A Probe for Peace Study
I first found about Conscientious Objection as a university student partaking as an activist. "South Korea is a very militarized country which has been punishing Conscientious Objectors (hereafter COs) for the past 60 years and more. However, it has been considered by our society that this problem is something only specific religions (Jehovah’s Witnesses) face and deal with. It is only recently that the actual movement for their human rights and chance for alternative service was started. I have been participating in the movement since 2002, from human rights standpoint claiming the alternative service for COs, instead of jail. Within the process of meeting COs and peace activists, I ended up questioning myself of my own belief I live by, as a Korean man who was about to be conscripted into the army.
Despite the fact I have always been critical to capitalism and war, matters of army or conscription did not appeal as a big deal to me since I have never truly doubted it. Participating in CO movement, I finally realized what it means to be a soldier, of the fact that Military discipline is nothing but a murder discipline, and everybody has the right to object. I also became aware how many pacifists have been objected to the military service throughout the history of time. After realizing all these, there was no way for me to grab a gun even in the strong opposition of my parents and the fact that I will have to be imprisoned for one and a half years.
This realization was not only for me. People have barely brought up the questions to conscription or military in Korea. However, through the CO movement, people started to make fundamental accusations against military and violence, and come to think about it in different ways. That’s why many people value the CO movement as a starting point of peace movement in Korea.
I proclaimed Conscientious Objection and went to prison on December thirteenth, 2004, the day of my enrollment. I consistently pleaded not guilty. As I received my bachelor’s degree in law, and I thought I was well aware of the process, I did not take legal advice from a lawyer. I presented statements and petitions by myself instead, but in spite of all my efforts, I was still convicted from all the original, appellate and supreme court. Especially in the appellate court, the judge told me aside from the verdict that military is necessary considering the fact that there have always been wars throughout history. The prosecutor even blamed me, saying who would protect the country if nobody would join the army like me.
To have a belief is one thing, but to translate it into an action is totally another. I realized this during the process of my trial. The experience of being an ‘offender’ and stating my belief at the court has inspired me to study peace. By that time, all I had was my determination on refusing guns, and I had no clue how this society could be changed. I wanted to figure out the answer to the questions of how to stop the war and how to maintain the community without the military. The books on peace studies I read during my imprisonment also helped me to understand how much we are in need of it in Korea as well.
There are up to 2 million soldiers in confrontation in Korea right now. Korea has been a war-torn country throughout the 20th century. For all that, there have been no studies on peace. It is so ironic that all we had was admiration for militarism, in the country that needs peace study the most. That’s why I decided to work on a peace study after I was released. I also had desire to share my understanding on militarism, military, violence and war I acquired throughout my experience with as many people as I possibly can.
I decided to pursue my graduate studies through the department of sociology since there was no other academic place for peace studies in Korea. There were some ideas of studying abroad, such as an actual peace-related department in Japan or Europe, but I chose Korea because I wanted to keep participating in the movement as well. My experience as a CO helped me a lot for my study in the graduate school. Living as a CO, person who has a record, enabled me to have a perspective of social minorities. It helped me to deal with matters of militarism and social minorities more carefully and delicately. In my masters I studied the concepts of violence, conscription, and the overall peace movement. In my thesis, you can see the analysis and estimation on CO movement in Korea, in the perspective of peace movement. At present I am working on more expertise peace studies in the doctor's course of the same school.
Conscientious Objection is not only the practical action to change the world, but also to change the individual who made the choice to do it. If it was not for the Conscientious Objection, I never would have chosen to study peace (which is non-mainstream and totally new to me.) But now it has become what I live for. The aim of my life now is to academically probe deeper into my belief and diffuse it all over the society. To me, Conscientious Objection is not just a one time imprisoned memory but an actual experience that directs me when I map out my future.
The value of nonviolence has now started to be discussed in Korean society. Various critical actions on military and its service also have started and are now in fruition. During the process, CO movement and COs have been playing active roles. As myself being a Conscientious Objector, I am willing to continue studying peace which is now taking its baby step, in the hope that these efforts will contribute to the peace movement in Korea.