Aristocracy of Armed Talent: The Motivation, Commitment, and Ascension of Military Elites in Singapore (1965-2014)

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Embargoed until 2016-11-30
Copyright: Chan, Samuel
This thesis examined why generals and admirals in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) were motivated to join the military as regulars, why they remained on active service, and how they ascended to the pinnacle of the office corps. Theories and empirical studies drawn from psychology, sociology, and the management sciences served as sensitizing concepts which guided data collection. Twenty-eight retired military elites drawn from vocations across the tri-service SAF shared their â lived experiencesâ during semi-structured interviews. There were primary and secondary motivations to join the SAF. The former included prestigious scholarships, that the SAF was the best career option available, military medicine was an atypical path for doctors, cutting-edge technology and technical competency, and genuine interests in the armed forces. The latter categories comprised salary, flying, the sea, â escapingâ conscription in the army, and familial roles in the choice of a military career. Although an officer could join the SAF nothing obliged him to serve until retirement. For the military elites their commitment to service was bi-dimensional. Transactional commitment was rooted in egoism and manifested in varying shades of obligations to stay in uniform, remuneration, and career progression. Yet these generals and admirals all converged toward an altruistic transformational commitment to their comrades-in-arms, the profession-of-arms, and the sacred mission apportioned to the SAF. Finally, officer ascension reflected both processes and structure. Officers received postings and promotion predicated on their performance and potential (not seniority) which are closely scrutinized to avoid cronyism. While there are no cookie-cutter pathways, the ascension structure favoured those who held command and is also subjected to organizational requirements and political considerations. Wearing a star or more not only reflected technical competency but was an amalgamation of military professionalism, critical responsibility, impeccable character, diplomatic acumen, and political trustworthiness. The empirical evidence presented is specific to the 28 interview participants and conclusions could be generalized at best to the 137 SAF generals and admirals between 1965 and 2014. Despite such limitations this study is undoubtedly the most detailed examination of Singaporeâ s military elites to date and this is its original contribution to knowledge.
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Chan, Samuel
Lovell, David
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PhD Doctorate
UNSW Faculty
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