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

FIFA Indictments Put Gold Cup Tournament Under Cloud

Experts say US indictments could lead to charges of other world soccer officials, and lead to major shakeup in sport's governance More

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

At a recent even in Seoul, border communities promoted benefits of increased cooperation and North Korean defectors shared stories of life since the war More

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Persian service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win 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.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs