S'poreans mildly at risk of throwing 36 years of Total Defence lessons out the window

Still got some way to go.

Belmont Lay| February 08, 10:35 PM

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Singaporeans were definitely among the hordes of people who went on a panic buying frenzy here on Friday, Feb. 7, after the alert level was raised to DORSCON Orange in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak spreading.

By Saturday, Feb. 8, things had settled down a little as people on the island looked back on their own actions and took stock of whether it was worth it having a go at the supermarkets all the way into the wee hours of the morning.

Ironically, or some might say, very coincidentally, Total Defence day falls on Feb. 15 -- exactly a week from now.

The concept of Total Defence was created to build up the resilience of Singaporeans in the face of adversity, which can take many forms, such as war or a pandemic.

Yes, a pandemic that might be caused by a novel coronavirus.

So, in the interest of more than three decades of getting ready for adversity, and finally allowing Singaporeans to shine, here’s a recap of what Total Defence is supposed to be — lest we forget, it’s just theory without practice.

How Total Defence started

Total Defence was launched in 1984 as a national defence initiative to rally all citizens behind the Singapore Armed Forces during wartime.

It was also envisaged to build up a sense of determination for Singaporeans to defend the country under all circumstances.

The framework has since evolved to take stock of new threats.

The first time a new pillar outside of the original five conceptualised was being added was in 2019.

Last year, Singapore introduced Digital Defence as the sixth pillar in its national defence framework Total Defence, signalling the threat cyber attacks and disinformation pose, and the importance of cyber security.

Total Defence is now contextualised to address new threats, and applied to address non-military challenges too, such as economic recessions, pandemics and natural disasters.

Stemmed from Japanese Occupation

The purpose of Total Defence Day, which falls on Feb. 15, is to remember the Japanese Occupation.

On Feb. 15, 1942, the British surrendered Singapore to the Japanese, who occupied the country till Sept. 12, 1945.

On its website, the Ministry of Defence noted that the defence framework has seen Singapore through the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) episode in 2003; the fall-out from the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States; the economic crises of 1997 and 2008; and the haze in recent years.

The six pillars of Total Defence

"Military Defence" emphasises the need for a strong military defence to defend Singapore when attacked or to deter foreign intervention and prevent an attack. The mission of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is to "enhance Singapore's peace and security through deterrence and diplomacy, and should these fail, to secure a swift and decisive victory over the aggressor".

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"Civil Defence" emphasises the need to learn what to do in an emergency before it happens, such as taking part in emergency exercises and attending first-aid and emergency preparedness programmes that the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) conducts to order to respond more effectively in times of crisis. Looking out for and reporting anything suspicious in response to the threat of terrorism is also part of civil defence.

"Economic Defence" involves building up a strong and robust economy that can sustain Singapore through economic challenges and national emergencies. It means that the government, employers and trade unions working together to ensure there is good infrastructure and the economy is competitive. Individuals play a part by retraining and upgrading, and by keeping up with new technologies and new ways of doing things.

"Social Defence" emphasises the need to prevent extremist ideologies and racial prejudice and discrimination to endanger social cohesion and harmony. It involves befriending, accepting and helping people of different ethnicities as well as showing consideration for one another, respecting and being sensitive to the needs and religious and cultural practices of others.

"Psychological Defence" is about the fighting spirit, the will, the resilience of Singaporeans that determines whether or not Singapore will overcome a crisis. It involves understanding the history and the principles that helped Singapore succeed, and having a strong resolve to stay united and keep Singapore strong and special.

"Digital Defence" aims to guard against threats in the digital domain, and was added to Total Defence as the sixth pillar on Feb. 15, 2019, as part of its 35th anniversary.

PM Lee: "Real test to our social cohesion and psychological resilience"

Source: Ministry of Communications and Information.

In a speech delivered on Feb. 8, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the real test to the

novel coronavirus (nCoV) situation is "our social cohesion and psychological resilience".

He said that while "fear and anxiety are natural human reactions", fear can do more harm than the virus itself.

He added that fear can make us panic, or do things which make matters worse, like circulating rumours online, hoarding face masks or food, or blaming particular groups for the outbreak.

Singaporeans, especially the young ones, will do well to remind their parents and grandparents a little about psychological defence this weekend.

And not let the virus in Singapore to mutate to fear, anxiety and stupidity.