Kwon Jong-hwan Reporter
● Concern of Every Fresh’man’
Almost every male university student in Korea has one common concern. If you are a man and born in Korea, you too can’t escape from at least 21 months of military service. Of course there are exceptions like health problems, severe poverty, or privileges by earning medals. However if you are studying at university, you are not likely to be in one of those situations listed above. Therefore, military service-related issues are a main interest to male university students. So latest event related to conscientious objection caused large influence to university students. Let’s look into Korea’s military service and opinions about this event.
● Why Do Freshmen Alone Have Concerns?
“All citizens shall have the duty of national defense under the conditions as prescribed by Act.”
-Article 39 in ‘The Constitution of the Republic of Korea‘
“Every masculine gender of the Republic of Korea shall faithfully perform mandatory military service, as prescribed by the Constitution of the Republic of Korea and this Act. A feminine gender may perform only active service or reserve service through volunteering. “
- Article 8 in ‘Military Service Act’
This is the legal basis of military service. All citizens in Korea must perform this duty of national defense in their own way. But if you are a male, you have to fulfill the duty of national defense through military service. So, most Korean male students apply for military service at the end of their freshman year. Of course, you can delay until you graduate, but the end of freshman year is considered as the best time because intensive major classes of each department will start from sophomore. Therefore, joining the military at the end of your Freshman year will make it easier to study your major continuously. Korea originally had a volunteer military system. However, it was necessary to alter its volunteer military system to a conscription system, due to the Korean War in January of 1950. It was an unavoidable decision considering wartime conditions at the time.
● Why Conscientious Objection Is a Hot Potato in 2018?
If you follow a river to the origin of conscientious objection, you will end up at the beginning of Christianity in the Roman Era. However, this won’t explain specifically why we should focus on Korea’s conscientious objection. Conscientious objection is an act of rejecting military service under a belief of pacifism, which opposes violence and murder. In Korea, conscientious objection existed before 1945 but they had to live under oppression because of the war. To make matters worse, the military regime was established through a military coup on May 16th of 1961. The military government was replaced by a democratic government in 1987. Between this gap, many conscientious objectors were forcibly dragged into the military and some of them were killed as a result of beating and torture. In the 21st century, this topic became controversial and known to many people. However, many of them were judged guilty and sent to prison by violation of military service act before 2007. Eventually conscientious objectors requested to judge the constitutionality of the military service act by Constitutional Court. Although the court’s decision in 2007 was still on the side of the current military service act, the necessity for offering alternative service was on the rise because of this event. The term of alternative service was planned to be twice the current term of military service. However, that plan was denied by the conservative government elected in 2008. A decade after, in 2018, the Constitutional Court adjudicated, that the military service act not allowing alternative service is a violation of the constitution. This opened an opportunity for alternative service to every conscientious objector. But opinion of objectors of objection also had a point. Let’s take a peek at some of the main arguments through the survey of CBNU’s students and their arguments regarding military service.
● What Do You Think of Conscientious Objection?
55 participants responded to the following questions. 50.9% (28) of the participants were female, and 49.1% (27) of them were male. 89.1% (49) of the participants were enrolled students, and 10.9% (6) of them were not. 74.5% (41) of the participants were not in agreement with conscientious objection, and 25.5% (14) of the participants agreed with it.
● Why do you agree (or disagree) with conscientious objection?
- Disagree with conscientious objection
1. There are no objective standards about conscience.
2. An exceptional article can be misused, so it can’t be a principle.
3. A person’s right comes when you fulfill your duty. We cannot be free until we carry out our duty.
4. It will cause reverse discrimination because of a certain religion.
5. Military service is the action of duty for national defense. And conscience is not a criterion of duty.
- Agree with conscientious objection.
1. It would be fine if we have alternative service.
2. We are living in a democracy, so we have to consider the opinion of the minority.
3. Conscientious objection cannot be a reason to put someone in prison.
4. A belief in oneself can be considered to be above duty.
- What can improve from current conscription system?
1. Since military service takes so much time, we should choose whether we carry out our military service, or not.
2. We will need an alternative service system and clear standards regarding conscientious objectors.
3. Improvement of treatment for soldiers should be preceded.
4. We should invest taxes to improve the military environment. This will make people who fulfill their duty feel that it is less unfair.
As you can see, the results of this survey lean toward the negative side. Maybe you are thinking, “This result is wrong because it only represents the opinions of enrolled students.” But a survey in May 2018, showed that 66% of Koreans disagree with conscientious objection. Only 22% of survey respondents agreed. However, 70% of participants agreed with alternative service. So we can see that most Korean people are not supportive of conscientious objection but feel the necessity for the government to offer alternative service. Preparing a proper form of alternative service is the key to improving the current system of military service.