Sunday, February 16, 2014

Parents, Lest We Forget


After many rounds of whack-a-mole (he has the hammer, I'm the mole), and poring over his atlas teaching him how to locate Singapore, and explaining all manner of pictures from bullfighting to Mauris to whether coyotes are dogs and whether they would eat dogs ... I'm tired. Let's not forget, I was awakened this morning at 5am by someone poking me in the eye and requesting a sip of water.

I take a cushion from the couch to lay it on the floor as a pillow and he protests. Instead, he takes all the cushions and lays them down side by side to form two short beds; when he realises it's not long enough for both of us, he decides to give them all to me. And as I lie down on the makeshift bed he has made, he snuggles up next to me.

"Daddy, why did the Japanese kill the war hero?"

It's his favourite, question, and he has been asking this repeatedly for the last month, ever since we chanced upon the Lim Bo Seng memorial while hiking around Macritchie. I haven't found a good answer yet, but I keep trying, because these things are important to me, and I want him to understand. And even more so on Total Defence Day - the day Singapore was surrendered to the Japanese.

What I remember from that walk in the park is the huge-ass monitor lizard we watched gobbling up someone else's nest of eggs. The only thing my son remembers ...

... is the memorial to Lim Bo Seng who I simplified as "the war hero"
Photo Credit: All About Lim Bo Seng

"Why did he fight the Japanese?" How do you explain concepts of invasion, patriotism and heroism to a 4-year old? I asked him what he would do if bad guys came to take away our home. "Lock the door", he says. But what if they break down the door, would you run away? He nods, it seems the obvious choice. Would you let them take away our home, then your mother and sister have nowhere to live? He is thinking about it.

How do you explain to a four-year old what another world could be like, a world where we do not have a country to call our own home. A world where we wonder not what to eat, but whether we will eat; where school is a privilege and not a chore; where we might be freezing to death in a refugee camp; rather than complaining it is too hot to go out. Most of all, instead of resenting foreign talents, we could be the foreigners in another land, where they couldn't care less what talents we have. The challenge for parents of our generation will be helping our children value what they have, when they have so so much. And when such a world seems so distant, even to us.

I am not sure when my son will begin to grasp the concept of defending and dying for his country. Not at four perhaps, but hopefully by the time he is 19. I wonder how many of our young men today have seriously considered this. I remember back in school, every once in a while some survey would go around with the question of what you would do in a war, and I would always reply that I would stay and fight and defend this land. Looking at all the complaining on the Internet these days, I sometimes wonder if I am in the minority.

So the Total Defence Commemoration at the War Memorial Park was especially meaningful to me. As SAF servicemen and the public gathered to remember our forefathers who died during World War 2, the next generation of young soldiers were presented with their weapons.

The Chief of Defence Force and the youngest recruit represented the armed forces in paying our respects to the deceased. All present observed a minute of silence in their memory. The bugle call roused us from the silence, and it was poignant to remember the origins of this military tradition.

Photo Credit: PM Lee's Facebook

In his short address, the Commanding Officer reminded his recruits that we can never take our sovereignty and security for granted, and recent events have certainly reminded us that without a strong SAF, we wouldn't even dare to "shriek like a chicken" as some foreign politicians have described it. And woe to anyone who forgets that this chicken carries an even bigger stick, because of each and every Singaporean man who stand ready with his rifle, tank, plane and ship.*

And of course, without further ado, the recruits were given their rifles.

Photo Credit: cyberPioneer

They then then formed a linked chain, connected to the Singapore flag, pledging their commitment to use the weapons to defend our nation. This was my favourite moment, as their promise reverberated off Raffles City, and echoed back to them.

Photo Credit: cyberPioneer

It was a short and simple ceremony, but it reminded us of one simple thing. This is why we must be able to defend ourselves. Lest we forget; lest we take our peace and security for granted; lest we erect another memorial. And this is how we each play a part; accepting our weapons, defending our land.

Next year, I will bring my son. He must understand.


*As a Signal Officer, I am must note that the tanks, planes and ships on their own are nothing without the radio and computer networks to connect them, to work as a team.