Men alone shouldn’t sacrifice
In a 2011 case, the court ruled that the clause was constitutional, although two justices gave minority opinions that the clause was unconstitutional. Three years have passed, but the court’s position has not changed. It said there were, and still are, physical differences between men and women, and thus, because of combat readiness and physical capability rather than discrimination, mandatory military service should apply only to men.
There is an aspect of fairness that the physical differences between men and women were used to conclude that the male-only conscription system does not violate equal rights. It’s an argument based on long-held beliefs, developed throughout the history of human society. But today, the drastic developments of science and technology have brought about radical changes, and we are experiencing the results of the Copernican Revolution in almost all areas of life. In particular, the differences between male and female roles have gradually disappeared.
Although the duty to serve in the military is defined in the Military Service Act, it is actually a constitutional duty based on Article 39 of the Constitution. The Military Service Act only enforces the duty for men, while providing exceptions based on physical and economic conditions. And yet, draft-dodging continues because the sacrifice of serving that duty is too great for some, and society continues to experience conflicts from corruption.
For men, military service is like a great weight. The period when one serves in the military is an important time in a young man’s life, when he should be studying and planning for his future. Although youth unemployment has become a serious problem recently, young men spend three to four years in the military, which creates enormous disadvantages in our competition-driven society. This is the major reason for draft-dodging.
The government has no choice but to enforce the duty to serve in the military, to protect the country’s security and people’s lives. No one would willingly join the military if there were no benefits to serving.
The Constitutional Court’s ruling was a product of stereotypes. Warfare no longer requires hand-to-hand fighting. State-of-the-art technologies decide a country’s defense power, not the size of its infantry. Women are already serving in the military through military academies and ROTC programs at universities. Furthermore, they are allowed to serve in various positions in the rear, although not on the front line.
The time when serving one’s military duty was a sacred mission to protect country, people and family has passed. Mandatory military service, which requires unilateral sacrifices by men, is not an area where reasonable discrimination can be applied. Regardless of gender, any able-bodied person of appropriate age must serve. Only then will men no longer feel deprived in their obligation.
The time has come for us to accept that reality has changed. The sacrifices of those who serve their mandatory military duty must be rewarded. Or else we will have to change our thinking about whether every person must complete military service in any form.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 22, Page 28
*The author is a professor of Dongguk University’s law school.
By Kim Sang-kyum