[FORUM]Service with a smileI recently had a chance to chat with someone whose son was serving in the military. He spoke of the helpless feeling he had as he saw the young man off to boot camp.
The conversation reminded me of an experience I had with my own sons.
I have two sons. They have completed their military service and are now back in school, so some people tell me I can now run for president of Korea.
But no parent who watches his son go off into the far horizon, herded by screaming drill sergeants, will find that remark very funny.
I remember the sinking feeling I had as I stood there until my sons and other young men were no longer in sight.
The memories are vivid and they come to me with a sense of anger directed at no one in particular.
What causes such an aversion to sending one's son into the military? Why is it that even as you say, "The army makes men out of boys," you feel sorry when your son says, "Not many other guys are going in."
And when your son writes a letter home and says, "Don't worry, Dad, it's comfortable here," you wonder if that's true.
Military service is 26 months of isolation. In today's knowledge-based society and global competition, there never seems enough time to train the body and soul.
Perhaps it is because of the inevitability of being left out of the race to be more globalized and better equipped with knowledge that young men are so averse to committing themselves to the service.
What's more, the competition for knowledge is picking up in this 21st century. Time spent on a base is not just a matter of being suspended from the competition but of actually falling far enough behind so as to be out of competition forever.
National defense is necessary, and there is nothing wrong with all the talk about becoming a real man.
At the same time, this country should think of taking a little bit of the 17.4 trillion won ($14.4 billion) in the defense budget and the 26 months of "comfortable" military service, and transferring those items into making the military a little bit more knowledge-oriented.
Whether it is computer skills, English or some other foreign language, I would like to see young men come out of the service with something valuable.
One day we will have more than just a group of 600,000 bodies in the military. The Korean Army can be a storehouse of knowledgeable resources who will take part in leading this country in the future.
When that happens, there will be complaints from young men when told they do not need to serve. In fact, it will be great to hear these young men say, "Why can't I go in?"
* The writer is a senior economic affairs writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Chung-soo