Thursday, June 23, 2005

How deep an investigation?

Last weekend's massacre of eight ROK army personnel in a unit stationed near the DMZ was a shocking tragedy.

At first there were speculations that it was an accident, then that it was a spur-of-the-moment attack out of anger. Then came news that it was premeditated and planned.

The Korea Times is going with the story that Private Kim Dong-min attacked his superior and his fellow soldiers out of anger for being harshly berated over an incident involving cleaning a bathroom, but that doesn't ring true with a lot of people I talked with.

Okay, in today's society where some teens go over the edge after playing hour after hour, day after day, of first-person shooting games, maybe it's possible for someone to hatch revenge over something so relatively trivial. Maybe Private Kim was mentally unstable and no one saw the signs or, if they did see the signs, wanted to do anything about it.

Whatever the case, the ROK Army said they will investigate and get to the bottom of this. But if it goes where I think it might, will they really reveal this to the public?

From what I've heard from several different people who would know these things, there is a deep, dark secret surrounding some ROK military units: using forced sex acts as a means of humiliation and control. I know what you might be thinking, that in a homophobic society like Korea this can't possibly be the case. I myself was in complete disbelief when I first heard this, and I am still skeptical, but I have heard of it from several different sources. That it comes from different sources could lend credibility to it on the one hand, or it could support the idea that it's merely a Korean urban legend.

I'm really not sure, but when certain news services reported that Private Kim had been "molested," I imagined he might have been a victim of such behavior (although "molest" can also mean "harass" or "abuse" in a non-sexual way). And to me, this would explain perfectly his behavior, much better than being angry over having been yelled at.

Male or female, a victim of sexual assault has gone through an intense trauma. Humiliation and despair can overtake even people who were once psychologically sound. This is why rape victims often become suicidal, reckless, or extremely withdrawn. As I said before in the Michael Jackson post, many people who are screwed up as adults are often people who were sexually assaulted as children. It can have a profound impact on someone.

The Korean military reportedly has a high rate of suicide, although the ROK military may be covering up the details of some cases. This is pure speculation, but I suppose that such incidents could also account for at least part of the suicide rate.

Can it push someone over the edge to mass murder? Maybe if the unit were in on the situation. I don't really know, but I suppose it would depend on what exactly happened. Maybe Private Kim was not a victim of any serious maltreatment. Maybe he did just go over the edge on his own. But I would hope that a real investigation into his actions would see what other factors might be pushing people over the edge to take their own lives as they serve their country.

At the same time, however, I hope the current administration doesn't use this situation as a chance to weaken the ROK military's credibility at a time when some in the ROK military may be unhappy about the direction President Roh may hope to take the country.


At 6/23/2005 10:17 PM, Blogger Bal(t)imoron said...

This underground rumors about informal methods of unit discipline are only such when Koreans are confronted with the results of the practices. These methods were so ingrained, and the habit of deferring to ROK authorities so routine, it only made sense to interact with ROK soldiers in ways, by American standards, were like a reversion to pre-50s reforms. The very public use of coroporal punishment aside, the prevalence of homosexual activity combined with collusive and abusive activities, even at the squad level were readily apparent. The easiest way to find a low-ranking soldier was to search the senior member's bed. The only way to get subordinates to follow suggestions was to humiliate the senior, which often resulted in an orgy of revengeful behavior when the subordinates found out how poorly the senior had led them. I know of at least one occasion where one sergeant gave pizza and coke to the members of a squad to halt certain work-stopping behavior on his shift. Once the subordinates figured out the American sergeant was not trying to abuse his powers only get the job done the next week, the following Monday that senior was found assaulted severely and had to report to the hospital.His squad members had decided his decision to force them to ignore the American NCO, and taking both what little extra cash, cigarettes, and sexual favors they could amass, was not correct.But, on other occasions, shaming the soldiers in front of senior NCOs was the only way to break allegiances. However, again, those soldiers reappeared at work the next day bruised, sore, and very acquiescent.

At 6/24/2005 10:16 AM, Blogger Sewing said...

Hey, Nora:

If the stories you are hearing are true, this is very serious and sobering business indeed. We'll what happens in the months to come.

On an unrelated and lighter note, I just noticed your tags on your blog links ("finding herself," "outer space," "doesn't like labels," etc.)—very entertaining!

At 6/24/2005 2:57 PM, Blogger nora sumi park said...

m. junius brutus, call me dense (don't really, please), but are you saying the rumors of forced sodomy in the rok ranks are not just correct but are or were pretty obvious?

At 6/24/2005 10:07 PM, Blogger Bal(t)imoron said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 6/25/2005 11:51 AM, Blogger Bal(t)imoron said...

Reply posted at

At 6/25/2005 1:43 PM, Anonymous Mark said...

The sexual perversions and frustrations which lie dormant and repressed in Korean society are awoken in the barracks life of the military.

At 6/27/2005 10:21 AM, Blogger nora sumi park said...

editress note: i am reposting m.junius brutus's post on his blog here, in order to keep his response connected with my original post (why is no one else bringing up this issue in the discussion of abuse in the rok military that can push people over the edge? i thought someone from marmot's would bring it up for sure).

from m.junius brutus...

nora sumi park asked me:

m. junius brutus (Infidel’s Blogger alter-ego), call me dense (don’t really, please), but are you saying the rumors of forced sodomy in the rok ranks are not just correct but are or were pretty obvious?

I typed a comment, but I had this awkward moment with my RoboForm passcard program. So, I’ll reply here.

Concerning my previos comment, I support what was the unofficial SOP in my workplace. I cannot be specific, because of security matters, and because the individuals who told me these anecdotes deserve anonymity. I can say, though, that, because the legal traditions in South Korea and the United States concerning information collection are dissimilar, situations arose (I was discharged from the US Army in April, 1999) where American and South Korean soldiers disagreed about the appropriate action to take concerning certain forms of information. generally, by law (and it was the first piece of information I learned in training), a collector can only collect data for 2 minutes before a determination about it’s nature has to be made. If deemed inappropriate, collection stops. As a supervisor I scrupulously followed this procedure, and so did other American supervisors. But, South Koreans sometimes did not. In an environmant where cooperation was necessary, such disagreements about basic policy became quite contentious. Some South Korean soldiers adopted an attitude, that American soldiers had no authority to interfere with their activities. As divisions hardened, working conditions deteriorated. The issue of how to overcome these impasses came about frequently.

Informing senior supervisors on both sides rarely worked, because the South Koreans just viewed it as snitching. If a South Korean soldier did anything so egregious, of course, the sergeant-major could handle it, with corporal punishment. This was the nuclear option, because it foreclosed any trust between the two groups of soldiers. Bestowing favors and trying to be friendly also rarely worked. But, I knew ofthese instances as I previously mentioned, where American NCOs found a way to get over the impasse by challenging the ringleaders. I can only say, efficiency improved afterwards, at the loss of only one, and I would say unscrupulous South Korean soldier and the gratitude of his former prey.

And, yes, it was plainly obvious within any given wing of the barracks (and katusa’s were generally segregated from American soldiers and paired together in two-man rooms) that certain senior recruits (promotion to sergeant is automatic based on time in service) exercised control through sexual favors. The walls were made of concrete blocks, but were very porous.

I agrre with the author that there is a deeper psychological problem revealed in this tragic incident. It goes beyond the ROK army’s procedures, too. It’s related to the gender segregation customs and family relationships South Koreans share. I’m not supporting western, individualism or family values, but there are two completely different standards for rearing girls and boys in South Korean society. In addition, and subsequently, there is the stress related to being in a frontline unit in a military institution in need of reform.

At 6/27/2005 10:27 AM, Blogger nora sumi park said...

by the way, m.junius brutus, i had trouble logging on to your comments section to let you know i had posted your reply here.

At 8/16/2005 4:25 AM, Blogger Tursk1957 said...

Hmmm, In trying to decipher m.junius brutus comments about this tragedy and sexual abuse in the Korean? military, I gather his/her comments concern KATUSA troops and some kind of socio-sexual relationship he/she had personally, apparently witnessed. I had only heard a small piece of a news story about the tragedy in question but, I believe it took place in a regular Korean Army barracks, which is a galaxy away from the KATUSA's world. I have known many ex-Korean military men and I have heard many stories about the harshness of the Korean military, (I.E. certain hazings and traditions inflicted upon the conscripts by the career force). Homosexuality, though it definately exists in every society including Korean, is still very much in the back of the closet in Korea. It is highly unlikely that such cohersive acts of homosexual abuse take place in a Korean unit. I am sure that there may be some instances that are hushed up or buried but to infer that it is something that may happen as a matter of routine is most likely a huge exageration. If a Korean Army conscript or career person were to engage in such forbidden behavior, they could not be certain an accomplice or victim would not turn them in or publicize the event thus shaming all involved. In other words they could not know who they could trust.I am not suggesting it may not be the motivation in the current tragedy or that it has not occurred, it is just that it is very socially risky for the korean man, even someone who is insulated by the military establishment, would risk their livelyhood when there are other, just as harsh, but socially accepted ways to achieve results or desires. Though prostitution in Korea has been indelibly and unfairly linked to the American G.I. in Korea, the industry was there before us and it flourishes amongst the Korean populace, just as in most places on Earth, with indifference to the presence of Americans. There is a traditional hazing in the Korean military wherein a unit visits a local brothel and everyone is expected to partake in the pleasure with the chosen working girl. Anyone who refuses may be beaten and harrassed. It is depicted as a sign of non-commaraderie. From time to time, a young Korean conscript refuses because he is engaged or in love or perhaps for other moral reasons, he just does not want to have sex with the prostitute. Individualism in a military unit is frowned upon, particularly in armies such as the Korean Army, whose roots are dug into the past military/ martial art societies. I am personal friends with a Korean man who experienced such a beating at the hands of his commrades in arms after he refused to have sex with a prostitute. He suffers from a chronic back injury to this day. I submit that if anything sexual was involved in this masacre, it was most likely an event similar to the hazing tradition I have described. We may never know the truth but to label the Korean military with rampant and virtually condoned homosexual blackmail, revenge and liasons as brutus seems to have done is far from the mark, in my opinion.


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