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Army of Boy Scouts

Mar 31,2017
“The military has turned into the Boy Scouts,” soldiers lamented on Wednesday after the commander of an engineer corps had soldiers get a permission slip from parents before sending them on a mine removal operation. Many found it embarrassing that the men were being treated like boys who needed parental permission before going on a camping trip.

The Army underplayed the incident, saying it was a misjudgment by the commander. But is the controversy really an insignificant incident as the Army wants us to believe, or does it reveal the insidious self-protection of the military?

The military is a group that fights the enemy to protect the nation and its people. In the course of fighting, some may be killed or injured. That’s why soldiers need to train for real battles even in times of peace to minimize casualties.

However, the Korean military hasn’t been training for real battles. Instead, it has focused more on preventing safety-related accidents while training. Naturally, the intensity of training has been lowered. It has become harder for soldiers to learn how to engage in actual fighting.

Commanders argue that ambitious, high-intensity training is more prone to accidents, which affect commanders’ promotion reviews. They ask who would want to put their career at stake and stand by principles when they may have to leave the army.

An officer who asked to remain anonymous said that the blame is not entirely on the military. Mentioning the death toll from an assault in Yeoncheon and the mass shooting in Goseong in 2014, he said, “After the incidents, a number of commanders stepped down. Without thorough investigation of accountability and involvement, they were reprimanded because of the public outrage.” Experts like the Korea Defense Network’s director, Shin In-gyun, say it is important to set a specific and clear guideline on accidents during training so that the accountability of the commanders is clearly defined.

The slogan of the U.S. Forces Korea’s 2nd Infantry Division is “Fight Tonight.” They are determined to be ready to fight any time. Many are surprised after watching the training of the infantry division, in which field manuals are thoroughly followed. Can Korea’s armed forces be ready to “fight tonight?” The controversy surrounding parental permission slips could be the start of looking at the reality of the nation’s armed forces and finding a solution.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 30, Page 33

*The author is a political news reporter for the JoongAng Ilbo.

LEE CHUL-JAE