Reward military service
The court website went down under a load of complaints and protests from men. One judge from the highest court confessed that the court was surprised by the extent of the controversy, saying, “We have poked the sacred cow.”
The fury did not die down easily. Constitutional Clause 1, Article 3 of the Military Act requires all able-bodied men over the age of 18 to serve in the military as part of their obligation as Korean citizens. Most men spend two to three years in the military during their 20s. In return, male applicants received bonus points according to the number of years of service in the lower-level state exam for government jobs and admission tests for public enterprises. Activist women’s groups petitioned against the privilege points.
“I’ve been beaten up for 30 months and what I got was just petty money for those years. Now how will I get compensated for a wasted life?” wrote another enraged man.
There was one who called upon all commandos and marines to gather in front of the Constitutional Court with bombs.
The high court first of all found that special reward points for military service discriminated against women and disabled people who are excluded from military service. Female applicants had been protesting strongly against the advantage given to male competitors who had their scores increased by 3 percent when applying for public offices in a process where small variations can make a huge difference. The bench concluded that the preference points for military veterans constituted an obstacle to the entry of women and disabled people into public and government office.
The court also said mandatory military service was the “sacred” duty of all Korean men and that the rightful duty need not necessarily be rewarded. V eterans found this reason most maddening. They investigated the military records of judges and discovered three of nine justices had not served. “If it is so sacred and rightful, why haven’t the judges done the duty?” they asked.
To appease anger on the military front, the government announced measures a few days later. It proposed that companies reflect military service years as career experience and move veterans two scales higher on the payroll and at the same time promised to raise allowances for servicemen. The first idea generated resistance from businesses and the second was opposed by the finance ministry. Bills to restore preference points were submitted to the National Assembly four times during the past decade, but none was ever approved due to strong opposition from the female population. Many agree there should be some kind of reward incorporated into the country’s draft system, but no progress has been made over the last 15 years since the Constitutional Court verdict.
The Defense Ministry has come up with a new idea - recognizing military service as undergraduate credit. Those who do not go to universities can get their years in the military counted as career experience when they get a job. The response so far has been chilly. The old arguments based on “discrimination” and “sacred duty” are being replayed. The ministry brought out the sensitive issue carelessly. It obviously had not thought about a logical counterargument to silence the critics. But unlike the preference points in government tests, translating military service into university credits would be less controversial in terms of discrimination because there would be no explicit victims. Some universities accept corporate internship programs as credits. There is no reason why military service should not be treated the same way.
Taiwan, which is working on shifting conscription to volunteer service plans to compensate military veterans with preference points in society as well as through various tax deductions. Israel, which also has a mandatory draft, exempts university tuition for students who complete their service. The United States, which runs a volunteer system, provides veterans with handsome pensions of as much as 200 million won ($196,040) as well as preference in federal jobs and social benefits. Other countries all have compensation packages for military service.
Women also will be subject to conscription in Norway next year, a change championed by the female population. Our society is too touchy on the issue to come to an easy agreement. Changing the draft to a volunteer system also would be out of the question when we are still in a de facto war with North Korea.
Still, preference points in government jobs and tests also cannot be revived as long as they discriminate.
But because of their eligibility, young men are severely disadvantaged in life’s course because they lose two to three years of studies and job preparation. All possibilities should be studied. The hot potato is laid on the table once gain. Let’s not let it go to waste this time.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 13, Page 30
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Lee Kyu-youn