Conscription: “Who will defend Singapore if we were given a choice?”

Wee Yang is 23. He dreams of travelling the world, has a passion for photography and loves to cycle. But all this will have to wait – he’s also been conscripted for national service.

Every young adult in Singapore must serve. Photo: The Real Singapore

Every young male in Singapore must serve. Photo: The Real Singapore

In Singapore every male over 18 must spend two years serving in the army, navy, airforce or police. Refusal could cost up to three years in jail and a $10,000 fine.

Wee was selected to serve in the police force. He explained: “There was no choice. The government chooses where you are posted too. Some of my friends were posted to the navy, the airforce or even the army.

All guys that are 18 years old go through this, unless they choose to sign on with the forces anyway.”

Now he spends his time at special camp undergoing physical training, learning the letter of the law and how to use a firearm.

He added: “We were not allowed to go home for the first two weeks, to help us get used to life in the camp and to get us ready for the ‘real world’ where we get posted to our unit”

Wee has been sent to the lock up unit and is responsible for looking after arrested prisoners.

He said: “We make sure they eat, get them a doctor if they need it and look after them until they are bailed or go to court.”

We usually work 12 hours a day but we need to be there early and usually will end late.”

Although conscription was abolished in the UK in 1960 it remains a contentious issue around the world.

This month alone Bermuda has announced plans to abolish it’s compulsory military service. Yet at the same time government ministers in Suriname revealed the reintroduction of a scheme by 2013.

Even in the UK there have been calls for conscription to make a comeback. In the wake of the 2011 riots the Daily Express led a campaign pressing for teenagers to be forced into Army duties.

A survey in the paper claimed to show that 72% of the population were in favour of the idea, which it alleged could help save a “lost generation”.

However not everyone is convinced. Malcolm Wells, now aged 68, was the second youngest marine to yomp across the Falkland Islands in 1982 after signing up at 16.

Reflecting on his time in the forces he said: “I do feel proud to have served and am still involved in several ways.

I think it is important for the young to consider joining the military but they should only enlist if they are absolutely sure it is right for them.”

Malcolm currently volunteers as secretary of his local Royal British Legion club and is on the national register of parade marshals.

He continued: “I am not in favour of conscription as a norm. A smaller, better trained and committed military is a much better option.”

It’s a view which is also shared by many serving men and women today.

Christopher Morris, 20, from Devon, is currently undergoing his preliminary training in the Royal Marines.

He described the reasons he signed up as “countless”, adding: “I wanted to look back at a conflict and be able to say: ‘yes I was there and yes I was able to make a difference’.

I wanted to be part of the camaraderie, the adventure, the travel and the opportunities. Just to know what the big bad world is really like – rather than to sit in a nice, little, safe westernised bubble of processed food, Facebook and Eastenders.”

But whilst he thinks every young person should seriously consider joining the forces, he doesn’t think they should be made to.

He explained: “Conscription is a very bad idea, especially if you are making conscripts do the fighting.

If you force a rifle into a man’s hand and tell him to ‘go fight and kill and possibly die’, one of three things will happen. He’ll either turn that rifle on you, lose it on the battle field or flat out refuse to fight and you’ll be a man down.”

However whilst this logic might seem sound, conscription is still employed by more than half the world’s countries in one form or another.

Although most westernised countries have shunned the idea, it’s widely seen across Asia, the Eastern Bloc, Africa and the Middle East, with seven states enforcing service for women too.

In Singapore women are exempt from national service and Wee openly admits this makes him feel disadvantaged.

He explained: “Serving wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to continue studying but I have to hold off now for two years.

I think conscription has made us lose out to the girls. I know girls my age who have completed their studies in their university and some are even working now.”

He added: “It’s also affected my photography as I don’t have much time anymore. Most of the time when I get back home from work I’ll be knocked out.”

Yet despite this, he still thinks scrapping national service would be a bad idea.

But by going though this 2 years of service, I think many people have matured in their thinking”

I personally think I’ve learnt a lot. It is similar to working life and something that I wouldn’t learn from the textbook.

Wee’s also been given the opportunity to work at national events, such New Years Eve and at Formula One races.

Serving has even managed to help him travel the world. He explained: “We get an allowance every month from service and I use mine for overseas trips. This year I’ve been to five different countries.”

It seems for Wee at least, the upsides of conscription make up for the bad.

He added: “It gives me a sense of national pride. For Singapore I don’t think there should be a choice. Who will defend Singapore if we were given a choice not to serve?”

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