On Monday, I wrote about my experience at the second focus group discussion organised by the Committee to Strengthen National Service on The Breakfast Network (here):
Yet, absent from the discourse were questions or segments that encouraged participants to challenge the very existence of NS in Singapore. Conscription was introduced pragmatically decades ago, but is it still relevant today? Are we (still) convinced by its objectives?
Implicit in the name of the committee – to “strengthen” NS – is the notion that conscription is here to stay, and these engagement sessions therefore discourage views that argue otherwise. The structure of the focus group discussion adhered very strictly to the stated objectives of “motivating”, “helping”, “strengthening”, and “promoting”, and the set questions guided the flow of the conversations. Interestingly enough, when ST interviewed two panel members from the first session (“Ideas to make NS more engaging, June 23, 2013), they said they hoped to “correct people’s misconceptions of NS”.
The question: what are some of these “misconceptions”? Not the openness and the level of exchanges many were expecting, unfortunately. I might be convinced by the principles of defence and deterrence, but how can we be so sure that the servicemen are in agreement too? Should we conveniently take this as a given?
Perhaps individuals who were not convinced of the significance of NS did not see the need to turn up. After all, why spend three hours dwelling upon such drivel? If that is the case, it would be useful to make it explicit – during the introductory address – that participating soldiers should challenge the very existence of NS. If that does not happen, future participants should for the sake of a more balanced and meaningful debate, not be confined by the stated questions, and play the devil’s advocate to question.
As I wrote, I’d still encourage more servicemen to sign up for the upcoming sessions. The interactions are intriguing, and knowledge of how the discussions would be structured would now allow more to ask the fundamental question: why serve?