What do you think about Son Heung-min’s military exemption? Issues of alternative military service cases always surface, whenever international sports events such as the Olympics and the World Cups are held. The controversy about this intensified after the suspicions that baseball team members, Oh Ji-hwan and Park Hae-min avoided military service intentionally to be exempt from it after the Asian games. As the parliamentary inspection of the administration dealt with this controversy, it became a political issue. In addition, the spread of the controversy grew faster when a politician said that idol group BTS should receive alternative military service.
The Alternative Military Act for artists and athletes was established in 1973 in the name of promotion of national prestige and cultural development and it is a system that replaces military service with art workers and physical workers. They can continue to work in their own field after four weeks of basic military training. Since the law was enacted, the number of people exempt from military service gradually increased. As a result, the scope of special cases has been reduced. Consequently, under the current law, artists who are ranked within the second place of the international art competition or the top spot in the domestic art contest are exempt from military service. Those who have received education on national intangible cultural assets for more than five years are exempt from it, too. Additionally, athletes who are the top three of the Olympic Games and the top winners of the Asian Games do not go to army. According to this standard, 280 artists and 178 athletes have been exempt from military service in the past decade.
Those who have negative opinions about the alternative military service system (AMSS) raise questions about the equity of the criteria for the AMSS. For example, an article about the BTS' number one Billboard news or their appearance in a foreign program is easily found. They also have great national economic effects and play a big role in promoting Korea. On the contrary, a Korean won the first prize at the international string instrument production concourse, but it is difficult to find media reports unless you look for them. In this situation, critics say that BTS is not exempt from military service, but why the winners of the contest do not have to go to the army. However, it might be impracticable to implement the AMSS for entertainers because of the lack of a clear cause for judging performance as a national achievement and the lack of criteria to objectively evaluate it. In the case of athletes, it has been suggested that too many benefits are given to individual from the nation. If they win medals in international competitions, they can earn honor in the circumstances that the public supports and they can also receive a lot of money from pensions and rewards. However, those who disagree with military exemption of athletes claim that it is too much to be exempt from military service. Furthermore, many people have criticized the national baseball team winning gold medals in this Asian Game for using the AMSS as a means of dodging the draft by sending professional athletes to amateur athletes.
On the other hand, those who support the AMSS are concerned about national loss of great talents. For instance, for violinist Kang Dong-seok, who won various international competitions and was frequently invited to various world-famous concerts in the early 1970s, serving in the military for three years meant giving up his job. Eventually, he postponed his mandatory military service and was unable to return to Korea for 16 years as a draft dodger. In response, the U.S. gave him citizenship, and many said that it was regrettable to lose national talent. Likewise, for artists and athletes, their careers can be affected by a vacuum during their military service. Art and physical training experts predict that the abolition of the AMSS could lead to national loss of great talents as it could lead to a number of people like Kang Dong-seok who have to transfer their nationality due to the military service issue. On the issue of the equity of the AMSS for artists, Kang Eun-il, a Haegeum player and professor said “There are a number of genres that are barely maintained due to the decrease of traditional music players who have a bleak future and no job opportunities, but if the exemption is removed, traditional music will be cut off.”
In response to the controversy, a director of Military Manpower Administration said, "We feel the need to review the AMSS. First of all, we will consider improving the system in a way that will strictly enforce the criteria for military exemption." In 2013, the Military Manpower Administration proposed a special military service mileage system that would give military service benefits by scoring international competition results, but it failed. This is because the Korea Sports Council and the Korea National Training Center said that the revised bill would significantly reduce the morale of the athletes as a result of a drastic reduction in the number of players who are exempt from military service. However, the chairman of the Korea Sports Council has decided to review the mileage system as public criticism has intensified over the military exemption since the Asian Games. In a recent poll, the public's opinion on the AMSS shows that 52 percent of them believe this system should be either reduced or abolished. In response, the Ministry of National Defense said it would discuss the issue and improve the system for meeting the people’s sympathy by collecting opinions from art and sports experts. As such, it is expected to improve the system in a way that reflects the public's opinion and resolving the current issues.
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