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What Do You Think About Alternative Military Service?
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[0호] 승인 2005.07.06  
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- Secure their primary rights, so they are able to follow their conscience
- There cannot be exception to the holy military service duty

Han Jung Mee
Senior, Dept. of Korean History

Son of God is humorously tagged to those people who are exempt from military service for physical problems, social standing, or other special reasons in Korea.

Actually, it is not easy for a young man to serve in the military for 22 months when he is young enough to do other work. Thats why the saying was created and the issue of military service is mentioned across the country all the time.

There is another case for it. Jehovah’s Witnesses are often sent to jail for not serving in the military because their religion does not allow violence. Around 500 men are jailed annually for objecting to military service due to religious reasons. For 3 years following their incarceration, these men face the difficult task of finding employment, since they can’t work for public or conglomerate companies with criminal records.

A growing number of communities and human rights groups insist on legitimizing alternatives to military service with that reason. There is, however, also strong opposition since military service is a duty for all male citizens.

If military authorities allowed substitute service, it would create many new problems and would cause an imbalance under current constitutional laws. According to a survey by the Dong A Il-bo and the MV zone, 87% of adults over the age of 20 years old surveyed, agreed that alternative military service could be used to avoid military service altogether and lead to an aggravation in corruption.

Main reasons for and against the formation of alternative military service is listed:

Pro (main reasons why there should be alternative military service)

The Military Service law should not encroach upon the freedom of conscience and religion under the constitution.

Alternative service could be used to expand and improve current civil services and social welfare work.

It would create other alternatives for people who choose not to take arms.

There are already 200,000 people who are exempt from active service due to particular circumstances such as having civil service jobs or working for the defense industry. If flexible civil service alternatives were offered, it would help to prevent the incarceration of citizens for following their religious practices.

Con (main reasons why there shouldn’t be alternative military service)
Christian opponents disagree for two main reasons: ¡¤The selective service law might be abused. People would claim religious beliefs to escape military duty. ¡¤The government would be indirectly giving unequal assistance to some groups and not others. Moreover it could serve as an incentive for people to join heretical religions.

Military authorities also object to military service alternatives because of the inequity that it would create. People would use religion as an excuse to not fulfill their military duty. Also, they point out the current mischief that the civil service system already deals with. Alternative service would make things worse.

Some ideas for alternative services are public and social services such as caring for terminally ill patients, public sanitation, fire fighting, and police duty. This would be tedious, but important work and the service period would be longer for this than for active military duty.

Han Hong Gu, a professor at Sung Kong Hoe University, traveled to Taiwan last July to explore possible substitutes for military service. Taiwan, a divided country similar to Korea, launched a new law in September 2000 to reduce their military force. Following are summaries of the report on Taiwanese selective services;

Alternative military service would not only be for Jehovah’s Witnesses. It would allow freedom for all religious beliefs and offer solutions to other special cases. We have to admit that social welfare work is another way to defend and help Korea. It is also understandable that national defense officers worry about corruption as well.

To prevent such corruption, there must be strict laws clearly stating the period of service for each alternate choice of duty. In Taiwan, for example, the alternative service period is one and a half times longer than that of active military service.

Among 78 countries that enforce mandatory military service, 48 allow alternative service. According to Hankyoreh 21, issue 34, in Germany, the German constitution clearly states that citizens can refuse to pick up arms as conscientious objectors.

The U.S. tried to propose alternative measures for conscientious objectors during World War II and during the Vietnam War. Israel, a country confronted by the United Arab Emirates, recognizes conscientious objectors. Even third world countries like Brazil and Suriname offer alternatives to mandatory military service.

We will not improve things for our citizens if we do not change policies out of fear of abuse and corruption. Efforts will just have to be made to prevent corruption.

If we allowed alternative services, people who refuse to participate due to religious beliefs would have a chance to help and contribute to the country in other ways.

They would not be refusing mandatory duty, but would be choosing a non-violent alternative instead. Why dont we give them a chance to come together for the sake of the country?
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