At the original Raffles Institution site in Bras Basah Road, De Cruz was regaling the kids with war stories of British follies during WWII. When the Japanese were marching relentlessly down the Malayan Peninsula, the Brits had constructed wooden airplanes. Seen from the air, the Japs just might be fooled into thinking twice about a quick invasion. The valiant defenders were desperately buying time for reinforcements to arrive. De Cruz was beside himself with rollicking laughter, though it wasn't clear if he was taking a jibe at the British Army or his own father. A secondary four student submitted his question slip, "But Sir, isn't national service our equivalent of wooden airplanes?"
Up to the 1980s, Singapore's initial defence posture was predicated on the "poisonous shrimp" analogy, where the armed forces sought to defend the island at the water's edge first, to be followed by a "Stalingrad style of close combat" in urban areas. The deterrent value lay in the promise of great pain for the aggressor, but defeat was virtually guaranteed. (Chew and Kwa, "Goh Keng Swee: A Legacy of Public Service", page137)
Without any parliamentary opposition until 1981, the government was free to sustain a high level of military expenditure year after year. The hand-me-down Hawker Hunters left behind by the British have been replaced by F-15SGs, complete with Tom Cruise aviator glasses. Singapore increased its military expenditure 114 percent over the period 1969-78. The armed forces had morphed into a "porcupine". The evolution continues, from "poisonous shrimp" to "porcupine" to today's "dolphin", with the last prompting you to wonder what the fish is it all about.
Whatever you call it, able bodied males conscripted year after year continue to ask what the two years in uniform are for. Especially when one in three on the island is already a foreigner. But names do matter, that's how they justify splurging on the more expensive F35. And when they used up all the words - think "routine maintenance", "technical glitch", "compromise", "intrusion" - they come up with the more creative "unauthorised modification of computer material". The enemies of the people have to be from within.