It is very warm. It is also humid, but what else would you expect? Singapore is roughly 60 miles North of the Equator and essentially has no seasons.

The young National Servicemen are in formation. Only a couple of days into their training, but today’s events will confirm the change in their lives. In a special ceremony the lads will be issued their rifles and will swear a special oath to their country.

Rifle issue ceremony | Singapore archives

An American with an opportunity to have been present the past couple of days will have noticed several things that make this Asian army sui generis [of its kind; in a class by itself; unique.] The young soldiers themselves are descendants of ancestors from many countries and many religions. Chinese, Vietnamese, Malay, Indian, Thai, with some Europeans and Japanese thrown into the mix. Hindu, Muslim, Christian and many Asian beliefs.

A fair number have English or Irish first names. Oh, and all the signs on the base and all the training that these soldiers go through and all the commands and communication in the Singapore Armed Forces are in English.

Singapore National Servicemen | SAF

There is little point in writing an article about the military of Singapore without at least a thumbnail history of the small island nation. It is remarkable in a great many ways. In my lifetime alone, it has gone from a destitute Third World spot on the map to a First World nation.

Singapore dollar

As I delved into the history, politics and especially the makeup of the country’s people; I was reminded of Robert Heinlein’s Luna in “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.” Two similarities immediately stood out: Luna and Singapore lack resources (most critically water) and at the end of the day all that they had going for them when they set out to become nations was amazing location (Luna at the top of a gravity well and Singapore at an extremely strategic trade crossroad with a critical deep-water port) and they had amazing populations once violent and chaotic later incredibly productive. Yet in both cases, prior to trying to forge a nation their populations identified themselves mostly with far places once their homelands or those of their parents or grandparents.

“If you had mentioned “patriotism” to a Loonie, he would have stared, or thought you were talking about his homeland (or his parents’ homeland.) Were transported Frenchmen whose hearts belonged to “La Belle Patrie” ex-Germans loyal to the Vaterland, Russians who still loved Holy Mother Russia. Luna? Luna was “the Rock,” place of exile not a thing to love.”

For most of history Singapore was only a piece of land an island with less than a thousand people on it. Film has Jack Sparrow and his pirates involved with Singapore in the 18th Century but it did not exist as anything more than a speck of land until 1819 when the British East India Company set up a port facility there. Asians and Europeans from that point gathered there because that’s where the action was re trade. Practically nobody thought of it as being “home”, let alone a nation.