Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mainstream article about We-suck

My Meeting with Kang We-suck

a translation of ‘박태환 군대’ 발언 강의석 만나보니

by Choe Hyeon-jeong,

first published on

(translation by Jeff Lazar)

original article in korean 원본 기사

“Park Tae-hwan is a national hero. I wrote the letter recognizing that just by using his name, it would get many people interested in the issue of the military", said Kang We-seok. Kang, a 22 year-old Seoul National University Law School student, became wrapped in controversy ever since publishing an article addressed to the recent olympic gold medalist titled "Tae-hwan, you too go to the military."

I met Kang on the 9th of September. As a highschool student, Kang, in the name of religious freedom in school, conducted a one man protest. After entering Seoul University Law school he immersed himself in boxing, worked as a taxi driver, a host bar worker, and has, in speaking about the military stirred up much criticism.

During a boxing training session, We-seok suffered a head injury which lead to his being judged eligible for alternative (non-military) public service. I couldn't understand why someone who received this civil service duty would struggle so fervently to oppose military conscription.

"Because of my head injury and my 4th level judgement (exemption from military service), it would be easy for me, compared to others, to serve my obligatory duty. Nonetheless, I didn't want to participate in a job that supports the overall system. As a matter of fact, I think that many people, including women and the physically handicap, not just those who perform a civil service duty, have something to say about the military."

What We-suck is advocating is not for conscientious objection, nor for an alternative civil service, but rather for the abolishment of the military.

But if that is the case, who would protect us? Particularly a divided nation in a state of cease fire like ourselves?

"If everyone put down their weapons, word peace would be possible. Eastern Europe collapsed and the world has changed. Is North Korea really going to invade us? Those of us who don't believe this can't just be labeled communists anymore. If we demilitarize then our opponents will but down their weapons as well. If we put down our weapons and North Korea does invade, the world will not just sit by quietly and watch it happen."

I later asked again if this was not just the childish acts of someone trying to get attention. He responded stating that, following the prosperity of Costa Rica, a small neutral country that has abolished it's military, we could use the expenditures that currently go to the military and distribute them elsewhere to increase the quality of life for our country. I explained how, as an international tool, possessing a military is a method for peace.

We-suck's letter to Tae-hwan has provoked a hostile backlash nationwide. 10,000 people view his personal page daily and for several consecutive days his name has been at the top of the search lists. An article entitled "The truth about Kang We-suck" has been posted in hundreds of spots around the internet provoking individual criticisms.

"People can laugh at me and my flaws all they want, but I want to clarify some misunderstandings. People have posted writings about my sexual experience with my girlfriend. Why would they do something like that? I got my scholarship in highschool from getting top test scores, not from attending church diligently. I started boxing since highschool, and not with the intention of getting an exemption from the military. People also talk about the time I experienced heart-break and took a leave from school. When I was a freshman in college I had a girlfriend who I really liked, and it seemed to me that she really liked me as well. I proposed to her publically in our classroom and I was rejected. It was a blow for me, but I guess she must have found someone else that made her happy. That time when I took of from my studies seemed more like a psychological wandering than a vacation from school. There were prostitutes in the neighborhood where I lived. In the morning as I saw them leaving work, I thought about good my life was, and how they must not be satisfied with the work that they are doing. I suddenly stopped in my place, and I reflected on my life."

I asked him if he was confident he could overcome the critical public opinion over the military issue.

"I may look like a floating cloud, but I'm working hard. Since writing the article I've received many phone calls from supporters. We are cheerful that we have hope to change the world. Don't just criticize. It would be great if we could unite our power and work together. I and a group of around 20 people are in the middle of preparing a 100 man 'Campaign to go to jail" as objectors to the military and an anti military nude parade for Armed Forces Day."

In addition, they are shooting a documentary advocating the abolishment of the military. Many people feel that a nude parade would be too provocative. He could get punished for conducting a lewd performance.

"Why do people think that a nude demonstration would be vulgar? Probably because of the negative sentiment about things like flashers on school campuses. Ill intentioned flashers do inflict sexual shame, but an unarmed human body in and of itself is beautiful and a symbol of peace. If the police arrest us for public lewdness, what can I do? We want to express peace with our beautiful bodies."

He explained that due to many conflicts with his parents over the military issues he left home and now lives alone. His last birthday was the first time he'd spoken with his mother in around two months.

"Choosing to go to jail instead of the military is really a sad story. My mother cried a lot. There was conflict between us. People call it idealistic, but ideals are not bad things. I really do plan on going to prison, but since it's not the fate I want, I will work that much harder to change the system."

This man who I had come to interview seemed to me more naively innocent than worldly. He smacked of an excessive idealism remote from reality. Kang We-suck, as a University student, was in the process of arraigning his own thoughts and communication with the world. His idealism is being criticized in society. There is a lot of talk about the negative influence his speech is having. However, I finished the interview wishing that he gets more constructive and positive influence through his continued contemplation about reality and ideology.