[FOUNTAIN]Revamping the army requires great care“A private second class obeys orders, and all difficult tasks await a private first class. But a bored corporal looks forward to vacations and a sergeant used to be exempt from training with a slight illness.” This is a joke about the private ranks. Some even say that a soldier would not be excused if he fails to support his superior, although he would be excused if he fails in a mission. There was a time when a superior was more frightening than a brave foe.
In World War II, Germany’s fighting power was a mystery. Unlike the strategic failures of the top officers, the strong fighting ability of the lower ranks troubled the Allies. They confronted armies five to seven times the size of theirs, but were never diffident. The Allies took notice of the non-commissioned officers. “The sergeant and the corporal leading the German troops are the source of the fighting power. The soldiers entirely trust the officers because of their ability and thoughtfulness.”
This was the conclusion the Allies came to after hearing from prisoners of war. The German Army chose sergeants and corporals from among the private soldiers who served in the army for more than a year, based on their ability. The officers went through the same training as the soldiers for 6 months before being commissioned. The non-commissioned officers naturally became one with the soldiers. The casualty rate for them was uniquely high since they often fought at the front.
Meanwhile, the Allies favored elitism and separated the officers from the soldiers. The Russian Red Army and the People’s Liberation Army in China promoted equality and had officers and private soldiers in the ranks. The officers were even ordered to wear their insignia where it would be hard to notice. But the result was a disaster. Orders were not followed and the number of casualties increased. The Red Army resurrected the hierarchy within the army during World War II, while China did so after it was hit hard by Vietnamese troops during the border dispute in 1979.
The Ministry of National Defense is considering eliminating the categories of private second class and sergeant to form a new military culture. It seems to believe that if a trainee starts as a private first class he will not have to go through tough times as a newcomer, and if the sergeant level disappears then so will the abuses. It seems to be a futile discussion of some officers. They have to consider the effect it would have on the fighting spirit and the fact that the only pleasure a private soldier has is being promoted. In the army, what matters is the number of days you are in, rather than your rank. Would getting rid of the rank of sergeant eliminate the practice of counting the number of days in the army?
by Lee Chul-ho
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.