Thursday, August 12, 2010

Is It Worth It?

Do national security concerns justify injury and death during national service? 

Last year a young Singaporean died during national service. He wasn't the first, nor will he be the last. As a parent whose son also did his national service, the death of this 19-year old made me sit up and think about the cost of  NS. 

My son survived his NS obligations but he also could have lost his life in an accident. He didn't. But other parents go through the pain of losing their sons during National Service. Our sons benefit from NS. This is true, but do the benefits outweigh the dangers posed by the training and the loss of 2 years in the life of a young man? Perhaps not. And shame on us, if we shrug our shoulders and heave a sigh of relief that it wasn't our son who died. 

NS poses some tough questions. I don't know if I have all the answers but I see no harm in scaling down the training to one year. This reduction minimizes the risk of fatalities, provide our sons with more time to get ahead in education, and improve their career prospects. No, I am not against NS but there are benefits to reducing the present 2-year commitment.    

The death of a national serviceman last year forced me to put my thoughts in a post last year. I chose however keep it as a draft and to not post it. A year has passed. There's a greater sense of urgency to post it on this blog, now. So here it is. Better late than never:    

Another NS man dies after training!

Sad. And no, 19 - year olds aren't men. NS helps to discipline teenagers and instill a sense of patriotism and helps to put them on the path to manhood. Those doing NS are teenagers, still kids in some families. They don't deserve to die.

Deaths like these make one reflect and think about the meaning and cost of  NS.
The arguments for NS sound patriotic and right. None of them however justify the death of a 19-year old boy. We should work toward a zero casualty rate in training. Parents entrust their sons to the SAF for two years with the hope that no harm will befall their sons. 

Deaths during NS should shake us up. Is there a silver lining for those who grieve the loss of their loved ones?

The boy's name is Liam Kai Zheng. And yes, he was a boy - only 19 years old! His parents will not celebrate his 21st birthday nor will they attend his wedding. Forget about the grandchildren. The nation mourns the loss of Kai Zheng - a member of the wider Singapore family. He died for the sake of our security needs. Do our security needs require our sons to face the dangers and demands of military training for 2 years? 

Do they give their lives in order for us to feel secure? It might seem obvious for those whose sons either escaped unscathed during NS or whose call up for NS is still due. It's different however for those who've lost their sons during NS. It's easy to shrug our shoulders and get on with our life until we lose one of our own. 

My condolences to his family.

Here is an excerpt from the Straits Times May 23 2009,

After Mr Liam Kai Zheng, 19, got off the boat at the Singapore Armed Forces' ferry terminal in Changi, he was taken in an ambulance to the Changi General Hospital, where he died nine hours later on Friday morning.

Mr Liam had recently completed a four-day field camp before checking out of the Basic Military Training Centre in Pulau Tekong on Thursday night.

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