Heritage experts say Tuesday's vandalism of the Cenotaph points to a growing disconnect between Singapore's younger generation and the significance of national monuments.
This is understandable, considering that the public's consciousness of national monuments fades with time, said Dr Chua Ai Lin, a historian and vice-president of the Singapore Heritage Society.
"In the case of the Cenotaph, older generations who lived through World War II and their children would have a better grasp of its significance. But it gets harder passing down memories after two or three generations."
The Cenotaph at Esplanade Park, which was erected in 1920, honours those who were lost or died in the two world wars. On Tuesday, it was spray-painted with the word "democracy" in red with a big "X" over the dates "1914-1918", which mark the World War I period.
The National Heritage Board has called it the most serious act of vandalism on a gazetted monument so far. The police are investigating.
This is not the first time the national monument, which was gazetted in 2010, has been defaced. The previous incident took place in December last year, when the dates "1939-1945", marking World War II, were crossed out in black.
"It's really sad that the culprits don't know what the monuments stand for, and even more sad if they knew what they meant and continued to do so anyway," said Changi Museum director Jeya Ayadurai, 52. "We need to recognise special dates and teach our soldiers and people about the important monuments in our midst."
Secondary 4 student Jaswin John, 17, may be unable to fully relate to the suffering of the men who died in the two world wars, but said vandalism of historic monuments is "clearly disrespectful".
Mr Krishna Ram, 20, who will start his national service next month, added: "The vandals must understand that the soldiers fought for our freedom."