There is this irrational and somewhat lunatic belief among national servicemen in Singapore, especially the NSFs (National Service Full-time), that because of some ill-conceived notion of camaraderie or ridiculous notions of male bravado, one has to constantly push oneself mentally in order to achieve feats of prime physical fitness.
In some quarters, especially among the type As who have this obsession to “win at all costs” or to “be the best” at every opportunity, and in their pursuit of Officer Cadet School (OCS) glory – they psyche one another by preaching the virtues of perseverence and mental strength – as though by the very act of mental perseverence one is able to accomplish anything.
And before anyone accuse me of playing the hypothetical game or caricaturing the unwritten cultural codes of Singapore National Service (NS) life in the armed forces, let me say first and foremost that as an able-bodied Singaporean male who could perform more than thirty pull-ups (chin-ups) at one go in my prime, I was an NSF before, and an ever willing participant in the silly game of male bravado.
Let me also mention the fact that I was able to perform chin-ups effortlessly and for that matter most feats of upper-body strength – I climb up ropes using only my arms while adorning full battle order (FBO) with webbing, backpack, helmet and rifle – whereas most of my fellow blokes would be using their legs as well. And such a feat was never achieved because of sheer mental willpower or perseverence – I already had the physiological capacity and general propensity towards upper-body fitness and strength – and hence it was just a matter of mild practice before I could handle all those rope and wall climbings.
And there were many who were simply not made for such feats of strength as despite all the torturous and gruelling attempts at beefing up their upper bodies, they could only manage the passing grade of six pull-ups in the eventual tests. There were significant others who could not even manage three pulls after all that torture.
Come on – there are some people who are just not physically strong enough – and that is that. It is nonsensical to push them beyond what they can offer.
The “mind over body” mantra is nothing but a fallacy and a lie.
Admittedly, I have NEVER made the passing grade for the 2.4km run in my two and half years in the military. In fact, the one occasion which I mustered all of my perceived inner resolve to pass, along with the verbal “encouragement” (more like verbal abuse) from my then Officer Commanding (OC), I managed to finish the run with a few seconds short of the passing grade.
And still…there were idiots who accuse me of “not trying my best” and “not pushing hard enough”. There were even some schizophrenics who thought I was malingering.
This is male silliness for you.
And although such silliness had indeed “pushed” many to OCS “glory” (which does not prove the “mind over body” fallacy at all but simply demonstrates the fact that these blokes have it in them all along to make it), it had CAUSED MANY DEATHS as well.
For the past few years, it has become commonplace to read about this soldier and that soldier collapsing and dying after a run. The demographics have become mixed recently, with deaths coming from both NSFs as well as Regulars (the “professionals”). The most recent case was that of a 28-year-old NSman (reservist) who fainted after completing his 2.4km run as part of his annual Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT), which one has to undergo every year until he consummates his national service obligations at the age of from 35 to 40.
He may have completed his run and made a passing grade. But at what price??
He lost his life, FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE! And many men like me are wondering if the Remedial Training (RT) for NSmen are anything good after all. For fear of being attached to a RT scheme which distracts many from professional and family commitments, many men choose to push themselves to make the passing grade. There are many who can. But there are also those who simply can’t.
And all those senseless deaths in the Singapore Armed Forces are evidence of the simple fact that not everyone is made for physical competence, let alone the soldier’s life of irrational obedience and ridiculous discipline.
My managing to “graduate” from national service unscathed has nothing to do with my physical competence or skill. I am just one of those who refuse to be like sheep in blind irrational obedience to authority. As a free-thinking individual, I have always treasured my individualism and independence from any form of autocracy, be it religious or military.
As such, I never pushed myself physically beyond what I could manage. When my arms ached from doing too many push-ups, I simply stopped – to the consternation of my platoon sergeants who “punished” me with more push-ups, of which I simply tell them politely that I could not do anymore.
Unless they want to pay for my medical bills.
Similarly, if my feet ached or I was feeling the strain, I would simply stop the running and started walking – whether or not that would result in my failing the grade. That is my inalienable human right.
And no one can force me – unless they want to see another dead man.
Of which they did and still are, at the expense of the poor parents who had no choice but to allow the government to torture their young sons.
If I have a choice, I would rather my son NOT go through national service. Does national service really make boys into men? Does national service really mature our young men? I don’t think so – there are many countries without military conscription and their men are still…just men.
Besides, I know of many friends who were decent gentlemen who, after entering the armed forces, became foul-mouthed and sex-crazed perverts who cannot stop talking about sex and using the f*ck word in their speech.
And one calls that “maturity”?