I’m working on some longer posts that may never get posted so in the interim, I thought I’d share a couple of links to articles I’ve read recently that I thought were interesting. Each article is about a young Korean man and conscription but in very different times and very different circumstances.
The first: “When an apology isn’t enough,” JoongAng Ilbo
For those of you who don’t know Steve Yoo, Yoo Seung-jun, he was a Korean singer-“rapper” active in the late-90s/early-2000s. He was immensely popular and became the nation’s favorite son when he went on television and repeatedly claimed that he would proudly do his military service at a time when it was the norm for celebrities to find ways not to go. Not long after, he gained American citizenship and renounced his Korean citizenship, getting out of his military service obligation and shitting on his adoring public. The year was 2002, the same year I came to Korea.
An argument can be made that a big reason I had to serve in the Korean Army was because of his perceived betrayal of the Korean public. Public opinion was reflected in government policy, and the government took drastic measures to make sure that no one would be able to shirk their military service. Of course, the people who have the money or connections to sidestep the law will always be able to do so, and in the end, it was the general public who suffered as a result of its own outrage.
Yoo was also punished specifically. He was blacklisted from Korea, only allowed back in the country once to attend the funeral of his father-in-law. In a video posted online last month, Yoo got down on his knees and tearfully apologized for evading the service 13 years earlier. Unfortunately for him, the public and the government have still not forgiven him. The article says it is because “he made so many excuses” and that the issue is “not simply about avoiding one’s responsibility for national defense but about social justice and the privilege to evade a hardship everyone must bear.”
Personally, I don’t think his punishment is fair. While I was never a fan of his music at all*, I don’t harbor any negative feelings toward him. I don’t like the guy, but I don’t hate him, either. He was a stupid kid who made bad decisions, something I’ve made plenty of in my own life. Sure, the result of his decisions have adversely affected the younger, male Korean population in general and me in particular, but there’s no way to know exactly who will be affected and in what way when we make our decisions, the Butterfly Effect and all that. And the fact of the matter is that he isn’t the only Korean man who has taken steps to get out of the military obligation.
Each year, 3,000 people give up their Korean citizenship to avoid serving in the military. In 2013, among the children of 15 high-ranking officials in the current Park Geun-hye administration – which includes Blue House secretaries – 16 gave up their Korean citizenship and were therefore exempted from service.
Do I think he should be able to come back to Korea? I honestly don’t care either way. I just think the government and the legal system here have a problem with consistency. If the issue is really about social justice, either let him come back (I wouldn’t if I were him, considering how many people hate him with a passion) or blacklist all of the many privileged draft-dodgers out there. If they did the latter, Korea would find themselves without a government and an entertainment industry. The sheer amount of privileged Korean men who get out of doing their service while others who may not even be physically fit to serve take their place is what I think is truly shitty.
* I was never a fan because I thought he was a poser. He thought spending his teenage years in California gave him claim to West Coast gangster-hood. He was a pretty boy who sang love songs and yet his first album was titled WEST SIDE.
The second: “The Korean Soldier who Fought for the Japanese, Russians AND the Germans during WWII,” War History Online
The second article is about Yang Kyoungjong (1920-1992), a Korean man who fought for the Japanese, Russians, and Germans during World War II. He might have had to fight for the Americans, too, if the war hadn’t been winding down when he was captured as a Korean fighting on the side of Nazi Germany. The thing is, he was forced to fight in every single one of those armies. His story of misfortune was one of repeated capture, imprisonment, and conscription. The only luck he had was somehow surviving the whole ordeal.
After the war ended and he was released, he settled down in Illinois, where he lived until his death. I wonder if we crossed paths sometime in my youth in Illinois, and his weird luck was somehow mystically transferred to me. If that were possible and you have a son, you should probably stay the hell away from Seoul.