The armed Forces are War-Making Machines


Declaration of conscientious objection

Jungmin Oh

To be liberated or to be incarcerated? It is an unavoidably acute question. The world we live in, at the global level, is constantly at war. Not surprisingly, as of the beginning of January 2009, we can see the war currently continuing in Gaza. The 20th century is remembered as an age of wars and presumably so will be the 21st. The US government started the 'war on terror' against Iraq after the 11 September attacks. The Iraq war was nothing but another dreadful war. Not only were the nation state of Iraq and the terrorists deemed to be enemies of the US, but the US clearly declared this was a war against evil. Clarifying who is evil requires great care. Nonetheless, we have observed that any person or group, especially anti-war groups and Muslims, can be regarded as 'evil'. The fact that the concept of 'evil' is too abstract to be defined may lead to a situation where, at one time or another, citizens of a country as well as people outside it are considered to be enemies. An enemy can now exist anywhere regardless of the borders among nation states. When we ourselves at any time can be labelled as an enemy, it can possibly be said that at that moment we live in the age of wars.
The South Korean government have been taking part in the war in Iraq. In 2003, it decided to send troops there despite the lack of proof that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Despite the daily demonstration against this decision, and the kidnapping and beheading by Iraqi militants of a South Korean, Kim Sun-il, the government didn't cancel the deployment plan. Instead, it introduced an Anti-Terrorism Act, based on their view that the people are potential terrorists. This was exactly the same as what happened in the US.
I was among the crowd protesting against the war in Iraq and the deployment of Korean troops. Despite our efforts, South Korean troops were sent. In the end, it was revealed that Iraq didn't have any weapons of mass destruction, which meant the US government was wrong. Notwithstanding, the South Korean government and the people who supported the government's decision neither apologised for their lie nor took any responsibility for the result - an absolutely intolerable reaction.
I believe the armed forces are simply just one of national institutions whose reason for existence is to prepare for wars. The armed forces always prepare for a war, even when there is no war. Hence, the military is by no means 'an organisation which prevents a war'. In fact, it is an organisation that makes war. I do not find any reason for which I ought to do my military service in this kind of armed force. Refusing to be called up follows ineluctably from my determination to liberate myself instead of living imprisoned as a human being living in a so-called 'the age of war'.

A War is Incompatible with Democracy

War cannot be compatible with democracy. Rather, war is a retreat from democracy. Article 5 of the South Korean constitution states that 'the Republic of Korea endeavours to maintain international peace and renounces all aggressive wars'. Accordingly, the South Korean government's has breached the constitution in sending troops to Vietnam and Iraq, wars that we avoidable and aggressive, not in self-defence. The US government presented the war on Iraq as 'preventive war'. If this invasion was not an aggressive war, which war can be considered aggressive? The South Korean government have definitely been infringing democracy by breaking the constitution. Not only will respect for the constitution be restored, but also there will be no democracy until the government stop doing such iniquitous things. I have decided, in a desperate resort to defend our democracy, not to do military service on behalf of the government which neither apologise for the result caused by their participation of the aggressive wars nor take any responsibility for that.

Democracy is constituent power

Democracy in Korea was again set back in July and August 2004. The Korean Supreme Court, on 15 July 2004, found conscientious objectors guilty, while the South Korean Constitutional Court, on 26 August 2004, rejected a constitutional challenge to article 88 of the Military Service Act. I am against these nationalistic decisions which state that the 'duty of national defence' is more important than 'individual's freedom of conscience'. As long as such decisions continue to be made, the right to freedom will remain infringed by nationalistic reasoning. Underlying a written constitution is the practice of the people. Article 1, Section 2 of the South Korean constitution states that 'the sovereignty of the Republic of Korea resides in the people, and all state authority emanates from the people'. This means the source of power to establish a constitution, constituent power, originates from the people. A constitutional code is temporary: it can be amended by constituent power whenever needed. A duty of national defence and a nation itself cannot exist unless a member of a nation exists. Therefore, it is the people's will, not nation's one, which should be respected. This is what I think democracy is.
This is the reason for my objection to military service. I feel guilt towards my parents. This pain may be the same as what other conscientious objectors, their family, lovers, friends and their supporters have gone through up until now. I would really like to apologise to my parents for my decision to object military service while I also would like to console other conscientious objectors. I hope the step we take today will lead to another pleasurable step on our way to democracy.

On Tuesday, January 6, 2009,

Back to index page of this documentation

Programmes & Projects

Add new comment

Enter the characters shown in the image.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Related peace activist(s): Jungmin Oh
Related peace activist(s): Jungmin Oh