by James Lee
Ever since the news broke that Brigade General Goh Si Hou would be promoted to Major General in 1st Jan 2019, this term ‘paper general’ has become the buzzword of Singapore, more than perhaps the unfortunate cyclist Eric Cheung.
This post is not to criticize Goh or his achievements. It does not take a genius to realise that Goh is perhaps intended for politics, with his green fatigues fading into a flawless white eventually. Many netizens have pointed this out in rather colourful expressions. (See screenshot below).
However, what I do have issues is the term ‘paper general’. The online community has been calling Goh out for having zero war experience, comparing him to ancient generals as listed above. I would like to take this opportunity to remind all of us Singaporeans, that while we train to fight, it is not something we should endeavour to undertake. War is meaningless and no one benefits from it, even the victor. There is always a cost. And that cost is extremely high to us, because to put it crudely, all our neighbours cannot wait to see us fail.
If we are ever involved in a war so that Goh can clock some mileage to pander to the likes of some netizens, our neighbours will be waiting like hyenas on the sidelines to overtake us. When that happens, our women will really become maids in other countries like what LKY once said. So, whilst Goh may not have ‘war’ experience, let us be reminded and be thankful that we do not have and have not been involved in one.
Second, I cannot help but feel that there is a lot of sourness in the comments. Of course, everyone is entitled to their comments and their freedom of speech, so they can say anything they want. Likewise, I can also call these people out if I wanted to, but that is not the point of this piece. I want to quote a famous former US president, who has said this so many times, that it became his tagline:
“Don’t boo; vote”
This is Barack Obama’s famous phrase and he always reminds his audiences whenever they jeer the opposition. Likewise, I call on Singaporean netizens to be more mindful of this. If they feel that Goh is not suitable as a minister or an MP, then refrain from making snide remarks. Hit the ground, join an opposition party, be an NMP, join the Young PAP or Young WP. Talk is cheap, so are online comments.
Goh did not become a general because he sat behind a screen and spewed vitriol. He became a general because he spent 20 years in the SAF in various leadership positions in various units. Perhaps that qualifies him for a role in politics. It is the same with other leaders – Chiam See Tong, Low Thia Khiang, JB Jeyaretnam, David Marshall, Ong Teng Cheong etc. All these leaders dedicated their lives to service of Singapore, and it is no different with Goh Si Hou, whose service was in the armed forces. Therefore, by that same vein, he should command that same respect as the other leaders.
Third, I believe in the right man for the right job. So I will not hesitate to criticise retired generals who are not suited for their roles. I believe the head of SMRT should have training as an engineer; so the past and current CEOs are not up to my mark. Similarly, the head of a news agency should have training or experience in media, and therefore the current CEO of SPH doesn’t meet my criteria either. However, Goh is the right man for the right job as the Chief of Army. If we ever go to war, he should be the person who is most suited to command the army. Whether he is suitable as a finance minister or future SMRT CEO, the time will come to scrutinise him on that, but not now.
In conclusion, I hope Singaporeans can be more level headed in their comments. It is easy to be swept up by emotions in posting or making some snide remarks online because of the many preceding remarks in similarly colourful language. I always believe that underlying all the comments lie an indignation that something is not right. If so, channel that indignation and passion into a worthwhile cause and take action to make things right.
Remember, don’t boo; vote!
Editor’s note – James seems to forget the fact that all generals are “predestined” to take up the leadership role, the moment they enter the military. This is clearly shown by the young age of the general and the short time where they are deployed in their respective units, some barely even reach a year to show any results to gauge their performance to be promoted. As a former regular in the army, I understand officers are told roughly where they will rise in the organisation and which is why some go for early retirement before their time is up with the force. It is fair to say that we shouldn’t judge the generals because the lack of experience with warfare but clearly there is a minimum standard to look at and how the idea of meritocracy should be not be mocked in this country.