[Viewpoint] The soldier who reads is strongerOct. 11 is observed as Book Day, commemorating the day monks finally finished carving Buddhist scripture onto the 81,340 woodblocks of the Tripitaka Koreana, or Palman Daejanggyeong, in 1251.
What is a book? If you type “book” into an Internet search engine, you will find a diverse list of definitions: food for the mind, life’s tutor, human purifier, brain booster, channel to understanding the world, time machine and key to the future.
The Federation of Korean Industries, an interest group for the country’s largest business conglomerates, recently started a campaign to send books to the military. The 600,000 young soldiers serving their compulsory time in the military are the men who will help shape our future. Imagine these young men holding a gun in one hand and a book in the other, and the changes that could bring to our society.
If young men use the prime years of their lives spent in the military to read, they will not only nurture their individual minds but the country’s competitiveness. We are beyond the days when manpower determined the consequences of a war. Advanced weapons require soldiers to equip themselves not only with physical ability but also technological skill and quick judgment. After they finish their service, these men return to society and find their economic niches. Reading while in the military would feed them with the knowledge and judgment needed in their individual fields and build up the aggregate brainpower of our forces to help the country ascend to the ranks of advanced nations.
A reading solider can do so much for himself. The best of humankind requires three virtues - intelligence, goodness and a healthy body. A young man has sufficient training in intelligence in school before he joins the military, where he trains his body. If he uses his military time to train his moral sense through reading as well, the shortcomings of our school education system - a lack of teaching virtues - will be compensated for.
We have seen several public campaigns to set up and expand libraries in the military since 1999. The Joong-Ang Ilbo sponsored a campaign to encourage reading in the military in 2003, but these campaigns have yet to bear fruit. One problem is a shortage of librarians. Military librarians can offer no more than keeping the books in order. Library management also depends on leadership as there are no established guidelines for military libraries. Reading and book collections can differ according to the official in charge. The biggest problem of all is a lack of social interest. Indifference to whether boys read or not in the military on top of an immature library system has rendered the campaign to encourage reading in the military futile.
I can suggest three proposals to maximize reading in the military and thus bolster state competitiveness. First, the military should recruit officers with librarian qualifications as well as special assistant officers to work in the libraries.
In the longer run, the military should establish a librarian commissioner system to oversee military library management. It is also important to include reading in military education. Soldiers should pore through books to seek out new knowledge so that our military will be able to triumph in a modern war. The publishing industry, as well as businesses and universities, should join in the campaign to encourage reading in the military. Their aid in human, physical and financial resources will supplement the limited budget of the Defense Ministry.
Our society cannot chastise young men who willingly comply with their military obligations even when this causes them to miss out on opportunities enjoyed by those who shirked their duty. We must make their time in the military valuable and worthwhile, so that those who spend their time there get a better chance in life. Reading and libraries as a part of military life are the key.
*The writer is a professor at the Seoul National University College of Business Administration. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Cho Dong-sung