From ‘ Knuckledusters era over, says former ST editor’, 20 Oct 2012, article by Amir Hussein, CNA
In 1973, a reporter at the now-defunct New Nation broke a story about how the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) was inviting Malaysians to enlist, with Singapore citizenship as an incentive. The reporter got the story after spotting a small classified advertisement put up by the SAF in The Straits Times.
On the same day that the story was published, plainclothes police officers turned up at the newsroom and whisked him away for interrogation. A week later, on a Sunday, the reporter was personally served with an enlistment notice – even though he had completed four years of National Service in the Vigilante Corps.
Detailing the episode in his book OB Markers: The Straits Times Story, former Singapore Press Holdings English and Malay Newspapers Division Editor-in-Chief Cheong Yip Seng said that, until now, the episode was not publicised and was known only to the newsroom, the reporter’s family and friends.
…Among the chapters is one on the “Knuckledusters Era” of the 1970s where Mr Cheong, 69, recounts the Government’s “tough treatment of the Singapore media”, including crackdowns on newspapers.
“I have seen newspapers closed when they fell foul of the government, and friends lose their jobs. Journalists have been detained. I did not suffer their fate, but many were the times when I was at the receiving end of Lee Kuan Yew’s fury,” he writes.
Bringing non-locals into the armed forces with the carrot of citizenship isn’t so shocking when you consider how we dangle incentives in front of foreign talent these days, especially when it comes to our Olympic Table Tennis players. However it’s one thing to have a foreigner win medals, and another to have one bear arms for the country. I just had to find out for myself if such enlistment ads by SAF actually existed. It didn’t take long to dig the online ST vaults to uncover one in 1974, which was out to recruit non-combat staff like mechanics, armourers and storemen.
Zooming in, you can see that ‘non-citizens who are successful in their applications will be offered citizenship’.
You can also refer to a 1973 ad which may be the one mentioned in Cheong’s book, where in addition to those listed above, foreigners may serve as a combat medical orderly. There was, however, no specific mention of Malaysians. Even the NAVY was offering foreigners the same reward. Where one’s loyalties lie was secondary to the urgency of building up military numbers. Shoot first, integrate later. You could apply the same analogy to the current state of ping-pong. Paddler first, Singaporean second.
So how different are things these days? Check out this Navy recruitment brochure, where one prerequisite other than being Singaporean is that you’re a Singaporean PR ‘intending to take up citizenship’. According to the QnA, you will need to be a Singapore citizen, however, before putting your ink on the contract. You also have to serve NS if you’re a second generation PR. Although there are no explicit terms and conditions guaranteeing citizenship after 2 years of wasting your life, there are subtler ways of nudging you into becoming Singaporean. In 2010, a $9000 payout to NSmen was withheld from PRs, only to be handed out once they become citizens, serving as both reward (for citizens) and BAIT (for PRs). However, there are still many who would rather give up the PR status than submit themselves to conscription. Minister of Defence Ng En Hen revealed in 2011 that a third of male foreigners who became PRs under the sponsorship of their parents renounced their PR status just before enlistment.
The government has since been juggling between having enough men in the SAF to defend the country vs retaining enough countrymen (and PRs) itself. But it’s not just prospective Singaporeans who are repelled by NS, many born and bred here are equally reluctant to bear arms for the nation. Ng Eng Hen recently revealed an increased number of Singaporean and PR defaulters (those who failed to register or went AWOL after going abroad) this year compared to last. A sagging birth rate isn’t helping either; we can be discharging all the state of the art missiles our inflated military budget can buy, yet fire nothing but blanks in our bedrooms. You can roll in the mud, hurl a grenade or assemble a rifle in less than 30 seconds, but fail in the most basic task of replacing yourself.
But back to knuckle-dusting. It wasn’t just the 70′s that was a thugs’ life for journalists who question the status quo. The last reference about ‘knuckle-dusters’ came as late as 1994, when LKY wrote in his memoirs his affection towards political writer Catherine Lim.
Supposing Catherine Lim was writing about me and not the prime minister . .. She would not dare, right? Because my posture, my response has been such that nobody doubts that if you take me on, I will put on knuckle-dusters and catch you in a cul de sac . . . Anybody who decides to take me on needs to put on knuckle dusters.
Strong words, but you’d have little to fear really; Knuckle-dusters are banned here and we’re getting too crowded to be caught alone and defenceless in ‘cul de sacs’. But here’s what they look like, for the benefit of those who think LKY’s referring to sparring mittens. You can see it’s far too deadly a weapon even for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.