the service, it would mean that I start paying out of my own pocket the moment i leave SAF, which is in a relatively short time.

The secondary issue, which, however, is the more disturbing one, is that under the terms of the insurance plan, you don't get insured for any injuries you sustain UNLESS it constitutes a PHYSICAL LOSS i.e. DISMEMBERMENT. Meaning, if you have a seriously torn ligament, but the leg is still intact and somewhat able to walk, you will get NOTHING.

If your eye is partially blinded but the EYE is still intact and capable of some sight, you will get NOTHING.

If your LIMBS get blown off, if you become totally blind, or if you simply DIE IN SERVICE, then you will get SOMETHING. Coverage is up to $100,000. Read: UP TO.

Seems like a pretty small sum for such serious injuries. What, no compensation for projected loss of income?

You can see some of the terms here:

The SAF has taken many things from me, such as delaying my entry to law school and perhaps even my marriage and career. But it doesn't give back. Not one bit.

10:38 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for sharing your situation re. insurance and the SAF.

You are not alone in being inconvenienced by NS. It seems to me that many lives are derailed by it. I wonder what the total human cost to Singapore is of having National Service? Is it basically ruining the nation? (So many people have to give up their life ambition/change careers etc. because of it. Is this beneficial? To the individual it is most certainly not...what about to the nation? Does the nation suffer a net loss, too? Would it not be better for the nation if its sons did not lead interrupted lives?)

I hope the marriage and career work out for you in the end.

4:04 PM  

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