03 September 2006

No Laughing Matter

ST Sep 3, 2006
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.

The 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."

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.

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Anonymous said...

well, they paid for two rounds of "rebranding and repositioning" exercises, so that image-changing money should not go to waste or be poked fun at.

they didn't pay money to rename marina bay as "marina bay" - they did better.

the comedic timing of the m16 clip is impeccable.

"what is appropriate for the internet and what is not?" - the net is simply a medium for transmission and dissemination. we already have live streaming interactive porn and a few happy beheading videos, so what does this constitute?

Kevin said...

The video is question immediately raised a red-flag in my mind after watching it. It was just blatent flouting of discipline in the army. The one in question stood out of the rest of the videos, which were more comedic than dangerous (i.e. pointing gun).

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Sorry Kevin, which video are you referring to?

Anonymous said...

Poor discipline, yes . But I think it is abnormal not to expect such things in the military.

After 40 years, this is nothing new to Mindef, I am sure.

Like one of the earlier comments, I only hope that the SAF have acquired enough maturity and experience to downplay the 'seriousness' of such fooling around.

To be sure, some of these antics of our servicemen had resulted in tragedy. But then it is not an unknown risk among people who bear arms. And it is highly unlikely to prevent a recurrence. Young men, put in boring circumstances are bound to try their hands at entertaining themselves by doing something ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

I find the journalist views on this issue distort the truth. His view is polemic dressed up as analysis, blaming the NSF for all that he is unhappy with. He offers no alternatives or solutions. His piece is calculated to encourage cynicism and despondency, which can only make things worse, not better, for those he professes to agree with.

It is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the establishment. If a columnist presents himself as a non-political observer, while exploiting his access to the mass media to undermine the SAF's standing with the society, then he is no longer a constructive critic, but a partisan player in journalism.

Anyway, having experienced NS myself, I know that for many life would be extremely boring and very very difficult in there if you want to take everything so serious and no fun throughout the already very dull and stern military training. I have my own fair share of doing silly things during operation with my buddies back in those days. After all most of us were just tennagers at that time and were there not by choice but the law.

Anonymous said...

wat reputation is there for the SAF to defend? Really, what????? The PAP woman should go do NS otherwise she better STFU, what she hoping for? Trying to score some cheap political points over her male counterparts? What is her agenda?

National Slavery is what NS is. NS for Male S'poreans, Jobs for Foreigners!

Anonymous said...

It's the image of the SAF in the eyes of the world that they are concerned about.

I'm not sure why Mr Wang is blogging on this though, it doesn't seem interesting enough to warrant an article?

rei_andrew29 said...

This immediately struck a chord in my heart, especially about dishing out inappropriate punishments. Many of the times the people higher 1 or 2 levels will try to keep damage to a minimum for their future, but who knows how many teens have it destroyed just because of an imprudent act that only concerns the SAF reputation, which doesn't even exist in our homeland.

Well said, Mr Wang!

Anonymous said...

What image are they concerned with? If a Kim Il Sung fatassed lookalike can be army chief, then I really don't see what they can be concerned with. The fatassed flabby general is far more of an embarassment than these immature jokers will ever be.

Besides anyone who has ever been a soldier in the SAF will already know what a joke and disgrace the saf is. The Indranee woman should get a life.

Anonymous said...

well, classifying "white horse" in NS in order to NOT give them preferential treatment is not funny either. Whatever happened to that? Case closed?

Anonymous said...

I got upset with the video of the ragging with the kiwi shoe polish. One of them had his pants way down, exposing his buttocks. I won't be surprised if he was aroused with the body contact, while trying to cop a feel.

Anonymous said...

mr wang,

1) you may be too harsh on indranee. she appreciates the fact that we should learn to laugh at ourselves.

2) i find your analysis puzzling: lee hsien loong made a gaffe and we laughed at him. you regard mindef actions as harsh because they could not laugh along with us. and you claim not to understand the implications of the "negative effects on the image of" x or y?

3) rules may be good or bad, but you seem to suggest that rules are unnecessary or unapplicable, especially for 18 year olds. surely good sense is not a function of age.

4) what exactly are these punishments meted out by mindef? you seem to do the same unto them: taking pot shots.

le radical galoisien said...

In regards to the US Army, the US Congress may approve a draft if the casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan continue, or if North Korea decides to take advantage of the US military's current weakness.

Many people sign up for the Army Reserve or the National Guard, mainly so they can receive financial aid to afford tertiary education. IIRC, the basic training for a rifleman is 40 weeks.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous Sunday, September 03, 2006 8:58:27 PM

PAP/MSM/Mindef folks are all inefficient, inept nincompoops who betray, lie, twist facts. It's proven time and time again. Only the delusional think otherwise.

They deserve every single potshot, point blank.

And it's only satire or criticism. In other places, they'll get their powers cut, removed from power or even murdered.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang,(this is a hate mail, ignore it if you are a whiny wussy)

it is due to specific Imbeciles like you who keep on quoting all things foreign(wise quotes, stories, and cartoons),and (my good friend was from which and which western Ivy elite university) that keep on brainwashing Singaporeans to "listen to this" or "listen to that" and psychoblabble them to worship all things foreign and wise, so much that they all want to emigrate for greener pastures,

and then come back and complain of Singaporeans losing out to them in jobs and opportunities, and then write imbecile weeping stories of friends who have to leave Singapore to live with the foreign talents in their foreign lands because Singapore can no longer "make it" and along with other crap that brainwash people like Dr Huang to be as cynical as you!

Keep up the foreign talent worship you dolt!

This is your own karma specially delivered back to you!

Anonymous said...

whybegay strikes again. He's one of the most irrational and self-centered, self-loving individual I've ever encountered.

He is so typical of the pompous, arrogant people that believes that what they think they know or feel is the absolute truth and there is no other point of view except that and anyone who doesn’t share his views are typically idiots or ass-holes. He has always made personal attackes and none constructive criticism about bloggers, when he doesn’t agree with them and his most famous phrase is “get out of the country if you are so unhappy, if you don’t/can't just shut up” even though the writings might have nothing to do with the blogger being happy or otherwise. Thus, his comments should be treated as one seen a barking dog in a cage. Ignore.

One more point, he’s the type of yes man (the ones with no original idea in his head except the ones planted in it by the gahmen) that the PAP would really love to have as citizens. A ‘perfect’ little Singapore with ‘perfect’ people

whybegay: don't you just LOVE personal attacks. Karma as you said is a bitch.

Whispers from the heart said...

Oh, this childish one who was supposed to sue somebody somewhere for defamation ....

He is an intelligent singaporean, it seems.

I thought this entry is about SAF? Why he is talking about foreign talents... unless he thinks Wang is hinting that we should have foreign soldiers?

I think the SAF is worried that that some military secrets are exposed, for example, our soldiers might start shooting each other in a war. I was told many secretly habour a thought to shoot their army officer first before the enemies.

That's the reason many will report for war.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I did feel that Indranee's remarks were out of sync with the situation and I can't help wondering whether it's because she has no idea what NS is about.

The most dangerous act of the lot was the pointing of the rifle because we all know (sorry, all NS and NSFs know) that even blanks can be dangerous when fired at close distance.

I think the reprimand should have been at the NSFs for
a) playing dangerously with rifles and
b) filming in camp which is a no-no given the sensitivity of military installations

But, as Mr Wang rightly points out, scolding them for hurting SAF's reputation is really bizaare - and in my opinion, shows a female politician who is trying to be too smart/clever without realising what she is really uttering.

As they say in local lingo, "Kong Jiao Wei"

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Wang,

I have seen that clip before. Isnt it a demostration of what to do when halting and challenging another soldier who may or may not be on the same side?

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Oh, I know this WhyBeGay person. :)

Don't bother commenting on his blog unless you agree with him. If you have a differing view, he won't allow your comment to appear.

I know from personal experience. Once upon a time, he wrote about evil gay men having sex with children. He argued with some commentator and challenged readers to post their own views.

So I did. I left a comment about evil straight men having sex with children; and mentioned that the evil of men having sex with children is confined neither exclusively to straight men nor gay men.

Naturally, since WhyBeGay is against gays, he never allowed that comment to appear. :)

I am more magnanimous. So I shall allow his comment to stay on this blog, although it's not even relevant.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Anon (3 Sep 06):

1) I know Indranee, actually. Overall, I think she is ok. She does have a strong sense of right or wrong. Here I am focusing on her specific comment, as reported by the ST, on this particular matter.

2) No, I wasn't referring to myself. I said that those 18-year-olds or 19-year-olds may not understand the SAF "PR/image" implications of their comedic acts.

I would be surprised, however, if PM Lee claimed in his own defence that he does not understand the "PR/image" implications for PAP/Singapore, of his own acts. I don't think he would make such a claim, and if he did, I don't think he deserves any sympathy from anyone. He is not an 18-year-old boy, you know.

3) I disagree. In fact, the law draws many distinctions on the basis of age. For example, no child under seven (if I recall correctly) can be guilty of any offence under the law.

4) You are right, to some extent - I do not know the exact charges and punishments. On the other hand, I have had some past experience with the way the SAF likes to charge people (for certain categories of cases, they have to seek the sanction of the Public Prosecutor before they proceed, so their files regularly came to me - I was Deputy Public Prosecutor); furthermore I know a lot about how people are charged in the legal system generally; and I also have had some past experience on how the SAF handles its public image/PR issues (see last five paragraphs of this post). All in all, I think my guesses are pretty good. I have also been fair, I think, in that I did not assert that these servicemen have been punished in an unduly harsh manner; I said that I would not be surprised if this happens. If in fact MINDEF took/will take a more enlightened approach to this matter, and it is subsequently reported in the press, I shall be happy to mention it on the blog and sing MINDEF's praises too.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang,

1) I know Indranee, actually. Overall, I think she is ok. She does have a strong sense of right or wrong. Here I am focusing on her specific comment, as reported by the ST, on this particular matter.

She has strong sense of right and wrong? Ask her if she is FOR or AGAINST the Casino. Ask her if she is FOR or AGAINST her own party's stand of witholding public funds from opposition wards.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Well, my view is that overall, she's ok. Okay is of course relative to PAP MPs in general.

Indranee comes from a humble family background. Her dad passed away when she was young. The fact that she is a PAP MP; and wasn't born with a silver spoon in her mouth; is already some cause for celebration. Although she is very, very wealthy these days, we have some hope that due to her early days, she can empathise with the working man's woes. At least we have more hope, than for the silver-spoon-in-the-mouth variety of PAP MPs.

Anyway, we are getting offtrack. Shall we try to keep the discussion back on the Youtube videos and the SAF servicemen?

Whispers from the heart said...

That would be too much to ask of Indranee?

From what I am given to understand, even the Ministers can't have a sense of right and wrong over the casino issue. It is just something Singapore must do to survive because we screwed up in the last decade while others became tourist heavens.

Anonymous said...

Even the US military is having their own fun.

When it comes to reputation, SAF has none in comparison.


And Indranee Rajah should STFU, because she never served NS and wasn't in the military her whole life. She knows FUCK ALL.

Oh and the firing of blanks from the distance shown in the video is very safe. I daresay safer than paintball. It's not pointblank. Again, people who complain about 'safety' obviously are ignorant fools who would do well to keep quiet than to expose their ignorance by saying stuff they don't know nothing about.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

I remember some years ago, on American Idol (the year that Clay Aiken won), there was one contestant (Josh? Joshua? something like that - the country music guy) who was a US marine.

One episode featured Josh's soldier friends from his camp talking about him - his platoon mates even marched around in their uniforms while singing a military marching song with lyrics modified into a message to cheer Josh on.

In Singapore, they'd probably be charged for some offence, heheh.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang,

you never fail to go out of point like a fish go out of water.

The Mr Wang said,
"I left a comment about evil straight men having sex with children; and mentioned that the evil of men having sex with children is confined neither exclusively to straight men nor gay men."

And refering to my blog which is talking about the mind of homosexual paedophiles and not of straight paedophiles, my blog is about the sexuality of gays if you failed to understand the subject of the blog.

Let me repeat my old reply to Mr Wang since he failed to catch it the first time. Males have sex with females but my blog is talking about why males wanting to have sex with their own younger gender do you understand? I was not talking plainly about paedophile mentality.

So I deleted the severly stupid(true sense of the word) and severly Points-Out-Of-Point(POOPs) comment after reading and replying it with this same old reply, to keep the forum tidy, intelligent and relevent.

Does anyone have a problem with me deleting stupid POOPs comments from nincompoops to keep my own forum tidy, intelligent and relevent?

Mr Wang, paedophiles have a reason to choose boys over girls, you know male from female do you?

You can complain about anything as you complain about everything else because you lack the EQ to understand how the world works.

Mr Wang, if you seem to misunderstand the simple differences between males and females, I wonder what you really understand?

So keep to the point and save me the POOPs. This also goes out to the 2 other nincompoops who is also severly full of POOPs.

Anonymous said...

if you really think so lowly of mr wang..

why are you so bothered by what he says? =)

Anonymous said...

Everyone knoes whybegay never lets a comment goes unresponded if he is criticised or not. Sometimes I feel that he just like to comment for the fun of it. He likes to win an argument for the sake of winning.He is very intelligent but I doubt he is a grown up person. I am waiting for his response and surely, he will.

However I will not talk back because I know the issue will never end. I think all of you know what I mean.

Anonymous said...

Yay! Another fan!

Anonymous said...

After reading Whybegay's comment, I could't agree less with Desmond'd opinion that this stupid brainless arsehole is the most irrational and self-centered, self-loving individual. His arguments are totally devoid of basic logic. The only reason that I can think of for his homophobic behaviour must be that someone must have stick in up his arsehole when he was young.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said,
"After reading Whybegay's comment, I could't agree less with Desmond'd opinion that this stupid brainless arsehole is the most irrational and self-centered, self-loving individual."

Wow! Another fan! Thanks for defending me so logically!

Now now, apart from defending me, why stoop so low as to insult and discriminate against sexually abused children? It would not present out your moral and civil values very well and it kind of mixes up the two POOP holes you have.

Anonymous said...

"Personally, I think that the ST article exaggerates the reputational damage that the SAF stands to suffer, from these Youtube incidents. "

I totally agree with Mr Wang.

Unless I am looking at the wrong video, the scene is a common training session in Tekong. The defender is an instructor (notice the haircut) and the intruder is a recruit. Demonstration is a very common training method and that is exactly what was going on in the video.

1) "Halt, I said Halt". 2) Fire warning shot into the air. 3)If the intruder does not head warnings then defender must do what is appropriate as per situation. The instructor did an excellent challenge and response to an intruder. What's wrong with that?

Training on Tekong can be pretty stressful. 18 year olds thrown into the military system, getting a taste of army discipline. Demos with a bit of humour help recruits enjoy and at the same time learn vital techniques.

The platoon watching the demonstration laughs at the demo. The "joker" of the platoon was chosen to act the intruder and does a good job throwing in a few "wha C__ B__" expletives. This demo sticks in the heads of the recruits.

I find that the article totally missed what was going on. The facts stated were wrong.

"The act of pointing a rifle at a comrade and pulling the trigger, filmed or not, is against Ministry of Defence (Mindef) rules."

Really? How then were countless training sessions with blanks done? Although there is a safe distance closer than which a soldier can "shoot" at an "enemy" when training with blanks, notice that the instructor did not at any time point and fire at the recruit's face.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Yup, seems like they were doing a demonstration. The only thing that went "wrong" is that someone recorded it and posted it.

Knowing SAF, you can guess what probably happened next. Probably the next witchhunt was for handphone cameras. Knowing how common such phones are nowadays, well, the witchhunt does probably have to be initiated only a few days later, when the CO himself has had time to dig out his old model (camera-less) and switch his own SIM card to the old model, heheh.

7-8 said...

You mean these guys were caught? I don't think they were caught. There is nothing to show that they were caught. Who's going to know their identity?

In America, people make fun of the military, that's true. But the DoD itself will also, like MINDEF, go to sometimes absurd lengths to protect its reputation. For example, certain Hollywood films depicting the military have to portray them in a positive light, in exchange for the military providing a consultancy service on the authenticity of events depicted in the film.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 7-8. I don't think anyone was caught. The 140th is just doing what it does best - parroting brainless bureacrats, blowing things out of proportion and and scaring the 66.6 into submission.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Do read the newspaper article again:

"Mindef has since taken action against the men in the four videos found breaking the rules."

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr lawyer,

read properly again. It's just "action", not "disciplinary action".

Anonymous said...

Boy, that was inane. WhyBeGay, you break new personal records everyday.

Anonymous said...

WhyBeGay probably believes that Mindef gave them three days' off for such clever acting, and a special $100 WITs award.

Anonymous said...



THE nincomPOOPS!!!

Anonymous said...

Oh, give whybegay a break lest he become more anti-social. This asshole is really a joke in this world of limited humors.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous aka the nincompoop who addressed "WhyBeGay".

Well done! You have never fail to struck a new milestone on losing priceless legitimacy.

This time by assuming circumstantial evidence as proofing evidence.

Fantastic! You will be whoop-and-poop-ass richer than Ho Ching if you become the defending lawyer of rich men sons.