The Fleet in Being

Security is an intangible thing of an immensely tangible price. The average citizen’s perception of this price comes only in the percentages seen being thrown around disaffectedly in the yearly parliamentary budget debates. But when you’re in an (hyper)active ops unit at the heart of it all, your perception is far more damning than that of the average citizen.

August is the month of the nationalistic fervour and of celebration. August to our friendly neighbours is the month of opportune provocation. And thus August to us, is a month of immense anxiety. This bipolarity of moods is best described by this irony: half of my unit is away at the National Stadium preparing fireworks, and the other half is back at base preparing for war.

We celebrate with hundreds of man-hours spent planning, strategising and preparing with a profuse and profane outpouring of sweating and swearing. It is also in this two years that I get a very clear picture of where our defence dollars go – gazillion gallons of fuel, a forest-worth of paper, and entire crops of rations to feed hungry, underpaid conscripts. Our civilian life has practically faded into nothingness in the past month with all the extra duties and overtime work. My gosh, so much logistical effort and sweat (I’m not even exaggerating) in just one unit. Imagine that replicated across the entire island.

The British had this naval warfare doctrine where the mere existence of a naval fleet in a particular theatre extends a massive controlling influence on the enemy or at the very least a massive deterrent effect, even though the fleet is parked in a port without firing a single shot for the entirety of the war. They called it a “fleet in being”. And my point of bringing this up is that as much as all this logistical effort may appear to be all for nothing when August passes without event, we are very much a fleet in being. And that our very existence had not only deterred actual hostile action, but deterred any public ambitions of hostility in the first place. This apparent lack of hostility then lends a self-deprecating sense of irrelevance, which is very much as misplaced as it is complacent.

And no, I am neither discussing hypotheticals nor am I being an apologists for the defence budget. The threat is real. It is as real as the frequent provocations from very unfriendly and schizophrenic neighbours that no one ever hears about, because it has been so adeptly underplayed by both the government and the government’s media. (I would also add that mere deterrence is not very comforting to a government with a siege mentality, frequently obsessed over vulnerabilities. This fleet in being is more than just mere deterrence value.)

Whatever the case, I hope 9 August passes without a phone call from my base at 2am telling me that we’re activated.

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