It never occurred to me for many for years that the Korean War never really ended. This means that the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (the more infamous North Korea) are actually still at war. As a result, two-year conscription is mandatory for all able-bodied and able-minded male South Korean citizens which they must have begun by latest age 30. This conscription is rather long when I compare it to my mother country’s (Norway: one year, and very easy to be excused from), as it is meant to have a ready active-duty military and a standing one, should the current situation escalate.
Kyu Song currently studies International Affairs in Tokyo at Temple University’s Japan campus but took a 2-year long “break” from his studies to complete his conscription. The 25-year-old South Korean citizen was stationed primarily at the notorious DMZ, or Demilitarized Zone.
“It was extremely quiet,” he said of his post at the DMZ, “It was a super long line of areas but I could hear nothing. But they’re there. If I were to make noise with my gun, they will surely fire back (although nothing like that ever happened).” He said the tension in the atmosphere was almost tangible. “The air of death that can happen any moment while I was guarding up there.”
I asked what it’s been like living here in Japan while things are unfolding over on the Korean Peninsula. His response really surprised me:
“I feel safe but to be honest, indifferent because I don’t see myself living in Korea in the near future. The army was the place where I gave up hope for the Korean society and community and I threw away most of my patriotism. To be honest, I am not worried about my family at all because I have been living through this all my life. Rather, my family and friends are more worried about me living in Japan where there are earthquakes and possible radiation than themselves are. It has been so naturalized that I am not really concerned. If anything, I should be more concerned about the soldiers who are guarding the borders.”
Gyu made it very clear when first meeting him that he was eager to work in China after graduating. His goal: to be a part of the distillment of tension between the three Asian superpowers: China, South Korea, and Japan. “I feel that China and Korea will be a harder wall to breach when it comes to making peace. It is natural that the USA is going to connect Korea with Japan and China will not tolerate that. Especially after what is going on with the North Korea at the moment. As a Korean though, I am happy that there are tensions going up in the peninsula. Sure, nobody wants a war, but the perpetual aggression of the North Koreans shooting missiles…
Presidents of both the United States and the Republic of Korea have said they “condemn” the actions that have been ongoing for years and I’m getting tired of it. Because of this, so many soldiers from the Republic of Korea have died, “ he explained, referring to the tragedy of the Choen Ahn Naval officers whose ship was sunk in March of 2010, supposedly by North Korean forces. 46 of the 104 personnel on board were killed. “Just firing back only when they fire something at us is not going to stop anything I am on the side of taking the root off once and for all.”