Better the foot slip than the tongue …


COMING from no less than the Minister of Defence, the recent statement made in Parliament, and therefore privileged, could have been more subtly expressed within the four corners of the cabinet room. MinDef would have been saved from an embarrassment, which it does not deserve.
He then put up a spirited defence in the media after he came under fire from several flanks, even from his colleagues in the coalition government.

His critics did not mince their words, perhaps, more for the gallery rather than for serious sanction. It was a politically correct stance. Interestingly, no reporter was caught in the crossfire; often in a situation like this, the media becomes the scapegoat for misquoting whenever very important politicians make a slip of the tongue.

Point at issue

If I may recapitulate, the Minister was quoted to have said to the effect that the small number of recruits for the armed forces from the non-Malay communities for the 2008 to 2009 intakes was attributed to a “sense of patriotism that is not strong enough”.

The Deputy Prime Minister had left his lieutenant to fend for himself, hinting that “no problems apologising … people make mistakes and I too have said sorry when I was wrong”.

We don’t expect a political court martial for this lack of statesmanship.

In his counter attack, the Defence Minister was armed with statistics: altogether 9,054 were recruited during the above period. Out of these, only 26 Chinese, 82 Indians, and 795 Natives of Sabah and Sarawak were accepted. The rest were Malays.

Since he must split hairs, he could have done us a favour if he had also produced the ethnic breakdown of those 795 Natives of Sabah and Sarawak — how many Kadazans, Muruts, Bajau, Orang Sungai, and so on; how many were Dayak Ibans, Bidayuhs, Kayans, Kenyahs, Penans, Sarawak Malays, Melanaus, and the rest of the genus.

As he did not, we are tempted to ask: are the natives of the East more patriotic or less loyal than anybody else, before the logic of “lack of patriotism” is stretched to its ridiculous extent?

In his defence, he was not being insensitive to the feelings of his target groups.


His parliamentary statement had the backing of  “research done on the matter”.

Granted that one too.

He could have promised that a thorough study would be carried out to determine that lack of interest in a career in the army, not the preconceived “sense of patriotism that is not strong enough”.


The verbal war has somewhat simmered this week, a ceasefire of sorts. Before it is swept under the carpet, however, it’s good for cool heads to reflect on the serious implications of such a statement, research-based utterance notwithstanding, to the existing racial harmony in this country.

Faces of patriotism

Joining the armed forces is not the one and only criterion by which patriotism is being judged. Citizens of a country can manifest it in many ways. During war or peace time, those doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers who tend to the wounded and the sick; those security guards who keep an eye on potential saboteurs; those priests who pray for peace; those farmers who produce food for the population; those fishermen who wobble on the rough swell; those housewives who send their sons and daughters to the National Service training camps; those civil servants; those employees in the private sector; those factory workers; those mechanics who perform duties they are good at; contributing to the productivity of the country, are all patriots.

During the Emergency years, including the early period of Malaysia, many precious lives, civilian included, were lost for the sake of the country. Malays lost their lives; Chinese lost their lives; Indians lost their lives; Dayaks of all descriptions lost their lives; Kadazans, Muruts, and many others lost their lives.

In 1948, Sarawak had sent its trackers and Rangers to help liberate Malaya from Chin Peng’s guerrillas, who were bent on taking power from the British after the defeat of the Japanese in 1945.
And after Malaysia, we continued sending our Rangers consisting of Dayaks, Malays, and Chinese to help sustain the sovereignty of the new nation. Needless to say, many of them were killed and wounded in action. Some came home with medals for gallantry, others without, several still are languishing in the villages and longhouses and barely surviving on a meagre pension. Surely they have not turned leftists like some pensioners in Bukit Begunan have, as someone has claimed.

These are the patriots too, mate.

Side by side with the other soldiers from Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the Gurkhas, Chinese and Indian soldiers fought the communists during the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960) and also in Malaysia until 1989, subject to correction.

It’s my personal opinion, repeat personal view, that without the infiltration of Chinese-speaking Special Branch officers from the police into the communist ranks, and the introduction of the Briggs Plan and effective psychological warfare, the fight against the terrorists would have taken much longer to bring to an end.

If those men involved were not patriots, I don’t know what they were.

These may be some of the reasons

The Honourable Minister had explained that he was only exploring the various possibilities as to why comparatively very few non-Malays were joining the armed forces as evidenced by the number of recruits for the past couple of years.

According to some of the Dayak Ibans whom I talked to after the last recruitment exercise, tattoos on the body were the problem. During the British Colonial regime, this was not so, their parents grumbled. There might have been other reasons for the rejection.

Also based on grouses from former soldiers, one could discern the lack of prospects for promotion to the highest echelon of the armed forces.

It must hereby be qualified that this is only a perception and it may not be the reality. But the persistence of that perception may affect the reputation of the army if not rectified sooner.

Most Dayak Iban families I know of want their young men to join the army, first, the police second. This is a chance to try out the pengaroh (amulet) handed down from Aki and the opportunity to see the world. This bejalai instinct, equivalent to berjuang — is still there among most young men of the community. That’s why many soldiers from Sarawak are grumbling about not being selected to serve in the United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon or wherever UN peacekeeping forces are stationed.

Being restless as they are, those who have tattoos and are poor in written Malay but with working knowledge of English choose to go overseas to work in the oil fields in the North Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and in the Arafura Sea, between Australia and Timor Leste.

I think those working overseas are prepared to come back to serve in the armed forces if there is war at home, but for the moment, their energy is better utilised on the oil derricks or on the decks of oil tankers or on bejalai in Joror (Johor) and Singapore or in the timber camps in the Solomon Islands or Papua New Guinea. They know there will be no war in the near future anyway.

Touch wood.

My recommendation

At the next recruitment exercise, train an Iban to work in one of our submarines and let him prove that he is really a Sea Dayak! Take in a Land Dayak also for the other sub; you will be surprised to know that there are many Bidayuh boys working on fishing trawlers and are good seamen. A Penan may probably enjoy the job inside the sub where he is away from direct sunlight.

Try them lah. I’m not joking.