Soldiers deserve to be recognized

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Soldiers deserve to be recognized

The Korean Peninsula remains the world’s most heavily armed border, even six decades after the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. Korean men today endure rigorous training in harsh conditions upon the nation’s call, away from home and loved ones, regardless of their will.

Conscription is the legal duty of all able-bodied Korean men. It has been taken for granted as most duties are. The special reward points granted to male applicants for public offices since 1961 were scrapped after the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of female groups who claimed the privilege was discriminatory. No benefits have been granted for military service since then, and the male population has increasingly begun to consider military service a burden and a drawback that places them behind their female competitors in the work force.

Article 39, Clause 2 of the Constitution bans any disadvantages based on the military draft. The legal interpretation is that any interruption in studies or delay in career pursuits and business activities from military service, which usually takes about two to three years, should be adequately compensated. The Ministry of Defense has proposed recognizing military service with university credit or occupational experience.

Of 452,500 soldiers currently on duty, 384,700, or 85 percent, have taken leave from school upon conscription. The ministry is suggesting that military training and experience should be recognized with equal educational value, on par with volunteer projects, which most colleges and universities count as credit. The other 15 percent - an average of 67,800 who do not attend universities - can reserve the credits for later applications when they enter college or seek advanced learning.

But this move, again, had female groups jumpy. They opposed it, using the same argument that it is advantageous for men taking examinations for public office positions.

However, the new proposal is not as preferential as female groups would have you believe. First of all, no one will be directly affected by the revision. The reward is not limited to a small number of people who apply for certain jobs. It is a pity that female groups still consider it a clear-cut and exclusive male benefit.

We no longer live in a society where the glass ceiling and other barriers prevalently hold back women in social roles. As of 2013, women occupied 68.5 percent of the teaching force and seven out of 10 public prosecutors spots and judge posts. Female power is evident in political, economic and social fields. The female population should now be more open-minded in debates on the military draft.

The nation has an obligation to reward soldiers who sacrifice two to three years to serve in the military and often lose out on opportunities in the labor market because of an interruption in their studies. Society will also be more appreciative of the military if service is rightfully recognized and rewarded. Soldiers should be able to walk down the streets with confidence and pride, not as outsiders intruding on everyday life.

The United States prizes voluntary military experience and grants three course credits, or $600, for five months of service. Military credit was recognized by 2,300 American universities and graduate schools as of September 2011.

The Defense Ministry has erred by abruptly proposing the idea instead of first gauging public opinion. A policy that requires farsightedness and has lasting ramifications like the draft system should be drawn up after the government has reached a consensus. The ministry should also seek out public opinion.

I have attempted numerous times to seek rewards for military service as a legislator who served in the military for 38 years. I proposed that service years be counted toward the national pension and occupational experience, with income tax deducted up to 1.5 million won ($1,478) per soldier a year.

I hope the proposal for college credit will open the debate for wider rewards for military service.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

*The author is a representative of the Saenuri Party.

By Song Young-keun

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