[KS] ROK military hazing

Jim Thomas jimpthomas at hotmail.com
Wed Apr 18 14:43:37 EDT 2012

Thanks Matty and Vladimir for the sources and Annie for sharing your experience!
(following on Vladimir's points)
it looks (from the tales of the North Korean refugees with the military service experience) as if the North Korean army has much more humane environment in the barracks than its Southern counterpart.
You are not alone in this thinking.
Also, when you say: In 2006-2009, there existed a special Presidential Commission on the 
Clarification of the Suspicious Death in the Army, ... [but then] the Committee was to be 
disbanded, without finishing all the cases...
Given the timing, this seemingly abrupt end to the work of the Commission may have been a policy move by Lee Myung Bak.
(following on Don Kirk's point)
You're aware no doubt of the presence of 1.1 million or so troops up there above the DMZ. The South Korean army is about half that size -- and has far fewer submarines, less artillery, no nukes and far fewer missiles. They've cut the time in service, but how should they maintain what they've got without the draft? 
The obvious is obvious: sign a peace treaty.
Short of that, the solution is a bit more complicated.
Without a draft, the ROK could not maintain 600,000 troops. But they don't need that many, for the reasons I point out below. Could they get 100,000 or 200,000? Perhaps, but could they get that many to sign up as part of a professional voluntary (i.e. not conscript) force? I doubt it. Everyone in the ROK one wants defense, but no one wants to serve or wants their children to serve--unless its required. --a pretty damning indictment. 
Attitudes about the fairness and humanity of the conscription system in South Korea are are quite different than those in Switzerland, for example.
Re the "balance of power" on the Korean Peninsula:
First, many of the "1.1 million" are engaged in duties other than defense (much with as the Egyptian military), meaning that some substantial portion of that 1.1 million are not exactly ready for combat to the extent that southern forces are. There is much more parity in terms of troop strength than officials on either side of the 38th parallel will let on. Second, except for the few NK special forces the likes of whom we see in Youtube Taekkwondo demonstrations, most northern forces due to small stature and poor fitness would have some difficulty overpowering their southern counterparts in one-on-one hand-to -and combat, if ever such a scenario were to play out. This is despite allegations among Southern officers that South Korean male inductees are all "wimps" today. Third, the South has a tremendous edge in terms of the strength of its conventional military hardware, which would preclude the use of troops in direct hand to hand combat. Forth, it is very unlikely that NK will ever use a nuclear bomb, because all major cities in the North would be annihilated by the US if they did so. And despite what Fox News says, the DPRK leadership is not suicidal.
(following on Annie's point)
With regard to the Gwangju uprising, I don't think it's so much an issue of conscripts being abused into hurting civilians. 
Given that Kwangju was presented to them as a communist rebellion, I was thinking that they may have been told that they would be shot if they did not follow orders. (The usual "Shoot or be shot.")
Lastly, I am told that there is a Korean feature film by a soldier who surreptitiously filmed his life in the military, but I have not been able to locate it.


Date: Tue, 17 Apr 2012 20:12:04 -1000
From: anniekoh at gmail.com
To: koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws
Subject: Re: [KS] ROK military hazing

Aloha all & especially Prof Park!

I just wanted to share a response re: ROK army hazing from an American friend who was drafted into the Korean army. Yes, he was put on the hojeok by his grandfather, only to learn after arriving in Korea that that made him eligible for the compulsory military service. No, he didn't speak any Korean at the time of his induction.

"Published documentary material? I don't know of any.

If you want my opinion, anything I share is already outdated since I finished my service over 6 years ago. There were still beatings going on while I was in the Army but at a much smaller scale than in the past. My drill sergeant in boot camp was nastier than the others and yet I only saw him lay hands on a recruit once. At the Second Army HQ in Daegu, where there was zero tolerance for physical abuse, I've only heard of beatings in my company and only saw one fight among members of a different company. In Afghanistan, I saw my company commander kick several members of my company for not trimming their hair. Of course, I've read reports of much worse at bases near the North Korean border. However, the vast majority of the abuse in the Army at the time was mental and emotional.

With regard to the Gwangju uprising, I don't think it's so much an issue of conscripts being abused into hurting civilians. The whole of boot camp strips away your rational mind and the identity you have when you put on a uniform allow people to commit atrocities. 

My motivation for applying to the Afghanistan deployment was similar to the father-in-law applying to Vietnam. Well, at least part of it was. I was never beaten throughout my two years--I'd like to think it's because I was smart enough to know how to avoid it--but I couldn't stand the thought of spending the entire two years in the same company with people who seemed hell-bent on making my life miserable, mocking and humiliating and verbally abusing me constantly. 

Don't know if this helps."

Annie Koh
SNU alum & current Ph.D. candidate at
Dept of Urban & Regional Planning
University of Hawaii at Manoa

Message: 3
Date: Tue, 17 Apr 2012 16:04:51 -0400
From: Jim Thomas <jimpthomas at hotmail.com>
To: Korean Studies Discussion List <koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
Subject: [KS] ROK military hazing
Message-ID: <BLU165-

W41FE2AAE248AF4B9B943ECDD3F0 at phx.gbl>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="windows-1252"

(Following on Michael's point)
Unfortunately, the hazing still goes on and remains unreported, according to informants (among my students) who served in the ROK military over the last decade or so. Any direction on published documentary material about this would be most appreciated.

Speaking of intimidation, one can only image what sorts of threats and intimidation were used for troops who were deployed to Kwangju in May, 1980--not that that justified their actions.

And I assume you have all heard the exprssion:
"There are three kinds of Korean males (namja): Those who have done their military service, those who are serving, and those who will serve in the future..." Quite an indictment on mililitarized society, where little can change as long as conscription remains.

Date: Tue, 17 Apr 2012 01:33:10 -0700
From: mjcgibb at yahoo.com
To: koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws
Subject: Re: [KS] Brian Hwang's Discussion Question

Dear all,
I asked my father-in-law last night why he went to Vietnam as part of a contingent of South Korean troops during his mandatory military service. He volunteered to go, he said, because he was sick of the beatings he was receiving courtesy of his South Korean army seniors. He thought life in Vietnam could not possibly be worse than the horrendous conditions (hazing) he was experiencing as a conscript in Korea. His mates who volunteered at the same time did so for similar reasons, he said. Vietnam offered a way out of the hell of 1960s military service in Korea, he said.



From: Balazs Szalontai <aoverl at yahoo.co.uk>
To: Michael Pettid <mjpettid2000 at yahoo.com>; Korean Studies Discussion List <koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
Sent: Tuesday, April 17, 2012 9:12 AM
Subject: Re: [KS] Brian Hwang's Discussion Question

Dear George, Jiyul and all,

I think that we need to pay close attentions to the stages of South Korean military involvement in Vietnam if we are to specify which were Park Chung Hee's primary and secondary motives for sending ROKA troops to Vietnam. I do agree with the point that the economic benefits thus gained were substantial, to put it mildly, and new combat experience for the ROKA also must have mattered a lot. Still, these considerations do not satisfactorily explain why Park, instead of trying to maximize these benefits by fulfilling each American request for ROKA troops, put a ceiling to the deployments in November 1966, and refused to send additional troops in 1967-68, no matter how persistently the U.S. asked for them. To be sure, the North Korean commando raids that started in November 1966 probably influenced his decision, but since at first he tended to downplay their importance, and later responded to them by launching counter-raids, a fear of the North might not be a sufficient explanation. Thus I consider it likely that his primary motives for the troop deployment were to (1) secure a U.S. commitment to the defense of the ROK, such as a pledge not to withdraw US troops from South Korea without consultation, and (2) use the troop deployments as a bargaining chip to conclude the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) on terms more favorable to Seoul. NB, Park's decision to halt deployments was made right after the ratification of the SOFA by the ROK National Assembly in October 1966. Once he achieved as much as he could in this field, he probably calculated that it was no longer necessary to send additional troops, since the US-ROK agreements signed in 1966 settled these issues. If this was really so, he miscalculated, because Nixon withdrew one-third of the US troops anyway.

All the best,
Balazs Szalontai
Kwangwoon University

--- On Tue, 17/4/12, Michael Pettid <mjpettid2000 at yahoo.com> wrote:

Mr. Kim,

It is too easy to blame war and violence on some predisposed human condition (and that is very convenient for militaristic governments and individuals who hope to profit from such violence).  And preparing for war is surely the best way to prevent it and make the world safe.  We are certainly doing a fine job of that as I write.

I am a premodernist and I teach my students about the futility and uselessness of war and how that damaged the lives of individuals and society.  It is not a human condition as you state, but rather resultant from greed and the desire to take from others what one might not have.  I find it rather amazing that this is something I need to state in academia, but clearly we have a ways to go.

Michael J. Pettid
Professor of Premodern Korean Studies
Department of Asian and Asian American Studies
Director, Translation, Research and Instruction Program
Binghamton University

From: Sheila Miyoshi Jager <sheila.jager at oberlin.edu>
To: koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws
Sent: Monday, April 16, 2012 8:22 AM
Subject: Re: [KS] Brian Hwang's Discussion Question

Unfortunately war is a necessary evil in the human condition. The better you are prepared for it the better the chance of preventing it. No one is more anti-war then the people who have to fight it if it occurs. You can condemn war, and rightfully so, but you can't eliminate it.

Jiyul Kim.

On 4/15/2012 7:50 PM, Michael Pettid wrote:

Mr. Kim

I am happy that you were able to find a silver lining in a war that killed tens of thousands of combatants and many, many more non-combatants.  The war experience that was able to "bolster the competence and confidence" of the SK troops was surely worth such a cost, right?  Wars are the plague of humankind and nothing more than the actions of various governments to achieve their goals.  War must be condemned in whatever fashion necessary.

Michael J. Pettid
Professor of Premodern Korean Studies
Department of Asian and Asian American Studies
Director, Translation, Research and Instruction Program
Binghamton University

From: Jiyul Kim <jiyulkim at gmail.com>
To: koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws
Sent: Sunday, April 15, 2012 12:58 PM
Subject: Re: [KS] Brian Hwang's Discussion Question

This is all good and fine from a macro view and I see nothing to disagree with, but numbers and quantification and metrics do not make history. What is left out is the psychology and emotions that Vietnam generated in Park, the military, and the populace. No doubt there were tremendous materiel benefits for SK and other Asian countries from the war, but the war also had unmeasurable "benefits" that were recognized then as well for example consolidating national pride and confidence and providing the military with combat experience. Since 1953 the only Korean forces, North and South, who have experienced real combat were the Koreans in Vietnam including a handful of North Korean fighter pilots. That experience did much to bolster the competence and confidence of the South Korean Army. This is not to justify their deployment or to somehow legitimate the Vietnam War. I for one believe it was a tragic unjust war for the U.S. and its allies to have gotten involved in, but we should not always paint everything about the war in broad and condemning strokes.

Jiyul Kim

On 4/15/2012 10:15 AM, Katsiaficas, George wrote:

The larger context has bearing on your question. The government of South Korea received tremendous economic benefits from the Vietnam War. Park Chung-hee's grandiose scheme to build heavy industry required enormous amounts of money, but he had only limited domestic sources. As much as hesqueezed workers and devalued the currency to stimulate exports, he still needed farmore capital. Between 1953 and 1962, US aid funded 70% of Korea?s imports and 80% of its fixed capital investments?about 8% of its GNP.Once the US needed its monies to fight the war in Vietnam, however, it began to cut back. In order to find new international sources of money, Park endorsed a key US proposal: closer ROK ties with Japan. Staunch domestic opposition to normalization prevented a treaty from simply being finalized. On June 3, 1964, Park declared martial law in Seoul and dismissed dozens of professors and students. The US Combined Forces Commander approved the release of two combat divisions to suppress the protests. Despite thousands of students threatening to storm the Blue House (the presidentialresidence), Park rammed the treaty through the rubber stamp legislature of the Third Republic. When the opposition went on a hunger strike to protest the treaty, the ruling party took one minute to ratify it, and at the same time, it also approved sending 20,000 troops to Vietnam to fight on the side of the US. In exchange for normalization of relations, Japan paid $300 million in grants (for which Park indemnified Japan for all its previous actions) and made available another half-a-billion dollars in loans.

Sensing an opportunity to channel public sentiment against the communist enemy as well as a second avenue to raise capital, Park immediately offered thousands more troops for deployment to Vietnam. Despite scattered student protests, war with Vietnam proved less controversial than his settling of accounts with Japan. Park?s movement of troops was so fast, that according to figures released by the US State Department, there were more South Korean soldiers fighting in southern Vietnam in 1965 than North Vietnamese.[1] South Koreans soldiers were widely reported to be even more brutal than their US counterparts. At the end of 1969, some 48,000 ROK military personnel were stationed in Vietnam, and by the time they completed their withdrawal in 1973, some 300,000 veterans had fought there. ROK casualties included 4,960 dead and 10,962 wounded. Wars provide experiences for military officers who go on to inflict future casualties. Lieutenant No Ri-Bang served in Jeju in 1948 and went to Vietnam. Future dictators Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo served together in Vietnam, before brutally ruling South Korea after Park?s assassination in 1979.

The economic benefits of military intervention in Vietnam were extraordinary. From 1965-1970, the South Korean government received $1.1 billion in payments?about 7% of GDP and 19% of foreign earnings.[3] More than 80 Korean companies did lucrative business in Vietnam?from transportation to supply, construction to entertainment?from which the country accrued another $1 billion for exports to and services in Vietnam. Secret US bonuses paid to Park?s government for Korean soldiers who fought in Vietnam totaled $185 million from 1965-1973. When we add all these funds to the $1.1 billion in direct payments, the total US allocations to Park?s regime amounted to about 30% of the ROK?s foreign exchange earnings from 1966-1969.[4] Altogether US aid to South Korea totaled $11 billion by 1973?more than to any other country except South Vietnam?some 8% of worldwide US military and foreign monies.[5] Regimes friendly to the US in Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Thailand also benefited greatly from the tidal wave of dollars that flooded the region during the Vietnam War.

Excerpted from my book, Asia's Unknown Uprisings: Vol. 1 South Korean Social Movements in the 20th Century

George Katsiaficas

[1] See the discussion in the volume I edited, Vietnam Documents: American and Vietnamese Views of the War (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1992) p. 63.

[2] Chae-Jin Lee, pp. 55, 70.

[3] Cumings, Korea?s Place in the Sun, p. 321.

[4] Martin Hart-Landsberg 1993, 147-8.

[5] Han Sung-joo, ?Korean Politics in an International Context,? in Korean National Commission for UNESCO (editor) Korean Politics: Striving for Democracy and Unification (Elizabeth, NJ: Hollym, 2002) p. 620.

From: don kirk <kirkdon at yahoo.com>
Reply-To: Korean Studies Discussion List <koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
Date: Sat, 14 Apr 2012 15:04:41 -0700
To: Kevin Shepard <kevin_shepard at yahoo.com>, Korean Studies Discussion List <koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
Subject: Re: [KS] Brian Hwang's Discussion Question

The question is whether or not they got bonuses in order to "volunteer" for Vietnam. If they got no bonuses, then obviously they wouldn't be "mercenaries." Even if they got bonuses, it would be difficult to pin the mercenary label since soldiers in any army generally get combat pay when fighting overseas. Also, I'm not sure ordinary draftees had any say in where they were sent.
 All told, 300,000 Koreans served in Vietnam over nearly a ten-year period. Five thousand of them were KIA, many more WIA. The White Horse and Tiger divisions were the principal units. Korean special forces were also in Vietnam. Those whom I have met are proud to have served there. Many of them, grizzled old veterans, turn up at demonstrations in Seoul protesting leftist demos, NKorean human rights violations, North Korean dynastic rule etc. They love to wear their old uniforms with ribbons awarded for Vietnam service, including acts of individual heroism.
Some of them also talk quite openly about what they did in Vietnam -- and could provide material supporting your thesis re "the type of warfare that they had to fight in Vietnam,
including guerrilla warfare and civilian warfare." Strongly suggest you come here and interview some while they're still around. They'd tell you a lot, good and bad. Sorry to say, one of them once boasted to me of a personal "body count" of 300 victims -- would doubt if all of them were "enemy." On the other hand, they were also known for high levels of efficiency and success in their AO's.
Good luck on the project.
Don Kirk

--- On Sat, 4/14/12, Kevin Shepard <kevin_shepard at yahoo.com> wrote:

From: Kevin Shepard <kevin_shepard at yahoo.com>
Subject: Re: [KS] Brian Hwang's Discussion Question
To: "koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws" <koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
Date: Saturday, April 14, 2012, 1:40 PM

I think you will be hard-pressed to justify calling individual soldiers mercenaries - the Korean government may have received funds from the US, but ROK soldiers were drafted into mandatory service. If you come across documentation that individuals volunteered for Vietnam in order to receive funds from the US, please send such documents to me.

Kevin Shepard, Ph.D.
UCJ 5 Strategy Div.

From: "koreanstudies-request at koreaweb.ws" <koreanstudies-request at koreaweb.ws>
To: koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws
Sent: Sunday, April 15, 2012 1:00 AM
Subject: Koreanstudies Digest, Vol 106, Issue 9

Today's Topics:

 1. Discussion Question (brianhwang at berkeley.edu)
 2. March 2012 Issue of "Cross-Currents: East Asian History and
     Culture Review" Available Online (Center for Korean Studies)


Message: 1
Date: Fri, 13 Apr 2012 10:15:24 -0700
From: brianhwang at berkeley.edu
To: koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws
Subject: [KS] Discussion Question
   <7cb59ce69b486f3c15e6bba3e396a6d4.squirrel at calmail.berkeley.edu>
Content-Type: text/plain;charset=utf-8

Hello all:

I am a history student at University of California, Berkeley. Currently I
am working on a paper regarding Korean involvement in the Vietnam War. My
argument is that although Korean soldiers were 1) mercenaries (because
they were paid predominantly by US dollars to go) and 2) anti communists
(because of past history), the atrocities that they are accused of
committing are not primarily due to the aforementioned reasons, but
because of the type of warfare that they had to fight in Vietnam,
including guerrilla warfare and civilian warfare.

Do you all think this is a valid argument? Are there any primary sources
that would help me in my argument, including ones that attribute Korean
atrocities to their mercenary and anticommunist nature?

Thank you!

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://koreanstudies.com/pipermail/koreanstudies_koreanstudies.com/attachments/20120418/1fb7ed89/attachment.html>

More information about the Koreanstudies mailing list