There is a lingering conflict over conscientious objectors every year. Whether the government should acknowledge their legitimacy or not, then what the proper regulation for alternative service would be, etc…. This year, along with the controversy of the exemption of sports stars from military service, military service-related issues are getting plenty of attention. ST discusses and diagnoses current issues on conscientious objection……………………………….…Ed
The discussion on military service has begun in our society. An Asian Games gold medalist gained military service benefits, and a member of the national soccer team tried avoiding from being drafted into the military. Then, a Jehovah’s Witnesses believer who violated the military service law, Article 88, resulted in an acquittal because the judge cited religion and conscience in the favor of the defendant. Thus, the concept of a conscientious objector was born.
At first, the conscientious objector refers to the action of directly or indirectly objecting to military service, war, or weapons because of religious or conscientious beliefs. Thus, the meaning of the term ‘conscientious objector’ or ‘conscientious’ must be accurate. Encyclopedically, conscience refers to the moral consideration of judging one’s own action based on what is deemed as right or wrong. Meanwhile, constitutionally, conscience refers to personal and subjective values and thoughts. Therefore, the term conscientious objector is different from its popular meaning.
The conscientious objector’s argument is as follows. First, constitutionally, everyone is free to act conscientiously, and the nation can only limit it in inevitable cases. Thus, there is an argument that the nation cannot limit what is essentially free and right. Second, alternative service does not only refer to refusing to join military service. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides for conscientious and religious action. Based on this declaration, the UN advises that alternative service is a form of respecting one’s beliefs without punitive consequences. Third, Korea’s special national security cannot be the reason in rejecting the conscientious objector. Many countries with special national security admit their ignoring human rights in military service, and implement alternative service instead. Taiwan, for example, introduced alternative service in 2000, while Germany introduced it in 1961 when it was divided into two nations. So, the concept of a conscientious objector is not just an issue in Korea, but in the rest of the world as well.
On the other hand, the opposition to the idea of a conscientious objector is strong. First, conscience is an important value, but there is an argument that it can never be above the constitution, our society’s main rules. Second, a judge ruled that for an action to be admitted as legal, religion must penetrate the conscientious objector’s life. However, one’s way of life cannot be objectively judged. Third, there is concern that the idea of a conscientious objector can be abused. It means that people can refuse military service by citing their conscience or religious beliefs, such as joining Jehovah’s Witnesses, to demoralize our force.
The acquittal of a conscientious objector implies tolerance and magnanimity under a democratic setting in which the majority also considers the minority. It is expected that alternative service will be introduced. At this time, the possibility of abusing alternative service and our country’s national security must be considered. So, it is hoped that the continuing discussion on the issue of a conscientious objector will be resolved.
Kim Ki-bum (ST Reporter)