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A new brand of heroism for young Singaporeans

Published on Apr 18, 2014 5:47 PM
Full-time National Service (NS) specialist cadets from Lima Company, Specialist Cadet School, sharing lessons before a training exercise near Pasir Laba Camp, on July 1, 2013. -- ST FILE PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

IN A recent focus group discussion held by the Committee to Strengthen National Service, Second Minister for Defence Chan Chun Sing said: "We can do everything well, but if we cannot settle this issue of why we are wearing the uniform...all the other things are meaningless." The 'why we wear the uniform' question is not new - but the social norms and values of those who wear the uniform will have a fundamental bearing on the 'reason why'.

In the case of the British Army for centuries the regimental system has been the conduit of military lessons, experience and traditions passed on from one generation of soldiers to the next - and more importantly it is the sinew that provided cohesion in the face of battle. Even today, British regiment messes and museums are adorned with battle honours of the regiment as a collective - and of its individual war heroes.

In the case of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), there is no equivalent of a regimental system, nor has independent Singapore been involved in any wars, but that does not mean that there is an absence of an identity that binds - or even heroes in uniform. In fact, there are Singaporean heroes and heroines in uniform both in the SAF and Home Team. Their stories can form the basis of Singapore's post-1965 collective memory and narrative that inspire future generations of servicemen and women.

Rather than simply appropriate war heroes from Singapore's colonial and pre-independence past, Singapore's post-65 recent past offers prime examples of heroism that present and future generations of Singaporeans can relate to and draw inspiration from. In particular, there is a need to define a brand of heroism that younger generations of Singaporeans can relate to. A brand of heroism that moves beyond the grand events and great personalities of a distant past to one that speaks to an average present-day 18-year-old National Serviceman.

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