[Photo of a soldier in the middle of mandatory military service] (Photo courtesy:
Young Korean males have a quite different type of concern from males of other countries. They are different because Korean men from the age of 18 have to mandatorily enlist to the military and serve for 18 month. This procedure has been in place for such a long time that it became a fundamental part of current Korean culture. It is ingrained itself deeply into Koreans’ mindset up to the point where some grown men say that you cannot call yourself a man unless you have served in the military.
Nevertheless, enlistment has been a hot potato for all Korean youngsters with different opinion clashing. Recently, there are massive changes happening regarding this issue as the service period is becoming extremely shorter than that of previous years. Furthermore, the absolute disciplinary style of the service has started to loosen. Now some platoons even allow usage of smart phones. It is even possible to leave the training ground for certain periods of time after the regimen. All of these changes have stirred up a lot of controversy throughout the recent months.
The advocates of the alterations believe that shorter services are time saving for university students who gets enlisted. The current situation is that university students lose 3 valuable years because of the military duty. The advocates argue that shortening military service will cause the amount of study that the individual can do would leap dramatically. As a result, he could use that valuable time effectively by getting education and striving for self development, which would make him more ready to achieve his goal more quickly and efficiently. This important achievement in his early 20s would be impossible when he has to spend his time confined in a military for 3years.
On the other hand there is a side that believes that the current trend is not very beneficial. The opponents state that the mandatory military service is a major step of becoming a true Korean citizen. They also state that the benefits you can reap from the experience are invaluable. After all, mandatory enlistment is the most efficient way to increase a country’s military size and strength. They believe if the system is loosened and the term is shortened, the benefits will decrease accordingly.
|[I interviewed an acquaintance of my father who used to serve at the military 16 years ago for a long time. (mandatory service + additional service.) Photo courtesy: Lee Mi Young]
Q. How was the service for you?
“Well it’s tough on everyone. Back then the training regimen was extremely hard to complete. I was rather fat when I entered but after a few months in the camp, I lost all my excess fat. The training staff was mean and loved getting us in pain. The breaks were too short to be considered as real and if you couldn’t keep up with the troop, you were severely berated and punished.”
Q. As you know the law has changed and a lot has changed with the mandatory military service. What is your opinion on these changes?
“I think the direction the government is taking is not advisable. However harsh the service is, there are so much things that you can get from the experience. You make friends in the service that are life-long. You learn to be proud for your country and be proud of protect it. These days the kids going to the service don’t even have time to do all this. Furthermore they have more privileges than needed.”
Q. So you think that the service should not be shortened or made more comfortable?
“I do know the importance of tertiary education and how much valuable time is lost through the service period. But as a citizen of Korea we get many unique benefits like the universal health insurance. Participating in the service is a good way to repay to the country for the protection and benefit it gives to us.”
To conclude, although there are many Koreans who hope for the enlistment to be shorter and milder, there are also those who believe it should stay the way it is. Regarding this controversy, mandatory enlistment would have to be adjusted to a direction that addresses the claims of both parties.
SUNG UI JUN
Yeoksam Middle School
SUNG UI JUN firstname.lastname@example.org
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