Singapore Armed Forces versus cynics and critics in the halcyon days of peace

Not everyone will love thy neighbour.

Love ’em or hate ’em, it does not matter for Singapore’s citizen soldiers. The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is bound by oath to defend Singapore all the same.

SAF warfighters can choose their targets but not whom they choose to defend. From a tactical standpoint, it is impractical for Singaporean soldiers deployed for action to single out individuals, property or grid squares of Singaporean real estate they will hand over to the aggressor(s) willingly without a fight.

The sad truth about people like Melvyn Tan, who defaulted his full-time National Service and turned his back on Singapore to build his career in London, and Zheng Huiting, who became a social pariah after she made a remark discrediting Singaporean soldiers, is that they may have the last laugh as they still enjoy the protection and services provided by the SAF and Home Team.

If and when they are in town and are in peril, the SAF will not turn its back on such people.

When the SAF swung into action in March 1991 to rescue passengers and crew aboard the hijacked Singapore Airlines Flight SQ117, Special Operations Force commandos made it a priority to rescue every friendly soul aboard the airliner regardless of their political affiliations, feelings towards the SAF or level of commitment to defence (C2D). Even the most fervent and acid-tongue critic of the SAF would have been saved from harm by the SAF during Operation Thunderbolt.

The mission to evacuate Singaporeans from embattled Cambodian capital Phnom Penh in 1997 during Operation Crimson Angel also made no distinction between the level of support for C2D. A Singapore passport was all that was needed for Singaporeans to book a seat aboard the stream of Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) C-130s sent for the non-combatant evacuation operation that flew them home.

Singapore Army warfighters tasked to form a contact tracing cell during the SARS crisis in 2003 performed their duties professionally and diligently without caring a hoot whether or not Singaporeans appreciated their efforts. The soldiers, many of whom were full-time National Servicemen trained as intelligence specialists, planned, conceptualised and implemented a process to trace people who were thought to have come into contact with carriers of the deadly SARS virus. The NSFs did so without the benefit of any template and got better at the no-notice, no rehearsal task as the life-saving operation unfolded.

Despite all this, Singaporeans are all too quick to bitch about, abuse and criticise the national defence apparatus that has been the silent sentinel responsible for the Lion City’s security, survival and success. We have made an art of heaping scorn and ridicule on anything SAF-related, happily exerting brain cells to come up with the most witty or sarcastic retort to official statements or policies while exposing a child-like naivette about political undercurrents that swirl around our island nation.

We do not seem to care that the joint Malaysian-Indonesian airdrop during the Malindo Darsasa 3AB war games, done within sight of Woodlands on National Day in 1991, was the kind of madhouse political brinkmanship that would be replayed time and again if not for the SAF’s readiness for operations.

Scores of SAF regulars, NSmen and NSFs who stood on guard during Indonesia’s amphibious landing exercises on Pasir Panjang on Bintan island in the 1980s knew the true meaning of siege mentality that Singaporeans love to sneer at. Live ordnance hung from RSAF warplanes with pilots at immediate readiness for takeoff as the SAF tracked Indonesian amphibs to see if they made landfall in their own territory or steamed further on within striking distance of Singapore’s coastline.

No one appears to be bothered that interceptions of sand and granite barges in sea lanes around Singapore could have presaged interceptions of vital supplies, if not for the SAF’s air and naval forces that kept potential aggressors from provoking Autostrike.

The tenor of critics is directly proportional to the amount of pluck commentators get from dishing out their anti-establishment tripe from the (supposed) anonymity of Internet pseudonyms. When corrected, many slink away quietly and surrender the argument, brittle egos intact as they never had the conviction to put their name to the arguments in the first place.

Many would bitch and do so with alacrity and colourful language, but few would dare stand up and take responsibility for their points of view or for the consequences of a certain course of action.

Our society’s complacency, fortified by more than four decades of deceptive peace, has made the job of defending the Lion City all the more challenging as the SAF fights to explain its relevance with no immediate conventional threat on the horizon.

In halcyon days of peace, our biggest enemy is our own complacency.

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