Skip to main content
40 years on, Total Defence Day remains a relevant reminder to not take our safety for granted. IMAGE: INSTAGRAM/@WEARETOTALDEFENCE

40 Years of Total Defence: What This Day Means To Me As An NSMan

For the next two weeks, brace yourself for disruptions to your everyday life, whether you’re in school or at work. You can expect food and water shortage, power outages and even simulated cyber attacks on prominent public buildings such as The Esplanade and Suntec Convention Centre. It’s all part of Exercise SG Ready to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Total Defence Day.

If you’re wondering why it's so mafan one, it’s important to understand the context. First introduced on 15 February 1984, Total Defence Day commemorates the Fall of Singapore to the Japanese. You can read all about it here.

It’s a sombre reminder that we can never take our country’s safety and security for granted. We’ve seen first hand in the last couple of years as new threats emerge, some of which might not even be militaristic in nature. From pandemics, economic recessions to even the rise of fake news, it’s important that we remain resilient and ready to overcome these challenges.

Total Defence in school

Growing up as a student in the late 90s / early 2000s, I recall Total Defence Day being such a big deal (sadly Valentine's Day was pretty much non-existent 😅). There would be parades and ceremonies featuring uniformed groups and water rationing exercises in between classes. My primary school used to air World War 2 documentaries at morning assembly as a poignant reminder of the devastation of war. My 10-year-old brain couldn’t process much of it but the public warning system sirens and the horrific retelling of “Sook Ching” will forever be seared in my memory.

While my generation is lucky to not have experienced such horrors, I grew up in a post-September 11 world, where domestic terrorism is a looming threat. Total Defence evolved into a rallying call to come together as a society to overcome the forces that seek to tear our multicultural fabric apart.

The pillars of “Civil Defence” and “Social Defence” therefore resonated deeply within me. When people from other countries tell me that they envy how so many people of different backgrounds can coexist in harmony, it makes me thankful to be a Singaporean. It is an ideal that is truly worth defending.

Total Defence during National Service and Reservist

It was during my National Service I truly understood the significance and gravity of Total Defence. As a small nation with limited resources, we are dependent on a citizen army to defend ourselves from external threats.

We are only as strong as our people. From learning how to handle a weapon to training for combat during missions and exercises, I probably had the closest experience to being activated for war without actually being a part of it. It was something that I didn’t take lightly.

While I hope and pray that diplomacy will ultimately reign, military defence is a necessary reality for every sovereign nation. I couldn’t be more thankful for the experience as it gave me the necessary skills to defend the country but also navigate life’s challenges.

Fun fact - I learnt how to swim in open water, perform basic first aid and dismount from a helicopter in the army. So if nothing else, those are some pretty badass life skills to take away. While “Military Defence” will always be front and centre when it comes to Total Defence, there is a reason why that is the case.

Total Defence as a civilian

How is Total Defence relevant to me as a civilian then? A few ways, actually. Whether it’s volunteering for community events, becoming a blood donor or donating to a food bank, you are actually doing your part for Total Defence.

In 2019, a new pillar was introduced called “Digital Defence”, as a way to raise awareness of online threats. As a victim of a scammer (not my proudest moment), we are all vulnerable to cyber attacks. Imagine if all your private data was hacked or misinformation easily flooded your social media. There are methods that potential enemies could use to stabilise our country. It’s even more crucial that we educate ourselves on the matter. Yes, even if you’re a boomer.

If you’re looking to learn more about Total Defence Day, there is a special exhibition taking place at the Singapore Discovery Centre. You can also find a comprehensive list of all the organisations from the public and private sector that are participating in Exercise SG Ready here.

For the latest updates on, be sure to follow us on TikTok, Telegram, Instagram, and Facebook. If you have a story idea for us, email us at [email protected].

Share with others!