In Korea, enlisting into the army is one of the biggest problems to men in their twenties, because they waste two years of their important twenties, and in addition, there are so many incidents bursting from the Korean Army recently. Also, a new phrase has been circulating. “In the Korean Army, the patient one becomes a Private Yun, and the one who bursts becomes a Sergeant Im.” The two names refer to the two incidents that represented the irrationality of the Korean Army; Sergeant Im’s armed desertion is a result of a soldier’s outburst due to the army disregarding his human rights and Private Yun’s death was a result of bullying conditions and violence in the army. It is just a representative case of the many problems in the Korean Army. Furthermore, there are other problems and these problems have continued for a long time since the foundation of the Korean Army. What are the problems in the Korean Army? Why are these problems not fixed, and what can be done to correct the Korean Army’s problems?
Highlighted Army Problems
There were many army problems in 2014, including Sergeant Im’s armed desertion, two Special Forces’ staff sergeants’ death during training, and the two soldiers’ suicide in the 28th division. Some people say the reasons why army problems have increased recently is because the army has become more comfortable than in the past, and the new generation soldiers’ mental stability is weak. However, you should know it is not right because the number of suicides decreased in recent days compared to the past. However, recently the media focused on military problems, and frequency of broadcasting to the public is increased, so people could get deluded as if the military problems have increased. However, although the media often broadcasted about military problems, there were still some hardships to the public obtaining detailed information about the military’s organization.
Problems of the Korean Army
1) Cruel treatment
Some cruel treatments like violence and swear words are used against soldiers to keep military discipline in the Korean Army. Of course, discipline is important in the military because soldiers handle dangerous weapons like guns and bombs that can kill people within moments of inattention. However, it is not right to implement cruel treatments that are more than necessary to keep soldier disciplined in the Korean Army. In particular, these cruel treatments are not only applied during training and military action when discipline is needed but also during life in the barracks. It gives so much stress to the soldiers.
The origin of cruel treatments in the Korean Army came from the Japanese Army during the Japanese Coloniar Period. The Korean army accepted Japanese army officers who were of Korean blood due to the lack of professional manpower when the Korean Army was founded after independence from Japan. During this enlistment process, cruel treatments of the Japanese army culture were transferred to the Korean Army. Soldier’s rights increased after WWII worldwide and the Japanese army reformed their military culture to follow the USA also. However, harsh actions are still enforced in the Korean Army today. Some of the reasons why these cruel treatment become problems are that there are no guarantees that the harsh actions can keep military sprit high. Also, these harsh actions give stress to soldiers, and make conflicts among the soldiers. In addition, these harsh treatments can be the reason of extreme actions like suicide and fragging.
2) Sexual Violence in Army
There are two types of sexual violence in the Korean army. The first one is coercive homosexual acts by superior officers; the other is aimed toward female soldiers who are the minority in the military community. The first is usually forced by superiors who homosexually assault subordinates by abusing their higher ranking than victims. A more serious situation is the low-recorded report of sexual violence because of the poor system and shame of victims. Although sexual incidents between soldiers have increased, the sexual crimes are concealed because of the above reasons. For example, a human rights group conducted a survey questioning sexual crimes in the military, more than 30% of the respondents answered that they saw or heard of military sexual crimes. Also, the sexual crimes that are aimed toward female soldiers are a big problem. Usually, female officers hold lower ranking than male officers in the military, these sexual crimes are not known to the public. From 2010 to 2014, there were 83 sexual crimes (out of 132) involving female officers, but only 5% (3) of the crimes took actual prison sentences among 60 judged incidents. The reasons for these problems are lighter punishments to criminals under the disclosure of the military and sheltering the culprits due to the criminals’ high rank in the military. To improve the human rights of soldiers, the sexual violence in the military must be investigated.
3) Qualification problems of the army officers
The first problem is the individual qualifications of the army officers. According to the Military Cadre Personality Test from the Military Courts, it results that 5,411 of officers out of a total of 81,037 army officers received “Danger or At Risk of Danger” as a result of their personality tests. Among them, noncomissioned officers (noncoms) occupied about 3,900 people (72%) and the problem of the noncoms’ qualification is emerging as a major issue. Also, second liewtenants are usually commissioned at the ages of 24-25, but staff sergeants are commissioned at the ages of 20-21 that are little different to soldier’s age. Thus, youth noncoms have difficulties to command soldiers than commissioned officers. The second problem is idleness attitude of the noncoms. They are apt to be lazy since they are guaranteed age limit security when it comes to be selected to long-term servicemen under 30%. To improve this condition, it is expected that the system of giving limit to the promotion of the bottom 20% is made, starting 2016.
4) The closeness in army makes its problems unapproachable
The ratio of soldier died from suicide was quite high according to an accidental death statistics from the Ministry of National Defense in 2010. Since 2000, up to 70% of the annual death toll’s cause was suicide . There was an example in 2005: the military authorities reported Son Sang-gyu first lieutenant had died by hanging himself. Son Sang-chun who is his younger brother said that he couldn’t have died by hanging because of unrealistic situation that the tree is too high to hang himself and has lots of spray. There are many doubts about the first lieutenant who died by hanging. Another example is that the military progressed criminal investigation on this suicide accident as they resolutely fitted pieces of the accident in March, 2001 at Gangwon-do. When the bereaved demanded criminal investigation documents, the police detective refused them by saying “Are you the detective?” The attitudes of military authorities attribute the accidents to a soldier personal setback and also would suppress the fact. The military has settled down as a sanctuary. Whenever the accident occurs, any event in the military hardly opened. The families of the deceased deeply feel stifled because of the closing that doesn’t allow to intervention of private. In addition, the witness is now refused. Every time a case of wild shooting and harsh treatment happened, exemplary punishment, management strengthening, consolidation of education and improving of the petition system from the military authorities and government has had no effect whatsoever. This is because there was a deep-rooted the closure. It has been brought up recently from several organizations that the cruel treatment, suicide and gun fire at random could not stop unless the military reveals the problems and tries to solve the question through cooperating with the private.
5) Perception difference of recognizing the soldier’s human rights between the army officers and soldiers
Definite perception differences between the army officers and soldiers is discussed. It came out that executives have a somewhat negative perception of improving soldier’s rights according to investigation form Agency for Defense Development. The investigation asked to executives whether the right of soldiers enhances the military disciple. The results occupied 50.2% said “No,” which is larger percent than “Yes” (44.8%). This means that many army officers think the soldier’s right “good.” And, the soldiers responded “a lot of” (1.5%) when the research asked if there is abuse of human right, “fairly” (20%), “a little” (41.3%) and non-response (34.2%). A list of violations of the soldier rights is that 41.3% of swear words, 19.8% of impersonal, 7.9% of an undeserved punishment and 3.0% of sexual harassment and forcing to overeating. The problems cause improvement of solders rights to go slower.
The reason why military-related problems are not improved
Why are military problems occurring? The answer is very simple. Military authorities have not actively worked towards cutting off unfair regulations. When military problems occur, they go through the motions such as organizing emergency planning committee or solving the military problems. If military problems are simply passed through without a thorough investigation, improvement plan decided by the emergency planning committee has a marginal effect on the military. By doing so, military problems are most likely to reoccur. One good example related to these problems is the Military Commission which is under the jurisdiction of the military. In the past, the Military Commission assigned judges, two out of three who were military general officers. The result was military authorities and judges fabricated evidence in investigations. So, in 1994 military authorities changed their system. Until now, military authorities pressure the judges to rule in their favor. Also, because of the military’s distinctive system, the military authorities have administrative power and judicial power to take advantage. Therefore, they can interfere with law revision related to military issues. On the other hand, psychology experts say that the military structure influences soldiers’ personalities. Because of this, military problems are occurring repeatedly. Some years ago, Stanford University conducted an experiment about military problems. The title of the experiment was, “Bad Box and Violence.” Through this experiment, they discovered that ordinary participants became violent due to special situations such as a military hierarchy. This result means that the environment of the military establishment can have a great effect on soldiers.
1) Volunteer military system
The hysterical accusations of volunteer military system has existed from the past, but now its situation has been changed. The conservative media began to positively mention about volunteer military system. Unfortunately, the notion of volunteer military system can be realistically difficult because of the budget. Ministry of National Defense must fully increase its budget. A question arises to raise the low wages enlisted soldiers about whether the military’s catting-edge technology arms will become powerful enough to replace soldiers. Most of all, the biggest weakness of a volunteer military system is the phenomenon that only poor people will go to the army. Although volunteer military system enforcement is difficult, it can be implemented gradually. In Russia, they have now replaced 40% of their soldiers since the introduction volunteer military system and they have a plan to expand it to 90% by 2020. South Korea also does joint research and discusses about the budget and the proper number of soldiers. In fact, retired Air Force Brigadier General Jin Ho-young insisted that if we reduce the number of soldiers from 600,000 to 300,000, we can save one-third reduction in the defense budget, and be carried out with volunteer military system. Now the media’s public opinion polls show that 52.6% people agree about a volunteer military system which would be a majority. It is sufficient evidence that a volunteer military system is worth discussing.
2) New barracks project
In Germany, the ombudsman system that means the investigation commission is assigned by the council instead of the Ministry of National Defense and can check autonomously about military issues. This considers soldiers as civilians who wear a uniform, so the system treats them as citizens. Regarding a variety of military issues, the investigation commission directly receives grievances as well as solves the issue through the cooperation with the private sectors. Like this, solving military problems is run in South Korea. For example, there are weekday visitation permissions and improvement of poor military facilities such as dormitory and dining. Also the Korean Coast Guard operates a counseling system consisting of all female counsellers. When soldiers of the existing soldiers resolve their concerns and express grievances, the soldiers can solve the problems they experienced in the military more freely.
The thought of military official
Kang Han-suk a major general in the reserve
Kang Han-suk (a Major General in the reserve) suggested the military commuting system, one of the improvements of the military culture of Korea. He had a reason to propose this kind of system. In 2011, the Major General Kang had visited a U.S army base and wanted to look around the U.S army barracks so the U.S. commander granted his request. But after a while, the commander replied that it’s hard to look around the U.S army base because it was the end of the day so he couldn’t interrupt the soldiers’ free time. The situation was inconceivable in the case of the Korean military.
The major General Kang had worked at the 21st division as commander in 2007 so he could make a comparison directly between the Korean military and the U.S military. Even though a lot of time had passed, he felt the circumstances were still poor and the number of suicides had increased in Korea. After he started for his new post as the divisional commander, he presented policies to eradicate the military problems. He even discharged about 20 military officials who didn’t obey the policies and continued to force harsh treatment and verbal violence.
He said the reason for the military’s problems is that soldiers' minds have changed to a more advanced and democratic mindset compared to the past but military environments have not changed. He explained the differences of new generation soldiers against soldiers in the past generation are the high level of education and only-child homes. Due to the intelligence level of soldiers, the military needs to accommodate them but the military still has not adopted a proper and appropriate system. And there are other problems because of the soldiers' higher education degrees. Some noncoms have an academic complex toward well-educated soldiers and they verbally abuse the soldiers. As a solution, he suggested university educations to noncoms to fix the academic complex. Soldiers, in the past, were able to learn a group-lifestyle when they lived with larger families but now, soldiers usually live in smaller families that ensure their individual space. Thus, new soldiers have difficulties adapting to a group life in the barracks. So he implemented the Commute from Barracks to solve the problem when he worked at the 21st division. It allowed soldiers to take showers, make phone calls, write letters and order meals. This method reduced soldiers’ stress, leading the incidents to decrease by 40%.
Kang also criticized excessive military discipline. He said military discipline is needed only in training and operation and it is not a necessity in the barracks. He added that soldiers need to learn in the military, manners and etiquette in group life, not cruel and coercive attitudes. He refuted some sayings about the military like, a soldier must be able to withstand uncomfortable lifestyles and soldiers need to learn patience in the military. He said these reoccurring incidences, or bad habits, should not be allowed to be disciplined. In this environment, soldiers just get stressed and their effectiveness decreases in wartime. He presented an example of cruel treatment of soldiers in the U,S. military during the Vietnam war. The U.S. military had similar incidences as present day Korean military doe. There were about 170 fraggings because of unnecessary discipline. So the U.S. noticed these incidents only resulted in negative effects to the military and they revised these policies in the military using hundreds of billions of dollars. Consequently, the U.S. military established a new principle, Hard Training and Free Life.
Finally he emphasized the practice will improve the military because the military have made little efforts to improve the military culture in the meanwhile. Now, the military treats soldiers as one human being, not just one number. Then, military will change. Also, it is important that we make practicable plan. Will to act is more important than budget.
As you read previously, South Korean Army has many problems now. Despite this fact that it has caused a lot of problems, until now it can be seen that things have nearly improved. An extreme example is the number of soldiers who have ended their precious lives by hanging themselves. If the army authorities do not move quick to create a plan to solve the problems, they will not end soon. They should not delay anymore to correct this problem such as “lack the budget,” “need time to prepare a plan.” Also, because people have a lot more interest in army-related issues than they did in the past, private first class Yun’s accident was processed publicly, unlike previous cases. Therefore, the people seem to need to pay constant attention to the army in order to improve the army problems.