That was a question posted by a friend recently.
It is clearly not a question asking "what RIGHTLY it SHOULD BE" but "what it WOULD BE".
Given the too many recent surprises taking place within our systems of governance related to what had actually happened versus what rightly should have, it could be anybody's guess.
It would not be an easy question to answer with any degree of certainty - perhaps even impossible, until the issue is put to the test.
I can only give my personal views on it, while sharing what my mind went through when I asked myself that same question some half a century ago.
Like many others, I took my oath as a soldier at eighteen.
That was when I first became familiar with the idea and concept of "serving King and Country" - words that sounded patriotic, noble and lofty, even poetic ...yet simple enough.
Did I understand what they had meant? Did I know what it would demand of me; one sworn to defend and protect his homeland with his life?
At the time I sincerely believed I did.
And when two years later, I was commissioned into the Royal Malay Regiment, I also thought its motto of "TAAT SETIA" had seemed totally consistent with that belief.
However, I very soon learnt this was merely my overly simplistic assumption, very likely glossed over by the excitement of embarking on a much-dreamt-of choice career.
When I was face to face with the enemies, or directly engaged against them, my tasks were always crystal clear and totally without any ambiguity; but they had seemed less so under other situations - situations I had not deliberated on or fully thought through.
And my search for answers began.
What could these different situations be? And what would the range of varying circumstances possibly cover?
What exactly is meant by "Serving King and Country"? Is the King a personal King or the institution; and who or what would constitute the Country?
What does the motto of TAAT SETIA really mean beyond its literal dictionary meaning? What do these two words demand of me? To whom or what exactly do I owe my loyalty - the King in person, the institution of the monarchy, the government, elected politicians in high office, the respective military commanders, or the people; the Rakyat?
Is the loyalty expected of me absolute and total? Is the obedience being demanded of me equally absolute and total under all circumstances - even if the nation is in such chaos and being ravaged and run into the ground?
Am I expected to remain loyal and obedient to the wrong side even as rampant and blatant wrongdoings continue?
I realised these questions would seem, at the time, quite out-of-place and uncalled for. How could I even entertain such thoughts when my country was flying high, basking in glorious sunshine, the envy of many, and a much touted example of a nation, led by capable, honest, sincere leaders, marching to even greater height?
How dare I contemplate such rediculous scenarios sounding totally distrusting and perhaps even disloyal?
Maybe such thoughts did indeed seem incongrous; but only for as long as the country continued to be led by honest and ethical leaders genuinely respectful of the laws, systems, and the views of the Rakyat.
The moment things start to go wrong and a growing majority were to become restless and dissatisfied, contending factions would emerge. Unchecked and unresolved, this could lead to a level of very real and dangerous crisis situation.
IT WILL BE AT SOME STAGE OF THIS ESCALATING RESTLESSNESS SCENARIO THAT THIS QUESTION OF LOYALTY WILL BE PUT TO THE TEST AND ANSWERED.
All these were, of course, totally hypothetical and unlikely scenarios a half century ago -- and I knew enough to keep my thoughts strictly to myself.
The haunting questions, however, remained very much alive within me. And even as I continued to enjoy every minute of my service, I kept searching for answers.
Is there a limit to my role and responsibilities in defending this sacred land and ensuring the safety, and well-being of this nation?
Should there be any caveat to my doing anything and everything within all my means, in carrying out my sworn duty in the interest of my country and its people, when there is no such caveat to my sacrificing my life in its cause?
Over time, I came to believe I had found my answers - what I should, and must, hold on to; consistent with my conscience. Yet, even then, I still had to struggle with a few linggering doubts.
Would I dutifully follow whatever orders given to me when in all conscience I knew it was wrong? Would I support a cause that is malignantly wayward?
Would I bow to the dictate of a self-serving leader at the expense of the nation? Would I help to uphold a regime that is against the interest of its people, even if I would be totally out of step with the majority of my compatriots?
And what of the need for discipline, esprit de corps, team spirit, obedience, and loyalty - all that we hold near and dear as soldiers? How do I decide when these basic frontline values might be justifiably put aside in the greater interest of a bigger and far more righteous cause?
Although I thought I would never be put to the test anytime in the conceivable future, these were issues I still had to resolve in my own mind to make me feel prepared and complete as a soldier - in knowing exactly what I was ready and willing to sacrifice my life for.
By the time I chose to end my service after twelve years, I felt totally sure I had ALL my answers.
Even as I left the only profession I had ever really wanted, I knew exactly what my OATH OF DUTY meant to me personally. I knew exactly what I would have to do, and would do, as a soldier sworn to ensure the well being of this land, under whatever circumstances.
These answers, I realised had been there all along, inside me; even if I had to dig deep and thoroughly search my conscience to be sure of myself.
Many, if not most, might not have gone through what I did or even felt the need to do so. Even if they did, they might come up with different answers.
Some, if not many, might choose to let the thinking and decision-making be done by their superiors no matter what; and continue to dutifully uphold the more obvious soldiering values of discipline, loyalty, and obedience, regardless of the situation or the circumstances.
Given the likely differing views, it would be very difficult to definitively say whether the loyalty of our present Armed Forces would be with the government or the people.
Speaking for myself, I had decided more than half a century ago, serving "King and Country" was, is, and always will be, serving the PEOPLE; and Loyalty to "King and Country" was, is, and always will be Loyalty to the just WELL BEING of the PEOPLE".
Everyone will have a view on this, and would wish to hold on to what he feels is right. The reality, very often, is that the view and the end-decision will be dictated or tampered by the decisions of those in the higher echelon of the organisation.
However, depending on the gravity of the situation, the principles involved, and the issues at stake, the regard for the views and dictate of those in higher positions would differ significantly.
In a real crisis, one laced with emotions, involving issues directly impacting the people, command dictate and influence can ONLY BE EFFECTIVE if the dicisions were consistent with the peoples' majority views. If not, at best they could have only PARTIAL EFFECT, or be TOTALLY IGNORED, or WORSE.
In the final analysis, at a certain crisis threshold, anything goes - but in the end, the INTEREST and the WILL OF THE PEOPLE would prevail. This had either been the case, or waiting to be the case, in ALL instances.
This is the REALITY. Every nation is rooted in its people. They are the raison d'etre of the Armed Forces; the very reason the Armed Forces exist - to safeguard the interest of the NATION and its PEOPLE.
It is just a question of how we get there - how we finally get to that end-point of the crisis that had triggered the need for a military role in the first place.
Our Armed Forced have proven themselves beyond any doubt as to their ability, commitment, and readiness to defend this country. The Army, in particular, had played various roles and executed varying tasks, in and outside the country, with distinction.
Many had fallen in the course of duty; and many more had also made major sacrifices for this nation they had readily and proudly taken the oath to defend with their lives.
We are today embroiled in a unique and never before thought of situation; yet a situation now seriously threatening the future well being of our nation and future generations. It is a challenge we had neither forseen nor thought possible.
I have no doubt, as our nation's next-to-final bastion (the final being the Rakyat); our Armed Forces will rise to the ocasion, when the time comes, to fulfill their sacred oaths of duty as they had always done throughout our history.
And I believe, so will the near-total majority of their former members.
As to the original question of where rests the loyalty of our Armed Forces, I would not hazard any "either this or that" answer, but what I had gone through are some of the likely related considerations.
Let us hope and pray the Almighty will lead everyone concerned along the right path; and spare those coming after us the burden of paying for the mistakes of our generation.
by Maj Dato Kamaruddin Mohd. Jamal
Pingat Gagah Berani
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