Last September, controversy erupted over the exemption from military duties of BTS a world-famous Korean boy band. In response, in his opening statement, Noh Woong-rae, a member of the Democratic Party of Korea’s supreme council, claimed exemption from military duties or BTS, on the basis that “BTS set a new record in the billboard charts with a ripple effect of 1.7 trillion won, and their contribution to the value of the Korean wave and national prestige is immeasurable.” There is a great diversity of opinion in the ruling party and it has now grown into a social controversy. Because science technology is a key national industry, exemption from military duties are given to people who engaged in science technology, as well as on the basis that the Korean wave can be a future national Strategic industry. If the benefits are given to people who are engaged in art and physics, in terms of cultural promotion and on the grounds that they enhance national prestige, BTS must also be beneficiaries. Finally, many people paid a lot of attention to this issue even to the point of signing a petition. But military exemption for people who are engaged in pop culture is giving rise to many controversies.
Originally, military service was mandatory to all in Korea according to universal conscription. This was considered to be a duty of the public, but according to the 1st clause of No.33 of the military service law, people who have art or physical ability may be exempt from military duties. Many have benefited from this loophole in the law including artists and athletes. These are people who contribute to the general well-being of the country in other ways through cultural promotion or by enhancing national prestige. According to the current law, they have to undergo basic military training and after 4 weeks, it is possible for them to act in their field. According to the Military Manpower Administration website, in these special cases, after doing volunteer service in each field for a certain period, it can be acknowledged that they fulfilled their civic duty. In the case of athletes, the military service law first took effect in 1973. In this instance military exemption was given to athletes who won a prize in an international competition. After 1990, those recipients were reduced to the top three athletes in the Olympics and the first athlete in the Asian Games. This criterion is still applied until now. Recently there has been a push to extend military exemption to include artists in the field of pop culture.
Then, what do people think about military duty exemption for people who work in the field of pop culture? To find out what people thought we took a survey on campus in October. The Survey was composed of 3 questions including gender, pros and cons, reason for opinion. A total of 87 students responded, and the results were very close with pros at 49.3% and cons at 50.7%. One of the reasons mentioned most frequently is while obvious criterion is presented in case of athletes, there isn’t any obvious criterion in case of artists. Also, alternatives to military duty were frequently mentioned.
In an interview with our school students, Lim Hyun Woo, class of 2015 in the school of business administration said “It is not easy to decide about the problem of military exemption. There is one question that arises if deferment of duty is given on the grounds that BTS advance national interests : Using that logic, it can be argued that exemption has to be given to any person or group that brings many economical benefit to the nation. And we will have to consider the characteristics of everyone’s profession. Also it could be a good way to delay duties and give special assignment sutiable to their age. However, there is no telling about the persistency of their heyday, many difficulties will arise during the implementation of such a program. And finally, the problem of military duty is sensitive in Korea, but I think it is necessary to discuss and consider the characteristics of everyone’s profession.” he said.
About military exemption which remains a very controversial issue, we divided the opinion into pros and cons for the purposes of this feature article. This kind of problem could have all kinds of impacts, so we should not judge rashly and decide as we make up our minds. There isn’t any clear-cut answer, so we have to try to see both sides of the argument while we consider various aspects like the social and, economical. I hope this will be an opportunity for readers to think about this problem after reading this feature article.
Pros : First, pop culture has an enormous effect on our nation’s economy. Korean culture, which can be called a representative of pop culture, is gaining attention as a strategic business of the future. According to Roh Gun-sik, a representative of Soundrepublica, Korean culture’s economical value is 57 trillion won as of 2020. This is equal to about three times the economical value of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Therefore, pop culture business has reached a level where we can’t ignore its effect on our country’s competitiveness, and we must pay a fair price for it. Jeon Yong-ki, from the Democratic Party of Korea, proposed a revision of the philosophy of the Military Service, which states that ‘people who are recommended by the ministry of Culture who have made a noticeable contribution as a person who are a professional in the pop culture field, may be able to delay conscription’. This law allows the draft delay up to the age of 28 years old in case of an outstanding athlete who elevated the nation’s reputation. It should be added here that an outstanding performer in the field of pop culture and art. Representative Jeon said, this suggestion was based on the economically effect which idol groups had on the economy and proof of them enhancing Korea’s internal and external status follow by overseas expansion.
Second, it is unfair to not give military exemption to only performers in the field of pop culture and art. Based on the military service law, another examples of military exemption allows people working for a certain period as specialist in the area of research or industry instead of military duty. It is the pretext for giving a chance for research in technology and study about high-quality human resources, contributing to the promotion and development of national industry by supporting technical personnel of industry. The affirmative’s position says, if the country’s development is justified, equal treatment must be given to people who are engaged in entertainment which is the future of the country. In addition, simular to Pop culture and e-sports, while various newly emerging fields are spread widely all over the world, we can’t guarantee that the entertainment market won’t be scaled-down in comparison to the sports market. In response, Noh Woong-rae indicated, “It seems unfair and it is against the purpose of legislation giving deferment benefits only to people who engaged in sports.”
Cons: First, the criteria for special military service exemption for those engaged in pop culture and arts are unclear. While the criteria for the grand prize are certain for athletes in the top three in the Olympics and top in the Asian Games, standards are not clear for pop culture artists. The opposition is that these clear criteria are not accurate, and it is not right to distinguish them simply by a measure of popularity. For example, in the case of BTS, can we discuss national prestige simply by making a triumph on the Billboard chart? It is highly likely that the issue will be raised due to the controversy over equity when granting military service exemptions to those engaged in pop culture and arts without clear standards. Lee Jae-eun, a student of the Department of Electronic Engineering, said, “If singers start receiving special treatment for national prestige, there will be room for misuse. There will also be so many cases that equity will also be destroyed,” he said, opposing the military service exemption, citing standards.
However, giving military service exemptions to all pop culture and arts workers could reduce the nation’s defense capabilities. National defense means the power to protect and maintain the lives and property of the people by establishing sovereignty as a defense of national territory by military force. It is not right to exclude such an important duty from the vague term of simply raising national prestige. Also, if the military service is reduced, the nation’s power will be reduced. The Military Manpower Administration (MMA) said on Tuesday that it will not apply military service exemptions in the fields of popular culture and arts. He made a clear objection, saying, “We decided to exclude this in terms of reducing alternative service and enhancing fairness and equity in fulfilling military service.”
Second, pop culture and art workers should set an example to the public as public figures. Although opinions on the freedom of public figures have been divided due to criticism of their attitudes on SNS and their usual behavior, it is still clear that public figures are more exposed to the public than ordinary people and have more influence. It should also be considered to some extent that granting military service exemptions to public figures who are the focus of so many people could trigger public opposition. It is not right for certain masses to simply be swept into the atmosphere and grant these benefits just because they demand their military service exemptions. The more the public is paying attention to it, the more carefully it should be considered. The decision will create a social atmosphere for military service exemptions, and giving them special treatment without specific objective grounds could reduce the importance of military service to people.