Saturday, January 16, 2010

Ask a Korean! News: Mixed Heritage Men Eligible for Draft

Here is a positive step for race relations in Korea:
Starting next January, externally visible mixed heritage men will also serve in active duty in case they are considered eligible for active duty by the draft board.

According to the Military Manpower Administration's statement released on the 14th, starting next January mixed heritage men (Caucasian/African heritage) whose mixed heritage is clearly externally visible must serve either in active or supplemental duty (public service agents) based on the result of the draft board examination, pursuant to to the amendment to the Military Duty Act passed by the National Assembly late last year. Previously, "visible" mixed heritage men was exempted from the military duty, although they could serve active duty on a volunteer basis.

Military Manpower Administration explained that the amendment applies to mixed heritage men born after January 1, 1992. An official of the MMA stated: "Currently there are six or seven African/Caucasian draftees per year, but the number is expected to increase going forward." He also said: "Currently there are around 200 Asian mixed heritage men, whose mixed heritage is externally unclear, being drafted each year."

Ministry of Defense also expressed its plan to enable joint reporting for draftees from multicultural families starting late this year.  An official of the Ministry of Defense said: "We are considering allowing draftees from multicultural families to apply for joint reporting, which allows siblings, relatives and friends to be stationed together. This proposal will also include expanding a number of bases eligible for joint reporting.

The military administration will also include a clause prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color or religion in the military human resources guide and service guide, and give priority to addressing any difficulty of draftees caused by discrimination on the basis of color. The military will also pursue a policy of providing early exposure to the military experience for multicultural youths, for example through military camps.
 Military Allows Joint Reporting for Those from Multicultrual Families (Dong-A Ilbo)

Although the language implying clear racism (like "visible" versus "invisible" mixed Koreans) in the article is distasteful, this is a very significant and positive development. For Korean men, the military service is one of the most significant periods of their lives. They often develop lasting friendship and connections through their service. Even among strangers, the shared experience of dealing with various crap during their service allows Korean men to bond very easily. Although there will surely be distressing strife and conflict in the beginning, the Korean could think of no better way to have mixed-heritage Koreans (at least among men) to feel like they are part of Korean society.

Here, again, America's experience provides a favorable example. Racial integration in American military long preceded integration in the larger American society, as President Truman ordered the end of segregated units in 1948. Despite some resistance and struggle, the military provided an advanced career option for African Americans -- there were black naval officers as early as 1944. Similarly, Korean military could provide an advanced career for mixed-heritage Koreans, (relatively) free from the implicit and explicit racism that may keep them away from the job market.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@hotmail.com.

5 comments:

  1. Good news. I've always been amused by discrimination in the army. It seems that there's no reason to deny someone the right to risk their lives for your country. The worst that could happen is that they'd die, which clearly doesn't bother the discriminators a lot.

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  2. Is there an official MMA page or source that has the new rules? I wonder why the change was limited to only those born after 1991. I remember reading about a similiar limit for a similar change a few years back (when mixed-asian koreans were drafted, I think the change was limited only to those born after 1987).

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  3. This is a step in the right direction, but laws in Korea are still quite racist. You have to be at least partially Korean (ethnically) to be integrated in society. What if someone is adopted by a Korean family and has no Korean blood at all? How about foreigners that lived in Korea since their early childhood but can't become a citizen? The logics is still segregationist, but hopefully it will get better.

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  4. Call me soft, but I don't equate being "eligible," for the draft as good news.

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  5. I have my doubts about how much of an impact this will have at first. Remember that graduating from school is another requirement - and failing to do so is grounds for an exemption...

    From http://english.kbs.co.kr/news/newsview_sub.php?menu=7&key=2006021029

    This year, Jang pulled off a rare feat for mixed children in South Korea when she graduated from high school.

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