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Column: On Military Service
[ Issue 103 Page 6 ] Friday, December 17, 2010, 03:50:14 Sou-yeon Lee sy-cutestar@hanmail.net

The Internet was boiled up again when Korean rapper MC Mong was charged by prosecutors of avoiding military service by having his teeth removed on purpose. According to the Seoul Central Prosecutors, MC Mong had all of his teeth declared healthy on his first physical checkup in 1998. However, just nine years on, he was exempted from serving in the military because he failed the dental exam. The prosecutors are assuming that MC Mong removed his four healthy teeth between 2004 and 2006 to avoid the two-year mandatory military service. Although MC Mong denied all these charges and is yet to be found guilty, the possibility of yet another famous TV celebrity deliberately evading military service duty was enough to arouse anger from Korean citizens.

Netizens’ anger aside, MC Mong’s case reveals a hidden side of military duty. Although military service is the so-called “holy duty” for all young men holding Korean citizenship, it does not seem so holy for those in power. Alongside President Myung-bak Lee, a significant number of politicians including the Prime Minister were exempt from military service. Not only are their own exemptions suspicious, but so too are those of their children’s, since they were easily exempt when they didn’t seem to have any apparent disabilities. Many believe that generation after generation of military exemptions is just another form of the hereditary succession of power.

Along with the scandal, which involved unfair employment of former Foreign Minister Myung-hwan Yu’s daughter, these controversies over military service ruined the reputation of “fair society” that President Lee’s administration pursues. Although the current government is sugarcoating people with slogans such as “equal opportunity for everyone” and “fair chances”, many feel betrayed as reality is often the exact opposite. Still, those in power maintain their authority through taking “shortcuts”, while forcing others to make a “detour”.

A recent survey showed that 85% of Korean adult males believe standards of military drafting are unfair. Looking back at these deep distrusts of the government, the so-called draft-dodger politicians seem to be the main stimulants. The Republic of Korea requires military service as compulsory duty for every Korean male when they reach a certain age set by the law. As most modern young men do not want to dedicate two years of their youth to serve the country, controversies over the mandatory military service will not settle anytime soon unless the army becomes voluntary. Imagine: if authorities can determine the fate of your two-year military service by deciding your physical grade, would you not want that process to be transparent? Maybe the public outrage against MC Mong is not necessarily a personal attack, but rather an explosion of anger towards inequality in our society.

As the saying goes, the fish always stinks from the head downwards. As long as the law requires young men to serve their country in the military, it only makes sense that the draft criteria apply to everyone with fair standards. Without guaranteed transparency, suspicions and doubts will be continuously raised regarding the military draft process, since military duty is still a huge burden for many young men in Korea. Maybe once upon a time, when the majestic King lived in his castle, he might have been free from his duties while still enjoying all the privileges of his status, and lived happily ever after. However, in the 21st century, those happy endings only exist in fairytales.

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