Last Thursday night, I attended a wedding reception of the daughter of a colleague held at Felda Perdana. The host being a retired senior navy officer, would naturally see his guest be predominantly Armed Forces retirees; most of whom I could easily recognized. Several former Chief of Defence Forces and Service Chiefs were at the reception, and I think the most senior of the lot is Admiral Thanabalasingam, the first Chief of Malaysian navy who now walks aided with a walking stick.
An occasion like this gives me the opportunity to meet some long lost friends and to discuss a myriad of issues. Of course, issues relating the Armed Forces, past and present are never lost.
I was stuck by a conversation centered on the lack of interest among non-Bumis today to join the Armed Forces, particularly the army. I recall having written something concerning this matter in a posting dated November 14th 2008 following a statement made by the then Deputy Defence Minister Abu Seman Yusop when he argued that “seeking flexibility in the job and not low wages” being the reason why non-Bumis shy away from joining the Armed Forces; a statement that I do not fully subscribe.
If one looks back to the period of the late 50’s and early 60’s, there clearly was an attraction by non-Bumis to join the Armed Forces. Some reasoned that it was the schooling system then, where there was greater interaction among the various races (especially in urban schools); hence non-Bumis joining the Armed Forces which were predominantly Malays then, wasn’t any problem.
The other reason was because there were no racial and religious issues dominating the political landscape then, and everyone held a common belief that Malaya, and subsequently Malaysia was their home and country. I personally felt this when I was in school then, and where the issue of race and religion was kept silent. In other words, there was greater realization of a 1 Malaysia before, than it is today.
To support the above argument, I would like to list some figures showing the number of non-Bumis that joined the army cadets, against their Bumi counterparts in the later part of the 50’s and the early 60’s.
For instance, the 1st Regular Intake (1957) of army cadets had a total 54 cadets and of which 22 were non-Bumis. The 2nd Regular Intake (1958) of army cadets had a total of 37 cadets and of which 19 were non-Bumis. And in the early 60’s, the 7th Regular Intake (1963) of army cadets had a total of 36 cadets and of which 18 were non-Bumis. On an average, almost 50% of the intake of army cadets during the aforesaid periods mentioned was non-Bumis.
I am not privy to the actual figures of army cadets recruited over the last decade, but I think the number of non-Bumi army cadets recruited has dwindled to less than 10%, or it could be even less. This to me is an unhealthy development in a racially diverse society, as this gives the perception that it is only the Bumis that have shown interest in joining the Armed Forces, whereas defence and security is the responsibility of all able bodied citizens of the country. The increase dominance of Bumis in the Armed Forces will further reduce the likelihood of the non-Bumis joining because of the racial polarization created, that undoubtedly has its roots in our present day schooling system.
I do not know what plans are there to increase the intake of non-Bumis to join the army. The nation cannot allow the imbalance in racial composition to continue unabated as this unhealthy trend can lead to greater racial polarization that can cause a serious impediment to the development of a harmonious and a tolerant Malaysian society.
My belief is that unless serious and proactive measures are taken to redress the imbalance in the racial composition of the army and the Armed Forces in general, suspicion and mistrust among the various Malaysian races will continue to dominate the Malaysian political landscape.
To the 30 odd non-Bumis of my intake, I think we all share a common belief in the reason why we joined the Armed Forces.
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