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Human rights of soldiers

Fundamental steps needed to reform military culture


"Even if they hang you by the heels, the defense ministry's clock still ticks forward." The
widespread joke among conscripts of the 1!"s and '#"s described how hard army life was
for most enlisted soldiers, who endured nearly three years of mandatory service focusing
on their day of discharge.
The service period has since been reduced to less than two$thirds that, but its toughness
seems to have been redoubled, if all the media reports are correct. The unchanged, or
aggravated, military culture is beyond comprehension, especially considering this society
has been transformed from military rule to a democracy.
%hat's even more e&asperating than the gruesome abuses and ha'ing by five soldiers that
led to the death of a powerless private was that few outside the unit had noticed it.
(oreans would still have not known about the tragic incident if a human rights group had
not e&posed it.
)et, for most veterans familiar with the closed military culture, this is not very surprising,
either. *o it was good for the military authorities to move, if belatedly, toward enhancing
the protection of troops' human rights, especially by opening up more of the barracks and
compounds to civilian monitors. +f the military is to operate the new system effectively,
however, the cooperation of the commanders is a prere,uisite.
-resident -ark .eun$hye seemed to grasp the point in this regard /onday when she
instructed the defense ministry to "come up with drastic, fundamental measures to
innovate military culture." -resident -ark was also right to stress the need to focus on the
troops' personality training. 0ut the nation's first female commander$in$chief was wrong
when she cited as its e&ample an army unit that encouraged its soldiers to "read good
books." The current situation of the military is not that simple.
+f one talks about fundamental changes of the military, the scope of issues is ,uite wide,
ranging from the optimal si'e of the armed forces and its undue arrangement along the
1emilitari'e 2one to the loose military justice system and whether the nation should
maintain the current conscription system or shift toward a volunteer program. 3lso at
issue is whether (orea should continue to leave the military at the discretion of civilian$
clothed soldiers or put it under civilian control. The nation should seriously discuss these
topics instead of putting them off indefinitely citing 4orth (orea as an e&cuse.
/ost urgent at this juncture, however, is how to create a less loathsome, if not likable,
military atmosphere for young (orean men. 3 case in point was the short$lived
e&periment of a division commander, who tried to turn the oppressive compound climate
to a more self$regulating one by giving soldiers free time after the day's work, and
banning personal sanctions and even giving orders among enlisted men all for the
purpose of making a more "humane" division. Troops welcomed the change but the
e&periment ended when the commander retired and none of his colleagues benchmarked
him.
-resident -ark is advised to resume the e&periment in a few more divisions, and, if
successful, e&pand it gradually. The old guard will oppose it, citing weakened discipline
and order. )et, the e&amples of advanced countries show democratic, self$regulating
militaries are more effective than (orea's system modeled after its former coloni'er.
3nd this should mean what -ark described as, "drastic, fundamental changes."