Kembangan Private and Public Residential Area in Singapore at Early Morning Dawn Panorama from

Below is the letter by a National Serviceman who recently ORDed* after serving two years of national service. According to him, he wrote an email which was sent out via intranet but MINDEF made a call to his office within minutes to have the email recalled.

He wrote, “Personally, I just want to get the words of my letter out to as many people as possible so that they may read it and form their own ideas of the military after seeing a different side to its organisation. The speed with which MINDEF has attempted to clamp down to me, I think, is testament to the kind of unbridled power that they have access to, which should not be left unchecked and unknown to the public. I hope you can publish this email on your website as I do not know when I will next have access to the internet.”

The NSF was also told by his friends to expect to be charged.

The Online Citizen wrote to MINDEF on 11 July, asking if they could confirm whether or not such a letter was retracted, but no response has been issued so far.

*Operationally Ready Date, refers to the date on which a National Serviceman completes his 2-year term of service.

Below is the letter in full

Dear Sirs, Mdms and all,

Today, I will leave the SAF after two years of service. My NS journey, though unexpected, has been full of pleasant surprises. I have made many good friends whom I will continue to treasure outside of the army. I have grown so much as a person, and acquired new skills in working with others and in organisations. I started in Pes C BMT in Tekong, and later vocationalised in Sembawang camp. Finally, I was posted to 2 PDF Command, G1 Branch as a clerk. The insights I have gained through my experiences have been pivotal in helping me decide what I want to do with my life after secondary school and JC. The journey has not been easy at times, but I grew stronger with the difficulties and struggles. The people who understood me and empathised with me were so important in helping me get through the difficult days. I must give special thanks to the people at SAF Counselling Centre for their support and guidance throughout this turbulent time.

With that said, I have now reached the end of my journey. I found myself looking back at the beginning, when I was a pre-enlistee – uncertain, fearful, anxious, dreading enlistment. In my mind what I was about to experience was a blank. I had no idea how it would affect me. One question did nag at me, as I’m sure it nagged at others – why serve NS?

Countless times, many superiors and comrades have told me, “you have to serve NS. Nobody can change that. What we can do is to make the best of your two years here.” So I did, I took my time here on day at a time and looked at the bright side. That does not, however, excuse the sin of a massive institution that systematically degrades hundreds of thousands of men by depriving them of their basic human rights. “You have to serve NS. Nobody can change that.

With that one statement, every person in the SAF, no matter how big or small, somehow managed to absolve themselves of the responsibility of the suffering that they have caused. This military, the epicentre of the government, and a microcosm of everything wrong with Singapore. In the past fifty years the military has churned ceaselessly to provide every cause for its continued relevance. It has worked desperately to cover up the fallacious logic woven into its rotten core, that compulsory conscription is institutionalised slavery.

I was charged last year, during a routine security check. A pornographic video was found on my phone, which I did not take, and which was accidentally downloaded onto my phone. All my life I had been terrified of having to serve in the army. As a child in primary school, my imagination conjured up nightmares of being barked at, punished and regimented because of small, inconsequential mistakes that were largely outside of my control. I dreaded the day. I was terrified of being publicly shamed, to have the world laughing at me like I was a freak or a loser.

Marched into an office. Having my name printed and published for everybody to gawk at. I did everything within my power to play by the rules, to not get into trouble. And still, I stumbled and was caught. I wanted to kill myself. The night after I knew that I would be summary trialed, I googled how many anarex does it take to put you to sleep forever. I imagined what my cracked skull and smashed brains would look like on the carpark ground, twenty-five storeys down from my HDB unit. I made it through, but just barely. I was shaken to my core, but I recovered.

And then came the question. Who in this world wields the authority and power to put a human being through this suffering?

Is this war, or anarchy, where there are no laws and people hurt each other to survive? No. This is institutionalised suffering and violence. And I was far from the first victim. There are thousands of people in this organisation, adorned in glittering ranks and titles, formulating and executing policies. Your reports and statistics, your conferences and closed-door meetings. If this were a well-oiled, smooth-running organisation, such a philosophy would still be excusable. It’s not. Thousands of servicemen are systematically put through the paces of this system and made to suffer unnecessarily. Your byzantine, hierarchical bureaucracy is not designed to solve problems anymore. It’s designed to entrench them. More and more, inexcusable failures stemming from processes gone awry are being covered up with showy gestures and speeches. The reputation of the military is what is being protected, not my brothers, not our men. Military classification and security is just a blank cheque that gives your people blanket freedoms to sink to levels of mediocrity without being scrutinised.

Many of these inconvenient facts are deflected and concealed by a bloated middle management. The people you employ to do your grunt work are invested in career advancement, not organisational advancement. They choose money, stability and stagnation over natural evolution and change. Keeping your head down and burying problems where convenient is woven into this system’s DNA, and nobody is spared. Not the bottom-feeders, who are not powerful enough to have their voices heard, not the middle-ranks, who are too concerned with infighting and promotional criteria. And certainly not your exalted, overprotected elites. The scholars.

When I enlisted in 2016, I was a promising government scholar myself. I was supposed to be fully-funded in my studies in a top-ranking university in the United States, and come back to enjoy a fast-tracked career in a government statutory board. I bought into this dream of power and change. I believed in talented, passionate individuals working together for the betterment of society. I was so eager to believe that I was willing to turn a blind eye to the natural flaws in an imperfect system. So already, the seeds were there, of elitism, entitlement, apathy. Your elites, your revolutionary change-makers, are incentivised to look for problems which can be solved, within their purview, while still hauling in their five, six-figure salaries. But to overhaul the systemic, cultural flaws of an entire organisation? An individual in a system like this is a pebble in a churning river. There is a splash, but still the water flows the same way. Who dares put their livelihoods at stake for an intangible dream?

I got so disgusted with the hypocrisy and mediocrity of the civil service that I withdrew from the scholarship. I paid every cent of the $1000 liquidation fee with my own hard-earned “allowance”, by the way. I learn this – when you have money, career, prestige, you have something to lose. Something that can be taken away. That makes you valuable, tangles you in strings. This is the twisted symbiotic relationship that maintains the balance of this system: bottom-feeders are suppressed and silenced by the middle-ranks, who are eager to please their elites. Elites who become convinced, incredibly, that they are amazing leaders, miracle workers. So they leave the military, go and become CEO of SMRT and earn even more money for letting trains break down. Trains that they don’t have to ride because they ride cars. Trains that we have to ride, every day. Soak it in, this is your glorified chain of command.

This system is designed to actively resist change and fear risk. And why, you ask, should I care? You want to run your organisation like shit, fine, that’s your business. But there is a cost to running your system this way, and that is us, the people who have to ride the trains every day. The bottom of the food chain. Treated with favouritism, institutional racism, deliberate or accidental oversight, red tape. Systemic racism against Malays in the special forces, in the airforce and navy. Suicides and death details that are covered up and hush-hushed. Preferential treatment among your white horses. Every act that you practice is hypocrisy. Every apologist explanation offered is threaded with a contradictory logic that shouldn’t work. Yet here we are, intimidated with punishment, fed false promises, misled by propaganda and wayang, arbitrarily carved up into the leaders and the followers. All your organisational mediocrity becomes offloaded on us, like rivers polluted by industrial chemical runoff. Your men, purged and expended for your visions of greatness.

Is this your leadership? It reads like cowardice. All this arrogance, paranoia, manipulation and deception. This is the real reason why the military is Singapore’s little factory of elites. You take us for puppets to play with, make jokes out of our lives, strip us of our identities. You forget that NSFs have minds. That every moment of every day we are here, watching your dysfunctions and failures. You say, NS is about defending your nation, defending your family and friends. Yet history tells us that the concept of a nation is artificially construed.

Some European colonisers came ashore centuries ago and started labelling our forefathers yellow skin, brown skin. Started carving up our land into rigid, territorial borders, as if they had a right. So now we defend a concept created by dead white tyrants? This is just another excuse for neo-colonialism. This is why Stamford Raffles stands whitewashed by the Singapore river still. Different skin colour, same problems. You want me to defend a country that abuses its institutional machinery to utterly destroy its dissidents and critics? I would rather grovel at the feet of a foreign power.

Here is what I feel. I will defend what I love. I will defend my principles and ideals. I will fight for truth, for equality, for humility and empathy. I see these same ideals being trampled by your great machines. Your national service teaches men how to hold rifles before they can hold pens in voting booths. It indulges men’s toxic ideas of masculinity, equipping them with guns and bombs, teaching them to unite against some vague external threat. This steady crawl towards paranoia is corrosive and divisive. This bleaching of minds, this mass manufactured groupthink among your soldiers, your countrymen, is a prelude to disaster. If you really succeed in what you do, you will have a horde of fascist, Nazi-esque patriots who will run this country into the dirt. I have no love for this country. Everything I believed in wholeheartedly, it destroyed. I was helpless to do anything. The second I get my chance I’m rescinding my Singapore citizenship.

Maybe my opinion is too extreme, maybe it can be compromised. But it’s not as if you let us speak our minds like that. There is no opportunity for us to have the freedom of voice, the basic dignity of being heard. NS is supposed to be about fighting for our freedom, but instead we are building the bars of our cells. My friends fear for me. They say if I send this email, I will be intimidated, reprimanded, charged and imprisoned. Just for wanting to be listened to. You did this to them. You. You think freedom is something you can just give and take on a whim, without any respect for human beings. Do you think you are gods? You are not gods. You are not leaders. You are monsters.

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