Violence needs a civilian solutionThe conscription system comes under fire every time a young life is wasted in the military; when a man is beaten or emotionally driven to extremes leading him to open fire on others because of barrack bullying and torture. To appease anxiety in a population where all able-bodied men older than 20 are obligated to serve in the military for about two years, the government developed reforms to change the military culture in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2012. But the recent incident involving a private identified as Yun, who was beaten to death by his superiors in the medical unit of the Army’s 28th Infantry Division, suggests that little in the military has changed. Lower-ranked officers were deprived of basic human rights such as rest and exposed to violence if they resisted orders. Military authorities appear to have condoned the violence in the name of discipline and were more concerned with covering up the misdeeds.
We can no longer rely on the military to change the isolated and barbaric nature of life in service. Young men drafted in today’s fast changing society cannot adapt to the primitive life of service. Civilian presence and supervision could be more effective than a joint reform committee of civilian, government and military to oversee improvement.
The military must be more open to civilian advice and input in order to address internal problems. The ombudsman system could be applied to the defense system. Germany has installed such a system for its defense forces, the “Bundeswehr,” within the parliament with the mission to ensure the human rights of soldiers and keep the military within the boundaries of constitutional order and democratic society. The commissioner with a five-year term interviews soldiers and their families, supervises military units and has access to military command and information. In 2005, President Roh Moo-hyun briefly considered applying the system in our country.
The military should seek outside expertise on administration, culture, therapy and psychology. Civilian insight can prove helpful in most areas except for confidential strategy and arms. Military resources alone cannot reduce violence in barracks and training. If confidentiality is the problem, outside professionals could be hired after signing agreements.
Civilians should also be included in the supervisory board to ensure safety and stability in military life. Civilian participation can raise confidence in the military and accelerate reforms. Greater democracy will strengthen the military.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 7, Page 30
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