Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Same Old Saw: The Unnecessary Evil

Over the weekend, this opinion was featured in the Straits Times:

National service for women: Time to change mindset
Feb 28, 2015

Ho Kwon Ping
In a recent dialogue session, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen was asked about female conscription, and he answered that it should not be for reasons of equity. In other words, it should be only for demographic reasons - if there are not enough young men to defend the country.
I wholly agree that female conscription should not be undertaken simply for equity reasons.

The reasons for female conscription must instead be underpinned by national need... national need can be more broadly defined than as simply military defence. 
In the Singapore 50 years from today, there will possibly be a defence need - but most certainly a social need - for all our young women to be trained in the skills needed by a rapidly ageing society.
 [What is this social need?]
...female conscription for military defence should be considered only as a final resort should male conscripts be unable to fulfil military needs. 
[He SEEMS to agree with "the last resort" argument...] 
But conscription may still be warranted, to serve the equally important social and community needs of an ageing population whose well-being is a strategic necessity. That would still fall within the ambit of Total Defence. 
[What is this "social and community needs"? Still amorphous and undefined... Something to do with ageing population?] 
But let us deal with purely the defence need first.
The defence imperative 
WILL the time ever come when universal female conscription becomes necessary to infill for male soldiers? And even if it does not become an absolute necessity, should we prepare for the possible eventuality, given the very long timeframe required for debate and preparation before any implementation?
After all, much debate and preparation will clearly be necessary... only 9 per cent of all Singaporean women surveyed - and 13 per cent of those under 30 - supported female conscription.
In other words, it's great for my father, husband, boyfriend or son to do NS, but not me. 
If we are to change young Singaporean women's views about female conscription - which by the way is gender-neutral in the Conscription Act - the first challenge is to convince them that there is indeed a demographic dilemma.
[This is a devious argument.

First, he agrees that conscription of women should be for demographic necessity, as Ng Eng Hen has reiterated.

Then, he also agrees that it should not be for reasons of equity, but for "national needs".

Then, he reasonably points out that "national needs" can be "more broadly defined" than simply Defence. Total Defence encompasses many aspects. Military Defence is just one of them.

Then, he suggest, let's talk about military defence. Is there a possibility that in some future time, we might need women to be conscripted? In the future anything is possible, so of course it is entirely possible that conscription for women is necessary.
But, he points out, studies today show that women are not prepared to be conscripted. Arguing about this will take a long time. So to prepare women for conscription we should start now. 
The problem is convincing them that there is a "demographic dilemma".
That is the gist of his argument.
Do you see how he has twisted from "yes, there is no demographic need to conscript women" to "but we should conscript women now... just in case... to get them used to the idea of conscription... and the possible demographic dilemma.".]
Current demographic trends from the United Nations show that in a "no-change" scenario - meaning we assume current total fertility rates (TFRs) and no in-migration - the male population aged 15 to 24 will decline by around 35 per cent between now and 2040. That is a drop of one-third in 25 years.

The rate of decline will continue so that in 50 years' time - by 2065 - the same male NS-age cohort then will be less than half of its size today.
As the nature of warfare changes, the classic image of thousands of foot-soldiers charging up a hill will necessarily evolve, possibly to one with armed drones skilfully and remotely controlled - by women. 
New technologies requiring more brain than brawn are inherently female-friendly and will increasingly enable women to serve meaningful roles in the military. 
[He obviously haven't met a lot of young men and women. Sure, there are "Gamer Girls", but the reason why they are remarkable is because there are so few of them.] 
Short-term stints 
ONE way is to introduce universal female conscription for a form of non-military, shorter-term duration focused on supporting our civil defence, Home Team, community and health-care institutions. 
[Deleted: his wet dream about universal female conscription]
Social imperative 
WE NOW come to the social reason [Finally!] for female conscription. The intention is to train future generations of female citizens who are not just actively engaged in the ongoing Total Defence of the nation but also equipped with real-life skills which are different from, but no less important than, those of their male counterparts.
[Right. Women are currently ill-equiped with real-life skills. That is a wonderful assumption. The even more wonderful assumption is that ONLY National Service for women will be able to teach them these "real-life" skills.]
[It would be helpful to have a definition or example of these "real-life" skills. Oh wait! did he give one earlier? 

Oh yes - Controller of Armed Drones. That is a real-life skill women today DO NOT have. And they can probably ONLY LEARN in NS.

Really? The Social Reason for Women to be conscripted to serve NS is to teach them real-life skills? Such as...? Flying deadly drones? First Aid? Nursing? Before we run full tilt willy-nilly into conscripting women for NS to teach them some amorphous  "Real-Life" skills, please define those real-life skills. Otherwise we head down the wonderfully ill-informed path of Malaysia's National Service to help build up patriotism or something. (BTW, M'sia's National Service programme has been suspended since Jan 2015 for budget reasons. I suspect it would just lie dormant and die. This would be good way for the thing to just fade away...)]
Singapore in the next 50 years will certainly need a far more comprehensive voluntary services sector; national servicewomen could clearly contribute to their country in this area. 
[I am amazed that someone who is the S.R. Nathan Fellow, who is giving a series of lectures on the Study of Singapore, cannot tell the difference between "VOLUNTARY" and "CONSCRIPTION". I must salute all those young men who volunteered to serve National Service, and MINDEF for proactively sending them their voluntary enlistment letter.

YES! Singapore need a far more comprehensive Voluntary Service Sector (whatever that means), and we should FORCE people to volunteer.] 
One may object at this juncture to say this is tantamount to getting young women to perform cheap labour in place of foreign nurses on full wages. 
[And now he confuses "Voluntary" and "Conscription" with "Cheap Labour". No. No. No. Cheap is Cheap; Voluntary is FREE!]
It will be a bleak and dismal Singapore when our own citizens do not feel it is their duty to perform vital tasks critical for the well-being of our society, on the grounds that it can be equally performed by foreign workers. If the same reluctance is applied to soldiering, then one might argue that it is better to outsource this to foreign mercenary soldiers than to require our young men to be conscripted.
[And here we have an interesting logical sleight of hand. It is also called a tautology, or circular reasoning, or begging the question. 

Or maybe not. 

Let me work this out for you. It's a sneaky argument that seems logical until you break it down.

First, he says vital tasks should be performed by citizens. If we argue that some vital task (like nursing care for our elderly) can be performed by foreign workers, then we might as well argue that military defence can be undertaken by foreign mercenaries!

And of course if you are a full-blooded Singaporean, you will say, "NO!" And then you might say, "Send our girls to Basic Nursing Training!" (BNT?)

That's a good point, isn't it?


What is the reality of Singapore NOW?

The Reality, is that many of our nursing staff are foreigners because our citizens do not want nursing as a career. The Reality is that our Military Defence is done by NS men because we do recognise (and agree) that military defence is too IMPORTANT and too SENSITIVE to be "outsourced" to foreign mercenaries. (And it doesn't have to be a career.)

The reality is that while it is sad that we do not have enough citizens who want to be nurses, it can be solved by hiring foreign staff. Because while it is desirable to have our own citizen provide such vital services, it is far far more important that the vital services are provided by well-trained professionals who see it as a matter of professional pride to do a good job as opposed to simply doing National Service.

But more important than that, the logical sleight of hand Mr Ho does is in equating the importance and sensitivity of Military Defence with Nursing Care - the fallacy of False Equivalence. He does this with sublime grace and effortless demagoguery. It is to be admired. And called out for the appeal to emotion, patriotism, and subtle and covert xenophobia. I applaud his effort and his skill, in presenting an idealised world of Singaporean purity (where men are soldiers and women are nurses), but I cannot applaud his intellectual dishonesty is attempting to distract us from the truth, from reality with a false equivalence.]
Today only about one in 10 Singaporeans is considered elderly; in 50 years this will be nearly one in two. While the elderly can try to be more self-reliant - with the aid of robots, for example - the strain on our social services will be enormous. Singapore already does not have enough trained nurses to service current hospital needs; imagine the strain on community services for the elderly by then. 
[And now I do not know if he is being intellectually dishonest, or he has lost track of his argument, or he is so enamoured of his own demagoguery that he has convinced himself that in 50 years time, when the elderly makes up 1 in 2 Singaporeans, and need social and health care, the only solution is to conscript girls to take care of our elderly.

You don't see the problem with his "solution"?

I don't blame you.

It is seductive. 

And the thing about seduction is, you want to believe it.

Here's the simple question you should ask. When 1 in 2 SC is an elderly person, where are you going to find girls to conscript?

How many girls would be available for conscription in 50 years time? Well, currently there are about 40,000 babies born each year. The sex distribution is always very slightly tilted towards boys, but never mind, let's just say half are boys and half are girls. 

So 20,000 girls in each cohort.

Oh wait!

Earlier, when talking about TFR, he claimed that the number of boys of NS age in 2065 will be less than HALF that of today. 

So there would be less than 10,000 girls.

Oh, and earlier, he suggested that girls would only do short stints of NS... of a few months. Let's say 6 months. So the 10,000 girls? will be split into two batches of 5000 each for 6 months. 

And how many elderly will these 5000 girls have to nurse?

Oh wait, some of them have to control armed drones, so less than 5000.]

[Note: I have rearranged the comments from this post.] 
[And now we come to the usual, "women don't have to be soldiers. they can be nurses and care-givers as their national service."

You are a man. You have been conscripted. You hate National Service. Kill the enemy.

You are are woman. You have been conscripted to be a nurse. You HATE nursing. You can't stand the sight of blood. Please care for this elderly woman.

You have a sick parent, going to hospital for extended stay. How assured are you that the conscripted nurses and healthcare attendants looking after your frail, vulnerable parent will provide PROFESSIONAL care? Or can you expect at best, NATIONAL SERVICE LEVEL care?]
An important point, however, is to maintain the fundamental ethos of universal national service - so it should be truly universal for all young Singaporean women and not be on a voluntary basis. 
The argument for equity is applicable here: If our young female citizens are needed for defence of the nation or for community and social work in an ageing and declining population, that responsibility should fall onto every young female citizen.

[And now the other shoe drops. After paying lip service to "it should not be for equity reasons", he now turns around and argues for equity. Man, this guy could write Shakespeare. "I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him." What a Mark Anthony!]
Most young women I met are keen to acquire practical skills in physical self-protection, civil defence and paramedical care. Their love of country and society is certainly no less than that of their male brethren, and they are keen to demonstrate it. Let's give them a chance to show it.
[And there is NO WAY for these women to learn Self-protection, civil defence, paramedical care without conscription? The ONLY way and place to learn these things are in NS? The only way SOME women can learn these things is to FORCE EVERY WOMAN to do NS because that is the Democratic way? The Only way? Or is this just an excuse?]
[I LOVE this speech. It is incredibly devious, sly, slippery, and sneaky. It starts out agreeing with EVERY SINGLE ARGUMENT against conscription of women for NS, and then in the course of the speech turns everything around.
If he had this facility in the 70s, I can see why he was incarcerated under the ISA - with this gift of eloquence, he can convince you Black is White, Day is Night, Light is Dark, and while NS for women is not necessary right now, we should have it anyway.
Brilliant. This guy is bloody brilliant!]

[NS is a necessary evil. 

The conscription of men to serve in the military is a basic and base need - to defend the tribe, the home, the country, the nation. It requires men to do nasty things to other men. It requires sons and brothers, and fathers and husbands to kill other sons, and brothers, and fathers and husbands - to protect their home, their family, their way of life.

It is a necessary responsibility, and not one to be taken lightly. Nor to be shirked. 

And it is for this reason that conscription for military service is seen as a necessity, especially when the pool of potential soldiers is small.

Yes, we conceal the nasty with concepts like duty, and honour, and loyalty, and esprit de corp. We glorify military service to make it more palatable, to participate in the autistic conspiracy that what is necessary is also good.

And yes, some good does come out of it. But that is because of the indomitable human spirit, that seeks to find a positive in the most demented situation.

Extending this necessary evil that has been necessarily inflicted on the men, onto the women is the sign of a deranged and immature mind. 

It is a mind obsessed with naive and infantile notions of "fairness". 

It is a mind stewed in paranoia, and the ideology of victimhood,  and wishing to inflict the same suffering onto women. 

It is a mind confused and enraged by misconstrued ideas about gender equality, and lashing out in retaliation. 

It is a small mind, regardless of the intellectual capacity, lacking in compassion, empathy, and connection to women. 

It is a sad mind that seems to think that the only way to alleviate its pain is to ensure others suffer as well.

NS is a necessary evil.

Conscription is a curtailment of one's freedom to choose. We accept that for drastic and critical need, such suspension of basic human rights is necessary. Like Military Defence (National Service). 

But if one wishes to extend this suspension of human rights, this infringement of civil liberties, it has to be for a clear and present need. Conscripting girls today IN CASE we need to tomorrow is NOT a just cause. It is not a clear and present need.

Conscripting girls to be nurses, when it is possible and feasible to recruit from other countries, is unjustifiable.

But this NS for Girls question and issue will rise again. Not because it is a pressing and critical issue, but because there are always small-minded, vicious, ideologues who will want to make a case for NS for girls.

They can dress their reason and logic any way they want, but deep down, they are basically women-haters. and they hate because they fear.

What do they fear? 

Sorry, I do not know. My instinct is to protect my wife, my mother, my sister, my daughter. Not force them to suffer. Or deprive them of their liberty. I therefore do not understand those who think their mother, sister, wife, or daughter, needs to learn "real-life" skills in NS.]

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