National Service, Poetry

At eighteen, they

Shove a rifle in your face
Tell you to take your place
Like countless boys before.

Strip you of identity
Shave your head, drop twenty
Push-ups on the floor.

Quickly fall in line
Don’t complain, don’t you whine
Else kena jialat some more.

If you want to survive,
Quickly keng till nine to five.
What are you fighting for?



Conscription is a really big part of Singapore. It’s called National Service, and is sold as the cornerstone of survival.

It also exacts an irrevocable cost, in terms of the time, physical and psychological injuries and even deaths.

It is dogged by accusations of unfair treatment, abuse of power and incompetence.

It is celebrated in sepia-toned montages of father-son duos and downtown parades of military prowess.

It is shrouded in the Official Secrets Act, military court martial, Committees of Inquiry and OB markers.

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