[NOTEBOOK] Burnishing the Military's ImageLast Friday at 3 p.m. at the War Memorial Plaza in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, an honor guard ceremony of the Republic of Korea Armed Forces was staged for 500 domestic and overseas tourists. The performance lasted almost two hours. It began with magnificent, cheerful military music played by the army band and included close order rifle drill by the Women's Army Corps, traditional swordplay of the Choson dynasty and drills by honor guards of the military services.
The highlight of this event, held on a 5,300 square-meter field, was the honor guard demonstration, which was the last event in the program.
One hundred service members of the army, navy, air force and marines formed different emblems such as the national flag of Korea and the rose of sharon. They were received with a storm of handclapping from the audience when they formed a line and threw their rifles into the air one by one , like a wave, starting from one side. There was heartfelt cheering and whistles when the Women's Army Corps, wearing miniskirts, showed various demonstrations of their skills with wooden rifles in time to stirring music.
A tourist in his 50s, who said he was from Illinois in the United States, said that he has visited several places in Southeast Asia, but had never, witnessed this kind of sight. He occasionally exclaimed, "Wonderful!" "Excellent!" A 36-year old housewife from Yeonnam-dong, Seoul, who came with her two children, said that she could feel the friendly and trustworthy image of the army from the soldiers' inspiring features. Lee Un-se, deputy head of the education and public relations team at the War Memorial, said, "This program was a decisive factor in attracting 300,000 tourists annually after it was first performed in 1997." He also emphasized that this program is a successful case of marketing military culture. Business circles also say that the honor guard demonstration has become an established tourist attraction that visitors to Seoul should not miss. As this ceremony was more favorably received than was expected, the War Memorial has plans to invite the army band of the U.S. Forces Korea to a joint performance.
As can be seen in the case of the honor guard demonstrations, when rigid preconceptions of the military are cast away, many good points, mutually useful for citizens and the military, can be seen. It is deplorable that the Gyeryongdae, in South Chungchong province, where the headquarters of the army, navy and air force are located, is not open to the public.
During peacetime, the military should be an open organization instead of a group which is thought of by many people as only a drain on our national resources.
The writer is a senior reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim June-balm