My view on Melvyn Tan's case
Reading a little more about Mr Tan's case has made me change my view about him. He obtained a scholarship from the Royal College of Music at age 17 and applied for NS deferrment since the course would take him past 18 which is the enlistment age. He was granted the deferrment by MINDEF. He then wanted to pursue his Masters degree and appealed for an extension of the deferrment but was rejected, and thus began his default story.
Now I can understand why he did what he did. He was a pianist. It was natural in his personal development for excellence to pursue his Masters immediately after his basic degree. Coming back to serve NS and staying away from the piano for most of the 2.5 years would clearly be a major disruption and hindrance to his personal development. I am sure there might be even more to the story. Perhaps he had a mentor who might not have been there come 2.5 years later?
Now I am all for having stiff penalties for defaulters, because it sends a message to people and the world that we are serious about National Service and maintaining a defence force.
However I also acknowledge that NS can be a disruption and hindrance to the development of talent. One example would be sportsmen. What if a Singaporean golfer was a young prodigy and was touring the PGA at 17 winning his first title. And then come 18, he disappears from the circuit for 2.5 years and returns at age 21. Now I have no doubt it could wreck his future as a golfer. But with the current rules about to take effect, Singapore says, that if he chooses his individual concerns above the states (ie non confucian) then he is not wanted by the state anymore, or face severe punishment. In other words we are also saying that if you are a world class talent at age 18, and choose to continue being one and default NS, then we do not want such world class talents anymore. Is that really ideal?
NS is always going to be a controversial one because people want others to be treated the same. I suffered, you also have to suffer etc. If you don't suffer, then you were treated "special" and that is unfair etc.
Now it's clear to me at the moment that NS is a LIABILITY. And as with all things, there must be balance. With this LIABILITY as a Singaporean male, what then are the ADVANTAGES and BENEFITS of being a Singaporean male?
I am very sure that if the ADVANTAGES AND BENEFITS were to be attractive enough, most would gladly accept the NS LIABILITY. In fact in some cases, people would be clamoring to serve their NS in order not to lose out on the ADVANTAGES AND BENEFITS that come after serving NS.
There are 2 ways to go about it. Improve the advantages and benefits (at the moment there seems to be none) of serving NS or improve the prevailling patriotism in Singapore (at the moment it appears that it is not high).
To me the former option seems easier to do and more practical in being able to influence directly.