What Mothers Will Learn From Dominique Sarron Lee’s Death

SAF may have won the legal battle, but will it lose the hearts of Singaporean mothers?

Private Dominique Sarron Lee died at the age of 21 after having an allergic attack to the zinc chloride fumes emitted by six smoke grenades that were thrown by a platoon commander, although regulations specified that no more than two grenades could be used.

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Dominique’s mother sued for negligence on the part of the SAF, his platoon commander and the chief safety officer of the exercise. The court ruled in favour of the three defendants, who argued that they are indemnified from suits for negligence if the deaths or injuries occurred during service (a provision under Section 14 of the Government Proceedings Act).

She also has to pay over SGD $22,000 for the defendants’ legal costs, which sparked an online debate about the justice of law, the point of committing one’s life to protecting the country, and a wave of sympathy among netizens who do not understand the logic of the court ruling.

My post is not about attacking the verdict, the statutes or the rule of law. There are others who are already doing this, with a protest planned soon.

I’m sharing my personal observations among my mummy friends towards the turn of events and how this affects what they teach their children about growing up.

Without a clear understanding of why the judge ruled as he did, the rule of law and the injustice that many netizens are voicing their objections about, this is what I’ve observed:

1. Mothers may think twice about telling their sons that NS will make them a man

Instead, they may inoculate their sons to stay as far out of danger during NS as possible, to avoid unnecessary hardship.

2. Mothers may emphasize more strongly on their sons’ allergies and health issues than they used to

Just in case any small factor may snowball into a death sentence, this may drive over-declaration of a recruit’s various health issues so that the army will (hopefully) be more careful and downgrade to non-combat duties.

Will there be less combat-ready citizens to defend Singapore 10-20 years down the road due to a prevalence of greater downgrading? If yes, how will the army decide whether for example, a recruit with autism or another with childhood polio should be the first to be upgraded to combat duties?

3. Mothers may become more distrustful of the authorities, making them more open to emotional arguments instead of thinking through issues rationally

Mothers are emotional people. They spend hours every day nurturing their children to grow up and achieve the dreams that these mothers themselves put aside in order to raise their children to the fullest ability.

Take their children’s lives away without a ‘worthy’ cause of death will strike any mother extremely hard because she will perceive her years of effort to have been wasted unnecessarily.

To punish a mother for seeking justice and closure for her beloved son’s death, is a double whammy that makes other mothers worry whether they face a similar fate when their sons go to NS.

Multiply this stress by the number of days till their sons ORD, and you may have a nation of jittery mothers who may not be in the right frame of mind to consider other important issues clearly, because their perspectives are clouded with distrust and fear of the establishment.

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The loss and court verdict of Dominique’s death may have long term repercussions on Singapore’s psychological defence and its citizens’ resilience towards external and internal attacks.

I am not sure how the SAF will win back the hearts (and then the minds) of citizens who are outraged at the verdict and of the argument SAF used to turn the ruling in its favour.

In the meantime, the storm over Dominique’s death will continue to brew.

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