On August 27th, the Netflix drama “D.P.,” which deals with tragic incidents and harsh acts occurring in the military, was released. It includes stories about various deserters in the military from the perspective of arresting groups. Since it was so realistic, it could not be watched just for fun. Not only those whose experiences are reflected in the drama, but also people who are not directly affected by it were reminded of the problems of the past military culture. Even before D.P. became popular, the irrational and cruel organizational culture of Korean society was a controversial topic. However, since the reality is gradually being revealed, we have to face the problem.
Harsh acts occur in the military
According to the prescribed law in Korea, when men reach a certain age, they have to perform an 18-month military service to fulfill their obligations as Korean citizens. Unlike other countries, such as China and the United States (US), where people choose to be a soldier as their job, young men have no such choice in Korea. And even in Korean millitary, there are some cases subjected to cruel acts. The definition of abusive acts is stipulated in Article 226 Subparagraph four of the orders from the Ministry of National Defense as any acts that cause physical and mental pain or personal insult to others in an abnormal way. Abnormal way refers to methods that violate laws, regulations beyond general common sense. Due to the nature of the military organization, “Military discipline” is bound to exist. It is essential to establish the organization’s command systems strictly and vertically to make decision processes inflexible. It is a problem since excessive harsh acts occur in the name of strict discipline.
If there were only deserters’ stories, chases, and actions, it would have been just an interesting drama. However, the drama reveals the absurdities that remind us of the dark side of our society and various actual cases. The death of Private Yoon on April 7th, 2014, and Sergeant Lim’s shooting at the 22nd Infantry Corps on June 21st, 2014 are representative cases. The Private Yoon Incident is an incident in which senior soldiers of the 28th Infantry Corps 977 Artillery beat private Yoon to death in a group. Private Yoon suffered physical and mental violence every day by four senior soldiers since early March of the year, and the perpetrators committed inhumane acts like personal insults and sexual harassment until April 6th, the day before Private Yoon’s death. Writer Kim, the cartoonist of the original work of D.P., said that severe acts such as putting on gas masks and requiring to answer questions or sexual harassment in dramas were motivated by actual events revealed through the media. The next case was the Sergeant Lim incident. He belonged to the Army’s 22nd Infantry Corps located in Gangwon-do. However, he was bullied immediately after he was deployed there in November 2013. Before he was placed, he had already been diagnosed as a protective-concerned soldier and he himself informed that he had mental health problems, but no one cared about his pain. This made it difficult for him to adapt to the unit. Eventually, he shot six fellow soldiers, and fled.
Jeon, a student who was discharged from the military, said “It is not common to experience or witness harsh behavior in the military today. However, I think it is clear that there is a military culture that needs to be improved when looking at the news. Unlike in the past, harsh behavior has decreased today, but I think efforts at the institutional and individual level will be needed to completely eradicate it.”
Harsh acts in the military cannot be eradicted under the current condition
The fundamental cause of harsh behavior in the military is that those who were once victims and bystanders may naturally perform the perpetrator’s role after going up to the top of the military rank structure. For example, Sergeant Lee, the perpetrator of the death of Private Yoon, was once a victim of harsh behavior. When he first entered the military, he was also bullied serverly. Thus he asked for a transfer, and was eventually transferred to 28th Division. It was a typical case of imitating the harsh behavior he suffered. Lee Soo-jin, a member of the National Assembly’s Legislation and Judiciary Committee, conducted an Internet survey of 500 reserve soldiers, in their 20s and 30s on September 28th and 29th, discharged from the general military, navy, and air force. It was found that the experience of verbally abusing, beating, sexual violence, and harsh acts in the military, which is the “unreasonable military culture,” still remains. Of the respondents who said that the military culture has not improved, 80% of them cited “a lack of will of commanders and executives,” 69.3% cited “maintaining the vested interests of senior soldiers,” and 48.9% cited a “lack of will of the government.” As such, it can be seen that the human rights problems arising from military life are difficult to solve on their own.
What should we do to eradicate abusive acts in the military?
Kim Young-soo, head of the Defense Rights Research Institute, said that he could not guarantee that harsh acts can be completely eradicated due to violence and stress, and the nature of the closed space. Of course, the Ministry of National Defense should improve this system, but he thinks that the consciousness and perception of soldiers should also be improved one by one toward a human rights-friendly manner. Secretary-General Kim Hyung-nam also suggested that we need to establish a civil-military cooperation system that reflects opinions by communicating with civic groups, and Hwang Soo-young, head of the Peace Armed Forces Center, stressed that the Defense Committee, which is obligated to monitor policies, should also do its part.
The drama D.P. sends a message that not only the perpetrators but also the bystanders are responsible. The situation might have changed if the bystanders tried to report accidents to the outside, or if people outside the military tried to pay any attention. However, the grievance system is another problem. Even if a soldier reports a grievance, the personal information of the reported soldier is not adequately protected, which means there is a high possibility of disclosure or retaliation. Therefore, people are calling for an improvement in this system. There are also voices demanding the introduction of a military human rights protection officer, a person who monitors human rights violations occurring in the military. If those violations occur, the protection officer can visit the unit to prevent human rights violations in the military. In the event of a suspected human rights violation, it can be notified immediately, and a Human Rights Commission investigator can intervene. However, the Ministry of National Defense is expressing opposition for various reasons. It says that the investigation of unexpected unit visits can affect the military’s command and interfere with smooth operation and mission performance.
The harsh acts that occur in the organizational system are always urgent to deal with. The organizations are conscious of the public’s gaze only after someone is injured or killed, and moreover, they come up with plausible measures on the surface rather than practical measures. Jeon added, “If we desire these incidents to be no longer repeated, the fundamental causes and core problems should be properly identified and corrected. Everyone should continue watching around and strive so that no one gets hurt anymore.”
Woo Ji-yeon firstname.lastname@example.org
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