Sunday, September 28, 2008

CO Kang We-suck's infamous letter to Olympic medalist Park Tae-hwan

(left: Kang We-suck right: Park Tae-hwan)

Kang We-suck, a Conscientious Objector and activist, has become a sensational and controversial figure recently after writing a letter that has circulated the internet and drawn much criticism from newspapers to netizens. Here is the letter that sparked the controversy.

Hey Tae-hwan, you should go to the military too

(my translation from the University news site "Daehak Nae-il")

original article in Korean

Hello, Marine-Boy (nickname)! This is our first meeting, sorry for speaking banmal (informal speech). You can feel free to call me by my nickname "Babo" (idiot).

I'm We-seok Kang, self-professed 'film director'. Granted, my films have only been screened twice at the CGV theatre before being taken down, but by February of 2009 I expect my completed blockbuster documentary 'Military?' to win top prize in the Cannes Film Festival. If that happens, like an Olympic medalist, in the name of 'enhancing national prestige' I might be blessed with exemption from military duty. But I'm thinking I'll probably reject that favor and go to jail instead. This will mean that for a year and a half I won't be able to work on the film. Or I might never finish it—I could eat mad cow-infected beef and die first.

This Beijing Olympics twenty-two people were granted exemption from military duty. They received prize money worth 50,000 US dollars, as well as a lifetime monthly pension of 1,000 US dollars. Tae-hwan, did you see the moment Korean baseball became the best in the world? In the middle of an all-niter meeting about 'how to abolish the military in Korea', I got a text message from a stranger saying that "Korean baseball won the gold medal" (I've got a lot of fans too^^). In the process of the clean sweep victory Seung-yeop got the nickname 'military duty exemption broker', Tae-ho happily related how "he was more worried about the semifinals, upon which military exemption depended, than the finals. The young athletes who hadn't gone to the military yet experienced a lot of stress."

What I want to say is that the medal earned through hard work has become a royal gift of 'military exemption' for the athlete's achievements. It struck me that if you look at Olympic athletes who are granted exemption from military duty they are like roman era slave-gladiators who win their freedom by slaying their opponent. What is enhancing national honor? The 'standard' is vague. Even if it can be said that national prestige was enhanced, it is impossible to understand what process connects that with military exemption. What sense does it make that a taekwondo medalist whose combat ability is many times greater than a regular person is removed from the military where his strength could be used.

I saw your Wondergirl (famous pop band) friend in the August issue of 'GQ' at a hair salon. In the article she mentioned that whenever they would get lazy Jin-yeong (their producer) would crack the whip and get them working hard again. Asked by a reporter, "This isn't the military, why don't you just skip this practice?" she replied "this is just as important as the military". Seeing this, the military itself being used as the synonym for an important structure and function, I thought about how our culture accepts this as normal. And I felt heavy from head to heart.(however, I wouldn't mind being introduced to her ^^)

Military? Do you think that the military is really necessary? I believe that the military, while claiming to stop violence, in fact is the cause of more violence in the world. For the sake of peace, the institution of militarism must disappear throughout the world. To work for this change, my friends and I are conducting a 100-person campaign, pledging to go to jail instead of the military. Thus far we've gathered 18 people, you would be the 19th. So won't you join us on October 1st, Armed Forces Day, in a nude demonstration with the motto "Demilitarization is Beautiful."

Even if there was a constitutional clause that "condemned a beautiful person to the death penalty", just as no one can (legally) kill you or I, people come before the constitution. People say that the constitution cannot violate individual freedom. Forcibly burdening countless youths with military service ignores article ten of the constitution, guaranteeing the "right to pursue happiness." Discriminating Olympians from regular people infringes on article eleven of the constitution, guaranteeing "equality under the law". Tae-hwan, do you know the reason why 200,000 people have to do a non-military civil duty? Frankly speaking, isn't it because people would complain that "since I spent 2 years in the military so you should waste two years as well. What is this military exemption?" They'd say, "you go to the military too, Tae-hwan. Women too, go to the military."

I don't want to waste my precious life for a ridiculous reason like that.

What I want to say is that, while you are valuable, I'm just as valuable a person as you are. That's all. When you feel like having a drink, send me a message~

(some other English articles on Kang We-suck)

The Korea Times
The Sungshin Mirror

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