The Korea Times 칼럼

나쁜 나라는 나쁜 친구 같은 것: Bad nation, bad friend (2011년 7월 16일)

divicom 2011. 7. 16. 06:43

Soldiers are frequent victims of tragedy in the nation even without outside invasion.

On the eve of a Marine’s shooting spree that killed four of his fellow soldiers on Ganghwa Island last week, another man from the same division committed suicide. Last Sunday in Pohang, a Marine hanged himself. on Tuesday in Busan, an Army conscript on leave was found dead in his hotel room and is presumed to have claimed his own life. In June 2005 at an Army guard post near the Demilitarized Zone, a soldier threw a hand grenade into the barracks, instantly killing eight and wounding two.

Some kill themselves and others kill their fellow men in uniform, yet the root cause of the killings was identical: They couldn’t stand their days in the barracks. If military service were not mandatory, they wouldn’t have joined the service or would have left early. They were mistreated, humiliated, ostracized and/or beaten, because they couldn’t do like others in drills and daily life or just because they looked unpleasant or unfortunate in the eyes of others.

While this cruelty continues, making killers out of innocent young men, what has the nation and the government done to stop it? Almost nothing. They were quick to blame the helpless killers for being soft in the head or for failing to adjust. They didn’t recognize the fact that the ``softies” wouldn’t have joined the armed forces had it not been for the constitutional duty of national defense.

When bad things happened to soldiers, it makes news headlines for a few days and a handful of officers lose their positions, but that is it. Why doesn’t the government take fundamental, corrective measures? Is it because many of the government leaders and lawmakers are not particularly interested in the military service which they as young men had cleverly evaded?

A nation is like a friend. A good friend is someone who draws the best things out of you. A bad friend finds your weakness and takes advantage of them. The Marines who harassed their fellow soldier until he became a killer wouldn’t and couldn’t have done that had they met outside the military. Thus, being blamed is the atmosphere and culture of barracks that exposes undesirable traits in ordinary youths. That is also why this nation is a bad friend for conscripted soldiers.

``Beating and ostracizing soldiers must disappear from the military barracks,” a 19-year-old corporal, identified only as Kim, said hours after he shot four of his fellow soldiers, wounded another and seriously injured himself in an attempt to end his life with a grenade on Monday last week. Even before he said that, my male friends who had conscription experience foretold that the rampage must have been carried out by a victim of habitual beatings and humiliation. The offender would have lived in a hellish situation for some time among the so-called ``men of men” and he gradually lost himself in his desperate struggle to survive, they said.

The four were fatal victims but the shooter himself would turn out to be the biggest sacrifice. Being a corporal, he had only a few months left to serve in the Marine Corps, but he couldn’t take it anymore. When he recovers his senses and sanity, which he will do soon now that he is free from his bullies, he has a long life of nightmare ahead. He is only 19.

When I transferred to a high school as a sophomore, my new classmates humiliated me whenever possible. Every morning I had to fight against the urge not to go to school. A fellow transfer student returned to the school from which she had come as she couldn’t put up with the mockery and contempt showered on her every day. I could endure the hard times only because I could go home after school. If I had to be with the aggressors for 24 hours a day, was beaten frequently as Kim had been and if I had a gun at hand, I might have ended up shooting someone.

After losing so many young lives, the government has shortened the compulsory service from three years to less than two, but that hasn’t solved the problem as proven by Kim’s case. The way the government and the military handle the latest tragedy drives one to question if they are truly eager to rectify the situation.

None of the responsible officials and officers, including the President, the prime minister and the defense minister, has apologized to the people for what happened. They owe an apology as they failed to protect the young lives that were in their custody.

President Lee Myung-bak, who didn’t do his military service, aggravated public sentiment on Tuesday by saying that the "ill adjustment" of youths who grew up in a liberal atmosphere was more problematic than the "corporal punishment" they receive. By corporal punishment, he meant beatings in the barracks. In a Cabinet ministers’ meeting, he stressed that the military culture should be changed once and for all and one wonders what he meant by change.


Unless the Armed Forces are as democratized as Korean society, the nation and government will remain worst friends for the young and we will see more Kims in the future.


나라와 정부는 친구와 같습니다. 좋은 친구는 내 안의 좋은 점을 끌어내주는 친구이고 나쁜 친구는 내 약점을 끄집어내어 그것으로 나를 괴롭힙니다. 우리나라 군대는 나쁜 친구입니다. 사람 안의 가장 비열한 점을 끌어내어 약한 사람을 괴롭히게 합니다. 군대가 아니었으면 괴롭히는 사람도 괴롭힘을 당하는 사람도 그렇게까지 되는 걸 피할 수 있을 겁니다. 괴롭힘을 당하는 사람은 그 상황에서 살아남고자 애쓰다가 점차 파괴적인 사람으로 변합니다. 파괴의 대상이 자신일 때는 자살을 택하고 타인일 때는 그들을 향해 총을 쏩니다. 아무도 총 쏘는 사람을 비난할 수 없습니다.


고등학교 2학년 때 다니던 학교를 떠나 다른 학교로 편입했던 저는 왕따의 괴로움을 다소나마 압니다. 어떻게든 저를 괴롭히고 조롱하고 싶어하는 학우들이 경멸스러우면서도 나날이 괴로워 아침마다 학교 가기가 싫었습니다. 오죽하면 편입생 중 하나가 원래 다니던 학교로 돌아갔겠습니까? 제가 그 괴로운 시간을 버틸 수 있었던 건 방과 후엔 집으로 돌아갈 수 있었기 때문입니다. 만일 제가 7월 4일 자기 부대원들에게 총을 쏜 김 상병처럼 24시간 저를 괴롭히는 사람들과 함께 있어야 했고, 정신적 학대만이 아니라 육체적 폭력까지 당해야 했고, 그리고 제 손에 총이 있었다면, 저도 그처럼 총을 쏘았을지 모릅니다. 


군대 안의 폭력은 어제 오늘의 일이 아닙니다. 그러나 우리 정부가 한 일은 3년 복무기간을 2년 이내로 줄인 것밖에 없습니다. 군인이 자살하거나 동료들에게 총을 쏘면 잠시 기사화 되고 그만이었습니다. 그 군인 한 사람에게 문제가 있는 것처럼 몰아세우기 일쑤였고 지휘관 두어 명이 보직에서 해임당하거나 전보되는 것으로 잊히곤 했습니다. 왜 군대 문화를 바꾸기 위해 좀 더 적극적인 조치를 취하지 않았을까요? 정부의 고위관료들과 국회의원들 중에 젊은 시절 머리를 써서 징집을 피한 사람들이 많아서일까요? 


이번 해병대 총기 난사 사건을 다루는 정부의 태도를 보면 이 해묵은 문제의 해결은 요원해 보입니다. 대통령, 국무총리, 국방부 장관, 그 누구도 국민에게 사과하지 않았습니다. 왜 사과해야 하느냐고요? 그건 그 젊은이들이 나라를 지키는 헌법적 의무를 하기 위해 집을 떠나 군인이 된 만큼 그들을 잘 보호했다가 부모에게 돌려보내는 것이 나라와 정부의 의무이기 때문입니다. 전시도 아닌데 남의 귀한 아들들을 맡아 제대로 보호하지 못했으니 국민에게 사과하는 것이 당연합니다. 그러나 정부의 태도는 여전했습니다. 사과 대신 제일 먼저 김 상병의 정신 상태에 문제가 있었다는 반응을 보였습니다.


국방의 의무를 하지 않은 이명박 대통령은 며칠 전 국무회의에서 '체벌'보다도 자유로운 분위기에서 자란 젊은이들의 "부적응"이 문제라는 식으로 발언하여 오히려 국민의 분노를 부추겼습니다. '폭력'을 '체벌'이라고 표현한 것 자체가 그분의 정신세계를 보여줍니다. 대통령은 이번 일을 계기로 군대 문화가 꼭 변해야 한다고 말했는데 그 변화가 무엇을 뜻하는지 궁금합니다.


우리 군대가 우리 사회만큼이라도 민주화되지 않는 한 이 나라와 정부와 군대는 우리 젊은이들에게 나쁜 친구로 남을 것입니다. 제2, 제3의 김 상병이 계속 나오는 걸 피할 수 없을 겁니다.