Thursday, December 3

I don’t want to join the Army. So I’m not patriotic eh?


BEING the Minister of Defence, you are considered a senior Cabinet member. The Defence Ministry is responsible for the Army, Navy and Air Force. The three arms of the nation’s defence forces have a combined number of more than 200,000 men and women.

The Defence portfolio is a very important one. The present Prime Minister and his predecessor held the Mindef fort previously. Only senior and experienced ministers are put in charge of the ministry. That seemed to be the case in the past anyway.

The current Minister of Defence came under heavy fire last Tuesday when he said that one reason why Chinese and Indians were not signing up with the Army was their ‘lack of patriotism’.

He then shot his foot the following day when in a so-called clarification, he said many non-Malays did not have a strong patriotic spirit.

What difference does that make?

What added salt to the Defence Minister’s wound was that the ‘shooting his foot’ remark targeted at him came from someone who is known to be less credible and less astute than him – a deputy minister from a non-Malay BN component party.

The minister has blundered and caused an uproar all round with his ‘not patriotic’ statement. Knowing that race relations in the country has not been what it used to be of late, he should have exercised caution and used his head before he opened his mouth. That only goes to show his inexperience and lack of political acumen.

I am a Chinese. So I don’t want to be a soldier. That makes me a less patriotic citizen eh? Does it mean that being a teacher is not patriotic? So too being a doctor, lawyer, nurse, taxi driver, gardener or a journalist.

So you are only considered patriotic when you carry a weapon and put on a uniform. Is this what the minister is trying to tell us?

Let me inform the minister now of the many reasons why I have no desire to join the Army. I can tell you for sure that it has nothing to do with patriotism.

One, I don’t like to carry arms. Two, I’m a non-violent person. Three, I don’t think I can bring myself to kill anyone, not even an enemy soldier. Four, I don’t believe that fighting in a war is going to resolve any dispute. Five, I love peace, not war. (I differ from John Lennon’s ‘Make Love, Not War’ though.)

If that is not enough, I have some more.

I am a Chinese. What sort of prospects do I have in the Army? It’s nearly half a century since the formation of Malaysia, but I have yet to see a full-fledged ‘4-star’ Chinese general in the Armed Forces. It seems that it has been written in the Malaysian Armed Forces’ ‘guidebook’ that non-Malays are not allowed to be Chief of the Defence Forces, Army Chief, Navy Chief or Air Force Chief. Okay la, they can have the token Number Two post. Even then, you can bet that would probably be one or two years before retirement.

If I were very ambitious career-wise and wanted to be a ‘4-star’ general, I know I would never achieve my dream. With that at the back of my mind, would I sign up with the Army?

It’s about a career and a future. It’s not about being less patriotic.

Look at home in Sarawak where many of our Dayak brethren have signed up with the Army. Our Dayak soldiers with the Border Scouts and Field Force were like warriors, risking their lives in the days of the Indonesian Confrontation and the Communist insurgency in the state.

How far did they go in the Army? After 47 years of independence, the Iban community finally got their first brigadier-general in the person of Stephen Mundaw from Sri Aman early this month. Then again, a brigadier-general is four ranks below that of a general.

The Defence Minister was indeed insensitive for issuing such a statement. The remarks could impede efforts to strengthen racial solidarity. There was no necessity to offend the other communities.

Many of the minister’s BN colleagues in the government as well as opposition politicians have fired at him. I hope the minister has learned a lesson. Speaking in Parliament may grant him immunity but that will not stop people bashing him from outside.

Of all the brickbats against the Defence Minister, I find this one from the PAS Bukit Gantang MP, Nizar Jamaluddin, the cutest of all.

“The minister’s statement was contradictory to the 1Malaysia spirit and concept. I feel non-Malays just don’t want to tango with the swindle and fraud taking place within the Armed Forces … this includes the missing jet engines,” he said.

I say, dear minister, it’s best that you spend more time in the ministry to help ensure that planes and helicopters do not go missing and when buying new machines, do make sure that they are in perfect, working condition. No more submarines that cannot dive, please.

And perhaps I should also tell you that the patriotism of Malaysians should be the least of your problems.

(Comments can reach the writer at [email protected])