Overly soft punishments
Army Chief of Staff Kim Yo-hwan approved soft punishments for the former heads of the 22nd and 28th divisions on Thursday by the Central Disciplinary Committee. The two commanders each received penalties of a one-month reduction of their salaries and 10 days’ probation. The two major generals served as commanders of the two divisions when a fatal shooting spree took place at a general outpost of the 22nd Division and when a private surnamed Yoon was bullied and beaten to death at the 28th Division earlier this year. The disciplinary action for division commander-level officers is the first since the commander of the 22nd Division was reprimanded for letting a North Korean soldier penetrate a compound in October 2012.
However, considering the public outrage and repercussions from the lax military discipline, the level of punishment fell way short of people’s expectation. Since the two shocking incidents, citizens have been clamoring for a drastic eradication of malpractices in the military and a massive revamp of its rotten culture. To achieve the goal, our military must undergo a deep soul searching. If it fails to meet the ferocious public demand for reform, its determination to improve itself and prevent recurrences of such tragedies will be seriously doubted. The military authorities must hold commanders and mid-level officers accountable for such incidents if they really want to induce the top brass to pay more attention to managing soldiers.
The case of Private Yoon involved a collective beating to death without any consideration of human rights and dignity. It dumbfounded all Koreans and left indelible scars on their hearts. If the military doesn’t attempt to end the inhumane behavior, it can hardly earn people’s trust. If the two tragic incidents are concluded in such a disappointing manner, why would officers care about the violence in their barracks?
Despite the ominous increase of brutal violence in military compounds, the top brass does not seem to grasp the severity of the issue. Our military leaders must take responsibility for reality. Unless they do that, no parents will send their sons or daughters to the military. The military must reinvent itself and come up with plans in order to put an end to such disastrous incidents. What is most important is thorough investigations and appropriate punishments. We doubt if the two cases will put an end to any malpractices after such tender censures of the two commanders. Our citizens look forward to the authorities taking measures to overhaul the rotten barracks culture.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 4, Page 30