ST Sep 3, 2006The above article immediately reminded me of the SAF's golden rule. Every NSman knows this rule - it is one of the earliest things they tell you in the SAF - but it is not written down anywhere. The rule is - "Everything is allowed, as long as you don't get caught."
It's not funny, says Mindef
Apart from security and safety concerns, others also find videos offensive
By Jeremy Au Yong
TWO uniformed Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) soldiers stand in a jungle clearing on either side of a dirt path. One raises his rifle - loaded with blanks - and shoots his compatriot. The soldier retaliates, draws his parang and rushes at his assailant. More shots are fired and the parang-wielding soldier falls. Both break out laughing.
That sequence of events was captured on video - probably with a camera phone - and posted on the popular video-sharing website Youtube.com. Since July, the 15-second video has been viewed nearly 3,000 times.
The clip, though mere entertainment to the layman, represents a security breach for the army. The act of pointing a rifle at a comrade and pulling the trigger, filmed or not, is against Ministry of Defence (Mindef) rules. The fact that it was recorded in camp, where cameras are not permitted, and subsequently released on the Net makes it that much worse.
To top it off, the machine gun clip is not the only one making the rounds online. A search at Youtube.com using the keywords 'Singapore' and 'Army' turns up 44 clips, most of which were uploaded in the last six months.
While not all videos are as blatant as the shooting clip, some tread on thin ice.
One video shows a group of men, one of them in army threads, holding a mock National Day Parade in a locker room. The parade commander in this skit uses an umbrella as a sword while the guard wears a box on his head. Towards the end of the clip, a man is wheeled out on a large dumpster as he salutes his fellow actors. The National Anthem plays in the background.
Another video has an NSman pinned to the ground as his peers try to cover him in shoe polish, while yet another shows men on guard duty at night fooling around with a video camera before supposedly spotting a ghost.
Each video has attracted thousands of viewers. The clip depicting the ragging incident, for example, has been viewed about 8,500 times since April 29.
Mindef naturally takes a dim view.
Its director of public affairs, Colonel Benedict Lim, said servicemen are not allowed to carry video cameras, cameras or phones with cameras into SAF camps and training areas.
'We regularly educate our servicemen on the security implications of such actions and remind them of the guidelines. We have taken disciplinary action against servicemen who were found breaching security regulations,' he said.
Mindef has since taken action against the men in the four videos found breaking the rules. The online clips, however, were still accessible yesterday.
The emergence of video-sharing sites like Youtube.com and the fact that nearly every phone now comes with a camera mean organisations have to deal with a whole new level of security risk.
Ms Indranee Rajah, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Defence and Foreign Affairs, also criticised the people who posted these videos for their effect on the army's reputation.
'It is one thing to do silly things in the confines of a camp or barracks with no one to see you but your platoon mates. It is quite another thing to capture those acts of silliness in a permanent record and share them with the world at large, because it negatively affects the image of the SAF,' she said.
The bottom line, she said, is that NSmen need to discern for themselves what is appropriate for the Internet and what is not.
These NSmen got caught. I understand Indranee Rajah's point of view, but at the same time I feel that her opinion is somewhat removed from actual reality. Somehow she has the expectation that NSmen understand public relations or corporate communications and ought to care or know about the potential reputational risks for the SAF if videos of their everyday life are posted on the Internet.
The truth is that our NSmen enter the SAF at the age of 18. They're teenagers. Some, at that age, are smart, sensible and mature. Others are not - and this shouldn't surprise us. It's just the stage of life they're at. A couple of months ago, they were throwing paper balls at teachers, or colouring their hair red or bravely learning to gulp down their first beer. And now they happen to be in the army, through no choice of their own. They do not know how to worry about "negative effects on the image of the SAF".
I'm just afraid that those NSmen being punished for the Youtube incidents will face some disproportionate amount of punishment. Knowing what the SAF is like, I wouldn't be surprised if they are slapped with the same kind of charges that a solder would be slapped with, if he deliberately threatened someone with a rifle; burned the national flag or intentionally leaked a significant military secret.
And that would be very sad - these NSmen were just clowning around and now they probably face jail time in the detention barracks and their respective futures will be stained with the equivalent of a criminal conviction.
Sometimes I wonder whether we will ever learn to laugh a little at ourselves. The US military is the world's most powerful force - it also comprises mainly professional soldiers, not unwilling conscripts. Yet the existence of Beetle Bailey, a cartoon strip featuring assorted stupid, malingering or otherwise inept soldiers in the US army, was tolerated through the decades. It's easily one of the most popular cartoon strips of all time.
In case you believe that Beetle Bailey was for some reason a very special exception to the rule, click here. You'll see a selection of professional soldiers (including one retired soldier who retired as a Navy Chief) who also make a living drawing cartoons about military life. Not in Singapore, of course.
Personally, I think that the ST article exaggerates the reputational damage that the SAF stands to suffer, from these Youtube incidents. The authorities still don't get it - the SAF is a conscript army; and every able-bodied male Singaporean goes through it. There's no image to defend or portray, because all of us Singaporean men already know, from firsthand experience, what the SAF is like. If the ladies want to know, they can just ask their father, brother, uncle, boyfriend or husband.
Technorati: Singapore; Singapore Armed Forces; military; national service;Youtube.