National Service: Call of Duty

Anthony Abell College army cadets tasting food ration at a forest near the Annex building AAC, Seria. Picture: BT/Saifulizam

"THE prescriptive formula for what the concept, structure or content of a National Service must be determine based on her political-socio-cultural heritage and the views of all stakeholders."

I reckon you need to be salary scale B2 and above to understand that statement. I found it on the web in a 2005 paper entitled "National Service Brunei Perspective", while trying to find stories on National Service in Brunei. Some serious and lengthy thought seems to have been exercised then.

A national service programme for a country is not unheard of. Austria, Denmark, Greece, Guyana, Israel, Iran, Malaysia, Mexico, Norway, Finland, Taiwan, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland and Turkey all require one type or another. A compulsory programme of military service, most countries require their conscripted citizens to participate for a year. Cowboys in America began theirs around 1861 and were first deployed in the American Civil War.

A few days ago His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam in his titah at the National Youth Day 2011 announced a National Service Programme or "Program Khidmat Bakti Negara" for the country planned to be launched at the end of the year.

The "Program Khidmat Bakti Negara" (there's a song in there just waiting to come out), or "PKBN", is a three-month outward bound meets civics class meets MIB programme for Bruneian male and female 'O' Level school leavers between the ages of 16 and 18.

So for us there will be no M16s, only visionary and polite youth.

There are counter arguments about a national service programme that does not provide basic military training. A military trained service will develop citizens that have learnt how to defend their beloved country. There will be a deeper sense of duty and participation. A vested interest in one's homeland is always good, you may just value it more.

Having a military trained national service also means you're less likely to get pushed around. It creates strength throughout a nation. If push comes, your neighbours will think twice about doing so. Singapore adopted a military national service, which was pretty intense, from its early days. As a result, while being a small country, it deals with the nations around it on an equal footing that is not just as a result of the community of nations but in a real physical sense. Basic military training or "boot camp" transforms civilians into military personnel and has been described by military historian Gwynne Dyer as a form of conditioning in which inductees are encouraged to partially submerge their individuality for the good of their unit.

I think that an important aspect of a national service, with or without weapons, should be that at one point in our lives, everyone, from all parts of society are on the same level, experiencing the same thing, giving up individuality for the good of the unit.

Also importantly is that it instils a sense of duty to the nation. It will be good to expect duty and service from our youth, we should not encourage a culture of benefit and entitlement. The benefits of being a citizen of the nation must be counterbalanced with a sense of duty and service throughout society.

So let us not pray for easy lives. We hope that National Service will endeavour to provide a tough, puts hair on one's chest programme, for our young men and women at the prime of their youth.

Incidentally I figure more Bruneian boys need an outlet, some direction. For example, the number of lady professionals in some sectors outweighs the men. The Attorney General's Chambers has more women lawyers than their male counterparts; I read in Friday's papers that there are more female UBD graduates this year than male, 728 to 305. That's less than half, dudes.

Is it possible that a new form of National Service could be implemented to produce a disciplined, skilled and duty bound youth of tomorrow? A programme without real guns but a tough and robust boot camp?

I think so. And we're about to embark on it because perhaps at the end of the day a country need not be defended with guns but with a brave heart and unity of purpose.

The Brunei Times

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