What The Compulsory Army Draft Means to Koreans

In the K-Drama “Records of Youth” Bo-gum Park’s character, Sa Hye-jun, is struggling and delaying to respond to his army draft. The big question for him is whether to go to the army immediately before he achieve goal in his life or postpone.

Sometime in the twenties of every Korean man’s life they have to join the army for the compulsory service. So the youth of Korean men in their twenties is always marked with military

Why all Korean men have to join the Army?

Korea is still in a truce. As you all know, in 1965 the Korean war broke out. Peace between the two sides, North Korea backed by China and South Korea backed by western countries, was never officially declared. Still to this day the only agreement between the sides is only a ceasefire. Since the ceasefire no major steps forward were made for re-unification nor peace.

Not too long ago, the military draft issue broke out for the global pop star group BTS. Which transformed it in a hot topic, both inside Korea and worldwide, as their fans spoke more and more about it. Why should they as a Korean men go to the army having to put on hold even the most splendid career? As non-Koreans, it’s normal to wonder how and why. So I’m going to lay out briefly the Korean people’s perception of the military compulsory service.

Itaewon View Setting of Itaewon Class
Itaewon home to a Large Army Base

It Can be Tricky For Politicians

In one of the 90’s elections the clear favorite candidate for presidency has to give up his run for regarding his son and the army draft. He’s son had avoided joining the army for no real reason. This is severely frown upon in Korea and it can destroy the image of public figures.

But Also For Celebrities

A famous star (American Korean) in the 90s who announced he was going to join the army. He left Korea using the excuse of a concert a few days before joining the army. He then returned to US giving up his Korean citizenship. After this incident, he was banned from entering Korea. The reason for this is that he could influence the behaviour of many teenagers and men. They might emulate what he had done if they he was not publicly condemned for his behaviour. This obviously destroyed his popularity in South Korea.

Korean Flag

Months Of Worrying for Parents

The army can be a dangerous place to be. Training is heavy and it includes guns and heavy weapons. This is generally one of the times in which parents worry the most about their children. Because all men has go to the army where guns and tank training are life, all father, mother, and older brother are worry and pray for two years for their family.So, if you have a family who has been in the military, you will experience to visit or hear how military is.

Mixed Feelings For Men

It’s hard to come across a man that will want to go the Army. Because it’s dangerous and you’ll have to devote a chunk of your youth to it. However, at the same time, they think of it as their duty to protect the country. So that Korea’s tough history does not repeat itself.

Protecting What Korea Has Achieved

Yet today, grandfathers and grandmothers have memories of the colonization during their youth and the Korean war. It seems very distant in time because of how advanced Korea now it. However it is part of the story of many Korean who are still alive to tell the horrors of those times. My Korean wife often tells me of how she used to watch on TV as a child shows of people who either lost family members in the war or of families separated by it. This to make you understand how there are still people suffering from these events in Korea. And how the Korean Army is the defence mechanism to avoid all this from happening again and protect Korea’s incredible economic growth.

A Great Sense Of Responsibility

Although it is far from being the best time in each Korean man’s life, there is a great sense of responsibility and pride in serving the time in the Army. Many think that weaseling your way out of the army as the politician’s son or the celebrity did, can affect the life of many other Koreans.

Just to give you an idea of the incredible size of the army, Korea has the 4th largest army in the world. After only China, India and the United States. Korea’s population is 6 times smaller than the American one with just 100,000 personnel less. That is an incredible number. While walking on the streets in Korea or catching a train I guarantee you will meet at least one person in the army uniform.

There may be some foreigners that do not understand about Korea’s military issues, the history is very complex. However all Koreans accept these issues in a way or the other. If you do understand the background of Korea and its army, when you watch the Korean dramas which touch this topic, you will be able to understand the feelings of the characters.