Why It Matters

Ben Davis' NS deferment issue sparks conversation

Even taxi drivers who do not know Fulham from the Falcons of Atlanta now know the name Ben Davis. Some threw up ideas for a resolution, while others believe he should serve like every son of Singapore.

Even as reports devoted to the saga grow by the day, the 17-year-old continues to lace up his boots at Fulham's Motspur Park and sprint towards that dream of playing in the English Premier League.

His application for long-term deferment from national service (NS) has already been rejected, and his family is planning an appeal.

Whether or not Davis is granted the opportunity to chase down that goal, the teen born to an Englishman and a Thai mother has already presented Singapore with a gift of sorts: His situation has now sparked a national conversation, not just about NS policies, but also about what kind of society we want to live in and how we want to shape the Singapore of the future.

The nascent Singapore was focused on survival, unity, a strong defence and economic growth. And with that also came strict policies and a mindset geared towards returns on investment.

But because of the phenomenal growth driven by those factors, 21st-century Singapore is now home to a different breed of citizens than those who shaped it.

Gone are the days of saving the prime piece of meat for the head of the family, and sticking with the first stable job you find. Parents now tell their children they can be anything they want to be - and many have the wherewithal to fuel those dreams.

There are hawker centre entrepreneurs, go-kart racers and even some who have climbed Everest.

The Defence Ministry, in rejecting Davis' deferment request, does not want to open the floodgates, and rightly so: The nation's defence remains of vital importance, and strict rules help maintain our security.

But the ongoing conversation suggests a question is being asked: Perhaps there should be some wiggle room, some flexibility, for modern Singaporean dreams?

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2018, with the headline Ben Davis' NS deferment issue sparks conversation. Subscribe