At a South Korean military camp in Gangwon province, near the heavily fortified demilitarized zone bordering North Korea, a 22-year-old Army sergeant went on a rampage on June 21. Using hand grenades and an automatic rifle, he killed five of his fellow soldiers and wounded another seven.
The sergeant, identified only by his surname Lim, fled into a forested area and was taken into custody after attempting suicide.
In his weekly column in Asahi Geino (July 17), former Japan Self-Defense Force General Toshio Tamogami looks at what occurred in South Korea, and offers some explanations as to why such a tragedy could not occur in Japan's Self-Defense Forces.
According to some estimates, between 10 to 20% of conscripts who enter the South Korean military may have psychological issues. While it has been said that certain measures, such as the boosting of the number of physicians who can screen such soldiers, if such individuals can pass the general army physical examination for induction their problems might not be immediately evident.
In March 2013, sergeant Lim had been classified in category A, for soldiers showing the risk of possibly committing suicide or causing accidents, but was later upgraded to a safer category B.
Tamogami notes that after the incident, some Korean intellectuals remarked that "As long as compulsory military service continues, the issue of these 'problem soldiers' will continue."
According to reports in the local media, the situation may have been exacerbated in recent years by the trend in Korea toward one-child families, as children who are raised without siblings may be psychologically disinclined toward group activities.
While deferments from military conscription are recognized, most South Korean males are required to undergo an physical examination from age 19, and those refusing to serve without a valid reason are liable to criminal prosecution.
Many young Koreans nevertheless look for ways to evade military service. Some are said to engorge themselves with as much as 10,000 kilocalories per day -- more than four times the normal adult daily intake -- in order to make themselves ineligible.
Its reliance on conscription notwithstanding, South Korea's military has long faced difficulty in filling its ranks, not to mention difficulties in adjusting in military life that culminated in the recent killings.
Tamogami is convinced that the strongest military is an all-volunteer force, and notes that the during periods of economic recession when civilian jobs are fewer more outstanding human resources are likely to be drawn to enlisting. In a volunteer force, both officers and enlisted men are more likely to maintain a high esprit de corps. Nations that currently rely on conscription include North and South Korea, Russia, Austria, Norway, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam, among others. China is among the those with a mixed system that combines both conscripts and volunteers.
The mass murder that occurred last month in South Korea, Tamogami asserts, would be "unthinkable" in Japan. For one thing, the JSDF maintains extremely strict control over its weapons, making it impossible for a single soldier to gain access.
To gain entry to a weapons arsenal, three keys, held by different staff, are required; then another three keys are required to remove weapons from their racks.
Of course, quicker access to weapons may be needed by the South Korean military, since a state of war still exists with the North.
While Tamogami doesn't for a moment believe Japan would benefit from a system of compulsory military service, he does feel that the knowledge education, physical education and moral education that members of the JSDF undergo are well balanced and that administering even just three days of military discipline to unruly civilian youths can transform them in a way that can do their parents proud. Particularly people aiming to go into politics, teaching or government service would do well to first spend several years in the uniformed services.
So while Japan's armed forces won't benefit from a draft, serving one's country can be a good experience. Within just three months, claims Tamogami, civilians will not only develop feelings of patriotism; they'll stop slovenly speech and shed their disheveled apparel and flaky hair styles, metamorphosing into "splendid human beings."
"The experience of serving in the military is absolutely to a person's advantage," he concludes.© Japan Today