Drive to build up social, psychological defences

Total Defence efforts this year to focus on strengthening unity

National Cadet Corps member Tan Ke Ting, 15, a Secondary 3 student at Greendale Secondary, teaching Secondary 2 students (from far left) Aidan Chiu and Jerick Chua, both 14, as well as Kimiko Alexandra and Hannah Tan, both 13, how to play Guardians o
National Cadet Corps member Tan Ke Ting, 15, a Secondary 3 student at Greendale Secondary, teaching Secondary 2 students (from far left) Aidan Chiu and Jerick Chua, both 14, as well as Kimiko Alexandra and Hannah Tan, both 13, how to play Guardians of the City yesterday. The Total Defence strategy card game aims to get students thinking about Singapore's five pillars of defence. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

This year's Total Defence campaign will focus on strengthening social cohesion and building the country's will to overcome threats that target people's hearts and minds.

Terrorism, fake news campaigns and cyber attacks all "exploit the fault lines in our increasingly diverse multi-ethnic, multi-religious society", the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said yesterday.

"We will need everyone to step up and play their part to strengthen our unity, resilience and resolve in the face of external pressures," a spokesman said.

Singapore commemorates Total Defence Day today, as Feb 15 marks the day Japanese invaders took over the country in 1942 during World War II.

A series of activities will emphasise the nation's five pillars of defence: economic, social, military, civil and psychological.

In his Total Defence message yesterday, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen urged Singaporeans to stay vigilant - even during Chinese New Year celebrations.

They can do this through several ways, such as reporting suspicious parcels in public places, alerting the authorities to help someone they suspect is being radicalised or helping to dispel fake news.

  • Total Defence events


    Walk through a fictitious zombie apocalypse and learn different skills to prepare for emergencies through this ticketed event on March 24.

    The centre will be made up to look like a safe haven from a zombie outbreak that has taken over Singapore. Event-goers pretend to be survivors, going through a series of missions and challenges.

    Cost: Buy tickets priced at $10 until March 18, or $12 afterwards.


    Cyber threats are a key focus at this exhibition that aims to boost Singapore's psychological defence. Held at the Singapore Discovery Centre until March 25, the exhibition aims to bolster the nation's mental readiness to face a crisis.

    Cost: Free admission for Singaporeans and permanent residents.


    Look out for 35 Total Defence actions that range from befriending people of different ethnicities to picking up life-saving skills such as cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. The puzzle can be found online.

    Cost: Free.


    Download the puzzle from the Total Defence website and colour in the image.

    Cost: Free.

    •More information on this year's line-up for Total Defence is available at, and on the Total Defence Facebook page.

The country needs to do so to avoid repeating history, said Dr Ng, noting that the day Singapore fell in 1942 was on Chinese New Year. "Hope was lost as the future seemed ominous and uncertain (then)," he said. "The battle was lost, and so was Singapore."

This year's focus on social and psychological defences echoes a message given by Second Minister for Defence Ong Ye Kung in a speech last month. At a meeting that was part of the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, he emphasised the importance of psychological defence, especially during peacetime.

Citing Finland as an example, Mr Ong, who is Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills), said it has "a well-established social compact which forms the bedrock of social cohesion and psychological resilience of a people". He noted: "It is a cultural ballast, arguably stronger than military defence."

Fake news is increasingly undermining Singapore's social fabric and unity, he said. "The techniques used are sophisticated, to give the illusion of public interest, legitimacy and support for the falsehoods, and influencing public opinion."

Fighting fake news is also on the agenda of Colonel Joseph Tan Boon Kiat, who runs Nexus, the Mindef department responsible for Total Defence and National Education. He said: "Singaporeans have stood together and weathered crises such as the severe acute respiratory syndrome (in 2003) and haze, with many individuals and groups stepping up to lend a helping hand."

He said psychological defence may not be as apparent, but the nation's "commitment to and personal sacrifices (made) for national service" are "a measure of our inner strength and our people's resolve".

But the new threats warrant a further strengthening in Singapore's social and psychological defences.

"Our increasingly diverse and connected society will make us more vulnerable to those who wish to do us harm," he said.

As part of the Total Defence commemoration, more than 38,000 Secondary 2 students will receive a strategy card game that aims to make them think about Singapore's five pillars of defence.

Greendale Secondary student Chinta Kunta Shreya, 13, who learnt how to play it last year, said: "When I drew a cyber-attack card, my social defences were weak and I lost the game. I have learnt my lesson."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2018, with the headline Drive to build up social, psychological defences. Subscribe