Singapore Is Making Some Of The Mistakes That Led Empires To Ruin.

I am not sure if this blogger is jesting when he suggests we outsource the Singapore Armed Forces. Maybe he is. Or maybe the frustration of NS supposedly handicapping us Singapore males against foreigners have gotten to him and he sees this as the only way to restore some sort of equity.

Let me share with you all a story I heard about the Gurkhas.

A Singaporean soldier was sent to Nepal to train with the Gurkhas to be paratroopers. One the first day of training, the instructor asked the Gurkhas and the Singaporean for volunteers to jump out of the plane. No Gurkhas put up their hands to volunteer. The Singaporean found it strange. These were the Gurkhas whose bravery were legendary and yet they didn’t dare to parachute out of a plane. The Singaporean thus decided to volunteer. The instructor seeing the Singaporean’s hand raised asked for more volunteers. Slowly, hesitantly, a few other Gurkhas raised their hands.

The instructor was satisfied. He then took out a parachute and said, “Each of you will be jumping out of the plane with this parachute”.

“Oh…we can use parachute, ” the Gurkhas started whispering among themselves.

It has been said that the Gurkhas are famous for their bravery and loyalty. Maybe they indeed are. Maybe more so than the average individual who decides that they want to be a soldier which by definition should be a different breed from guys who are conscripted.

However, history is filled with cautionary tales about empires that expand beyond their means and who rely on foreign talents/labour to sustain the expansion.

One case in point – the Romans. Edward Gibbon’s book The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is a good place to start.

Second case – The Persians versus the Greeks at the Battle of Marathon.

As the clatter of spears, swords and shields echoed through the valley, the Greeks had ensured that their best hoplites (heavily armed infantry) were on the flanks and that their ranks were thinned in the center. Persian battle doctrine dictated that their best troops, true Persians, fought in the center, while conscripts, pressed into service from tribute states, fought on the flanks. The Persian elite forces surged into the center of the fray, easily gaining the ascendancy. But this time it was a fatal mistake. The Persian conscripts whom the Hellenic hoplites faced on the flanks quickly broke into flight. The Greeks then made another crucial decision: Instead of pursuing their fleeing foes, they turned inward to aid their countrymen fighting in the center of the battle.

The weak links in the battle were the foreign conscripts.

You might then say, these foreign conscripts are different from paid mercenaries. True.

In this case, it would be instructive to see what Machiavelli has to say about this in The Prince which had roughly two chapters devoted to this issue.

From Chapter 12:

I say, therefore, that the arms with which a prince defends his state are either his own, or they are mercenaries, auxiliaries, or mixed. Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous; and if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor safe; for they are disunited, ambitious and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies; they have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is; for in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy. The fact is, they have no other attraction or reason for keeping the field than a trifle of stipend, which is not sufficient to make them willing to die for you. They are ready enough to be your soldiers whilst you do not make war, but if war comes they take themselves off or run from the foe; which I should have little trouble to prove, for the ruin of Italy has been caused by nothing else than by resting all her hopes for many years on mercenaries, and although they formerly made some display and appeared valiant amongst themselves, yet when the foreigners came they showed what they were.

On auxiliaries which are more akin to the foreign talent / labor we used to grow our economy:

Therefore, let him who has no desire to conquer make use of these arms, for they are much more hazardous than mercenaries, because with them the ruin is ready made; they are all united, all yield obedience to others; but with mercenaries, when they have conquered, more time and better opportunities are needed to injure you; they are not all of one community, they are found and paid by you, and a third party, which you have made their head, is not able all at once to assume enough authority to injure you. In conclusion, in mercenaries dastardy is most dangerous; in auxiliaries, valour. The wise prince, therefore, has always avoided these arms and turned to his own; and has been willing rather to lose with them than to conquer with others, not deeming that a real victory which is gained with the arms of others.

The first bold portion makes me think Machiavelli would have expected the problems we currently have with the PRCs.

Lastly, why our economy’s growth is not going to be sustainable even if we are willing to sacrifice our social fabric:

I conclude, therefore, that no principality is secure without having its own forces; on the contrary, it is entirely dependent on good fortune, not having the valour which in adversity would defend it. And it has always been the opinion and judgment of wise men that nothing can be so uncertain or unstable as fame or power not founded on its own strength. And one’s own forces are those which are composed either of subjects, citizens, or dependants; all others are mercenaries or auxiliaries.

Singaporeans, be warned.