I read the results of the Institute of Policy Studies survey on public perceptions of national service with much caution ("Poll reveals changing perceptions of NS"; last Wednesday) - in particular, the finding that more people viewed NS as a way to instil discipline and values among the young than as a pillar of national defence.
NS should not be seen as a two-year enrichment or character-development programme as much as it is an individual's contribution to the nation.
There is an undue emphasis on the transformation of boys into men, as portrayed by recent movies and television series.
While NS is a rite of passage for all Singaporean sons, the danger is that if the serviceman is judged not to have undergone this transformation, then he is deemed to have "failed" NS.
To view the social benefits of NS, such as building a unique Singaporean identity and learning skills useful in civilian life, as the primary reasons for its existence misses the rationale behind the introduction of NS in 1967.
Thus, it is heartening that almost all the respondents agreed that NS is necessary for the defence of Singapore. National defence is the cornerstone of NS and remains relevant, given the ever-changing geopolitical climate.
In his book, One Man's View Of The World, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew reminds us starkly: "What is important for Singapore is that we develop and maintain a strong military force to protect our sovereignty. As long as we have a Singapore Armed Forces capable of fending off an aggressor, we will be left alone."
A volunteering scheme for women and permanent residents ("Women could do their part to defend S'pore: Poll"; last Wednesday) is a good start to getting these target groups involved in NS.
While the broader community already plays an active role in the other pillars of Total Defence, there is a need to elucidate volunteering roles and promote volunteerism in military defence specifically. A good start for the latter is through continuing education and engagement with the public, through open houses and the Singapore Armed Forces-School Partnership Programme.
This push augments the national effort to raise the overall level of volunteerism, which has been criticised for being low in recent times, and ties in with the setting up of the volunteer youth corps next year.
Paul Sim Ruiqi (Lieutenant - NS)
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.