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

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

Video Sierra Leone's Ebola Lockdown Continues

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap More

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.
Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’i
X
Jeff Seldin
September 20, 2014 10:28 PM
Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid