You probably heard that, a little while ago, South Korean congressman Ha Tae Kyung proposed that people should be exempt from military service if they have outstanding achievements. He suggested that groups like BTS should be exempt because they have gained many great accolades – such as a number 1 on the Billboard 200 with their album Love Yourself: Tear.
As it currently stands, South Korean male citizens between the ages of 18 and 35 are required to perform about two years (24 months) of compulsory military service. If you are judged physically or mentally unsuitable to complete your training, you are either exempt, required to undertake less training, or can defer your training if things are able to improve over time. Exemptions are also awarded to athletes who win medals in the Olympic Games or gold medals in the Asian Games. These individuals are instead required to complete four weeks of basic training and to attend a few days of extra training over the next six years.
Military laws in South Korea are tweaked and changed occasionally, and debates often take place surrounding what requirements, criteria and exemptions should stand in modern day South Korea – such as what was proposed by congressmen Ha Tae Kyung.
Each change, either proposed or carried out, often brings with it a lot of different opinions from the public. This recent one has invited even more discussion due to its slightly controversial nature.
So, should military exemptions be extended to people (K-Pop idols included) that have succeeded particularly well in their field?
If this change was to come to pass, a number of following questions would need to be answered. What exactly would be required to be exempted? Measuring success is not as cut and dry as those who have received medals. Would it then be down to a trailblazer – such as BTS, who were the first to achieve such heights of global recognition? Perhaps, someone who has represented the country well? Even then, who would be the ones to decide if an exemption was awarded or not?
Given the current laws, it is not so unimaginable that those who have done particularly well should be exempted from military service, but in a way, it also feels unfair. The fact is that compulsory military conscription exists in South Korea, and this would leave behind those who had perhaps not had the means and resources to achieve certain successes in their lives. It could also breed resentment in the idea that some are better than others because of this.
There is also the fact that many Korean men and much of the Korean public in general see military service as a duty which is deeply entwined with a sense of honour as a citizen. Many men may not want to take these exemptions, and those that do could face huge criticism. There is enough back lash about celebrities getting special treatment during their service as it is, I doubt many would be willing to court more.
You could argue though, if someone has worked hard all their life and made some great achievements (especially when representing their country) why shouldn’t they be exempt? The new law would also, perhaps, encourage the Korean public to strive for greatness and provide an incentive for them to represent their country in a positive way.
In any case, I am personally against military exemptions for anything other than medical issues, because I think it is unfair otherwise. However, it is very easy for me – a British woman, observing the situation from afar – to come to this conclusion. After all, I have not had to live my life with compulsory military enlistment hanging over my head! Whether or not compulsory military enlistment should exist in the first place is a different debate altogether.
What is your opinion in this topic?