News / Asia

    South Korean Military Conscripts Keep Close Eye on North

    A South Korean Army soldier uses binoculars to watch Northern side after news reporting about the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il at a guard post in the demilitarized zone between South and North Korea in Cheolwon, South Korea, Monday, Dec. 19, 2
    A South Korean Army soldier uses binoculars to watch Northern side after news reporting about the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il at a guard post in the demilitarized zone between South and North Korea in Cheolwon, South Korea, Monday, Dec. 19, 2
    Jason Strother

    For a country that has technically remained at war since 1953, military conscription in South Korea has long been a way of life. All able-bodied South Korean men serve roughly two years in a branch of the armed forces, giving them a unique perspective on the country's relationship with the North. Following the arrival of a new, untested leader in North Korea, several conscripts spoke about their concerns for the future.

    Kim Min-jun says his life will soon change. Just a few days ago, the 21-year-old received a letter informing him that his mandatory military duty begins in February.

    Kim says even though all able-bodied South Korean men eventually serve in the military, he had hoped this day would not come.   

    “When I was very young, I thought when I become 20 years old, which is the age you have to complete the duty of military, I thought our nation would be unified with North Korea," he said. "So it doesn't really matter to me, I thought. That's what I thought when I was 10 years old.”

    Some observers say relations between the two Koreas are now actually worse than they were a decade ago.

    And with uncertainty surrounding the North’s power transition following the death of Kim Jong Il in December, Kim and other South Korean men of conscription age are questioning how Pyongyang’s new leadership will affect their lives.

    North Korea’s military is twice the size of the South’s and it also has a nuclear weapons program. Those military assets are now controlled by Kim Jong Un, who is only in is late 20s.

    That concerns 25-year-old Choi Chanyoung.

    “The problem is that he’s too young, in the young times, in the young ages, you can be aggressive, take risks, adventures, so what I was worrying about is that he’s young he wants to do something, he wants to show something, so he could accidentally do something,” he said.

    Choi, who already completed his military duty but could be recalled in the case of new hostilities, worries about another artillery attack like the one in 2010 on Yeonpyeong Island.  Four South Korean marines and civilians died in the shelling.

    But conscript Kim says he doubts all-out war will erupt.    

    “Generally worried, about this country and what’s happening on the peninsula," he said.  "But I don't expect something to happen in my days”

    Many South Koreans do not see the North as a threat, says 24-year-old Jung Jae-kwang. He says he also felt that way until he started his military service, which can change one's perspective on the North.

    “Basically there are two groups in South Korean men. One group is the one who completed their duty and those who didn’t complete the duty," he said. "When those who didn't complete their duty say things about North Korea, the ones who did their service criticize, like you don’t know anything because you didn't go to the military, and those kind of things.  Before and after the military my perspective changed a lot”

    Jung says one reason why young South Koreans do not worry about the North is because of what they study in school. He says most students prefer to focus on math or science rather than on history and politics.

    Over the next decade South Korea’s Ministry of Defense plans to reduce military troop levels and promote officer training programs in order to rely less on a conscript army. The government here says it will also develop and purchase more advanced military technologies in order to counter North Korean provocations.      

    Conscript Kim Min-jun says he is not exactly looking forward to his military service, but understands it is the best way to defend the nation.

    “Very personally, I don’t like it. But thinking about the country, yeah there are no options, no other options yeah, I’ll have to accept it,” he says.

    Kim says for now he just wants to enjoy his last two months of freedom before his service begins.

    You May Like

    Multimedia Obama Calls on Americans to Help the Families of Its War Dead

    In last Memorial Day of his presidency, Obama lays wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery

    The Strife of the Party: Will Trump Permanently Alter Republicans?

    While billionaire mogul's no-holds-barred style, high-energy delivery are what rocketed him to nomination, they also have created rift between party elites and his supporters

    China's Education Reforms Spark Protest

    Beijing is putting a quota system in place to increase the number of students from poor regions attending universities

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conferencei
    X
    Serginho Roosblad
    May 30, 2016 5:11 PM
    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conference

    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video US Military's Fallen Honored With Flags

    Memorial Day is a long weekend for most Americans. For some, it is the unofficial start of summer -- local swimming pools open and outdoor grilling season begins. But Memorial Day remains true to its origins -- a day to remember the U.S. military's fallen.
    Video

    Video Rolling Thunder Rolls Into Washington

    The Rolling Thunder caravan of motorcycles rolled into Washington Sunday, to support the U.S. military on the country's Memorial Day weekend
    Video

    Video A New Reading Program Pairs Kids with Dogs

    Dogs, it is said, are man's best friend. What some researchers have discovered is that they can also be a friend to a struggling reader. A group called Intermountain Therapy Animals trains dogs to help all kinds of kids with reading problems — from those with special needs to those for whom English is a second language. Faiza Elmasry has more on the New York chapter of R.E.A.D., or Reading Education Assistance Dogs, in this piece narrated by Faith Lapidus.
    Video

    Video Fan Base Grows for Fictional Wyoming Sheriff Longmire

    Around the world, the most enduring symbol of the U.S. is that of the cowboy. A very small percentage of Americans live in Western rural areas, and fewer still are cowboys. But the fascination with the American West is kept alive by such cultural offerings as “Longmire,” a series of books and TV episodes about a fictional Wyoming sheriff. VOA’s Greg Flakus recently spoke with Longmire’s creator, Craig Johnson, and filed this report from Houston.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora