Saturday, May 21, 2011
Conscription in South Korea: Elvis and the draft-dodger
Every South Korean man of sound mind and body is obliged to complete 21 months of compulsory military service. For those with enough money or influence though, the temptation to cheat one’s way out of early mornings, crew cuts and square bashing is often too much to resist. Sons of politicians and business leaders are notorious for this, as are the likes of pop star MC Mong, who spent his youthful years on more enjoyable pursuits, e.g., Mr Mong, or rather Shin Dong-hyun, as he is known to the army and the courts, was given a six-month suspended sentence last month (http://sangchusan.blogspot.com/2011/04/rapper-gets-suspended-sentence-super.html) , plus probation and 120 hours of community service, for “delaying” his enlistment. Judges however could not decide on whether or not he deliberately had healthy teeth extracted by a compliant dentist in order to disqualify him from service—hence their relative leniency.
Not everyone in his position is so recalcitrant. Hyun Bin, a hugely popular hallyu (http://www.economist.com/node/15385735) TV actor, last week embarked on the toughest assignment of all: a posting with the marines, to Baengnyeong Island (http://www.allkpop.com/2011/04/hyun-bin-boards-for-baengnyeong-island) —close to the Northern Limit Line and Yeonpyeong, where last November’s lethal North Korean bombardment (http://www.economist.com/blogs/banyan/2010/11/conflict_korean_peninsula) took place. The army’s original plan was to put him on “public relations duty”—appearing in promotional videos, and the like—but highly vocal criticism and Mr Hyun’s reported desire to serve as a marine have seen him sent to the front line.
In a country increasingly preoccupied with the issue of fairness—“Justice”, an academic book on ethics written by Harvard’s Michael Sandel’s sold 1m copies in its Korean edition last year—Hyun Bin’s preference for the Elvis Presley route (http://www.elvis.com.au/presley/elvisandtheusarmy.shtml) to service is likely to go down well. MC Mong, having been seen as trying to sidestep his national duty, will have a harder time turning his service into a virtue. A quick march towards career oblivion seems more likely. ◦
Posted by ProfAHK at 10:53 PM