S'pore: the Maid, the Pack and the Soldier

The Singapore Armed Forces announced Thursday that it would conduct military exercises in several Singapore sectors between April 4 and April 11, blank rounds and "thunderflashes" are to be used, according to the dispatch from the front.

{gallery}smoothgallery/JAN2008/singamaid/{/gallery} And, if a photograph that first appeared on Facebook and then made it to the Singapore website stomp.com.sg is any indication, Singapore's citizen soldiers are to be followed by their domestic helpers carrying their knapsacks. The photo showed a maid shouldering a pack as a green camouflage-clad soldier walked several paces ahead of her near Singapore's Tanah Merah light rail station. He seems busy with his cell phone, perhaps texting someone with tales of his military exploits.

The photo has given rise to reactions ranging from hysterical laughter to outrage. The publication of the picture was met with 180 responses on Stomp, which is an offshoot of the Straits Times. There are thousands of other posts on seemingly hundreds of web sites, blogs and social media forums. It has also given rise to at least one photoshopped attempt to cover it up, with the offending soldier walking along the same path carrying his own knapsack and the maid nowhere in sight.

On the Yahoo Singapore blog site Fit to Post, 25-year-old Kelvin Wong, who completed his mandatory army service in 2006, expressed typical outrage: "This photo is just ridiculous. It's hard to believe that a grown man who is supposed to be serving the nation is making his female domestic help carry his backpack.

"He's a disgrace to the army and makes Singaporean men look bad," he added.

In addition, a raft of parodies of Singaporean soldiers storming into battle, followed by their maids, has appeared, including one of SAF troops marching in their serried ranks, followed by serried ranks of domestic helpers carrying their bags.

The Ministry of Defense was apparently not amused, telling the Straits Times in a statement that the armed forces "takes a serious view of the conduct of its servicemen in public" and that it will investigate and take appropriate action.

Others huffed and puffed about whether today's pampered young Singaporean has grown too soft to defend that nation. The blog O My put a frame around the picture with the caption: "My Maid Our Army: Behind every Singaporean son there is a maid."

The blog went on to use Google maps to trace the location of the photo and to identify the nearest military base, Bedok Camp. "It's only a matter of time before he gets caught," the blogger warned.

Certainly the photo and the outrage dents the SAF's view of itself as an elite fighting unit that, in the words of then-Brig. Gen. Lee Hsien Loong before he became prime minister, could put up a "poisonous shrimp" defense: "What happens if you step on a poisonous shrimp? He dies, but he will kill you."

That strategy was later modified, according to Lee, to become a "porcupine defense:" "We need a policy which says, ‘if you come, I'll whack you, and I'll survive.' This is a workable strategy. I may not completely destroy you, but you will have to pay a high price for trying to subdue me and you may still not succeed."

Meanwhile, the public has been warned that the SAF "will also conduct Live Firing Exercises, using live ammunition and flares." The public, the SAF warned, "is advised not to be alarmed and to keep clear of these areas."

It did not include a warning to watch for domestic helpers following the troops.