from the Korean Army to being published

the blog of an "ex-patriot" writer in Korea

Entry #58: Being Used

with 6 comments

While editing the final section of the manuscript, I found an article about me that was printed in the Defense Daily, the newspaper of the Korean military. Reading through the article, I couldn’t help but laugh at the blatant lies they printed in order to boost morale. Propaganda at its finest.

I remember first reading the article at the end of 2005. I was shocked because I never gave an interview to a reporter for the Defense Daily. The reporter took information from interviews I gave to the Korea Times and added liberal amounts of bullshit for the military’s agenda. He figuratively shat in my mouth, making up quotes I would never say, even under duress.

I once heard that when a Korean male enters the military, his citizen registration number is put on hold and he is no longer considered a person but a tool of the military. This is only hearsay, but I’ve also heard that physically attacking a conscript is not assault and battery but damaging government property. I guess it’s the role of a tool, to be used. I certainly felt like a tool when I was in uniform.

Here is a rough translation of the article with emphasis added.

Korea Times Translation Award for Literature

SROKA Headquarters, Sergeant Young Jin Chun

A proud ROK Army conscript who entered the military out of a love for his motherland despite having American citizenship submitted a translation to a translation competition held by the Korea Times and was awarded first prize.

Although he was born in Illinois and grew up in Washington, Sergeant Young Jin Chun (27) is currently doing his military duty at the Second ROK Army Headquarters out of a special sense of patriotism.

Sergeant Chun translated Jo Chang-in’s novel The Lighthouse Keeper into English for the 36th Korea Times Translation Awards and his translation was selected for the highest award in the literature category, which will be awarded to him on the 9th of next month.

After hearing about the translation competition in August through the newspaper, Sergeant Beck sent in his submission after a month of translating.

Although there were difficulties in the process in balancing his duties and the translation, he used his sleeping and break times and was able to finish work on the translation.

Sergeant Chun said, “I was only able to win this award because I am serving in the military in Korea.”

Sergeant Chun, an American citizen, returned to Korea two years ago not knowing that he had to serve in the Army when he came to Korea. At the time, he was a dual citizen and could barely speak Korean, but he gladly decided to enter the Army because he believed that it was his natural duty and he wanted to directly experience his fatherland with his body.

Sergeant Chun said, “It was a difficult when I first decided to enter the Army because I wouldn’t be able to see my family for two years and I couldn’t speak Korean.”

Nevertheless, Sergeant Chun received much help from his comrades and was gradually able to adjust to Korea and life in the military. Of course, he worked hard, always carrying around his notebook and taking down memos and asking if there was something he didn’t understand.

Thanks to that effort and the help of his comrades, Sergeant Beck went on a deployment to Afghanistan for six months and was able to go to America to see his family during the resulting award furlough.

With his discharge approaching in the January of next year, Sergeant Chun said, “I have completely adapted to life in the Army,” and “The most valuable thing I have reaped from the Army is how to think positively.”

In addition, Sergeant Chun said, “The Army has had a huge influence on my life,” and “It will be a fond memory I will never be able to forget.”

Sergeant Chun added, “I’ve learned a lot about Korean culture in the Army, and I can now say with confidence that I have served two years in the Korean Army.”

Sergeant Chun will travel and take time to think after his discharge but disclosed that he intends to attend graduate school in Korea in order to understand Korea more.

Lies. All lies. I didn’t decide to serve in the Army at all. I was forced to go on threat of prison and I was blocked from leaving the country. Rather than helping me, the other conscripts constantly mocked me and my poor pronunciation and lack of communicative skills. I had to go to Afghanistan to even be able to see my family once in the two years. A fond memory? My ass.

Here’s the original article in Korean for those who can read Korean and want to read these poisonous lies in their original language. (Again, emphasis added.)

코리아 타임스 번역문학상 수상

육군2군사령부 XXX 병장

미국 시민권을 가졌음에도 모국에 대한 애정으로 군에 입대한 자랑스러운 대한민국 육군 병사가 코리아 타임스가 주최한 번역문학상에 응모, 우수상을 수상해 화제가 되고 있다.

미국 일리노이즈 주에서 태어나 워싱턴에서 주로 자랐지만 남다른 조국애로 현재 육군2군사령부 본부사령실에서 국방의 의무를 다하고 있는 XXX(27·사진) 병장이 그 주인공.

X병장은 제36회 코리아 타임스 번역문학상에서 조창인씨의 소설 ‘등대지기’를 영문으로 번역해 소설 부문 최고상인 우수상에 당선, 내달 9일 수상한다.

X병장은 지난 8월 번역문학상과 관련한 소식을 신문 지상을 통해 접한 뒤 약 한 달에 걸친 번역 작업을 거쳐 응모하게 됐다.

이 과정에서 업무 보랴, 번역 작업하랴 어려움도 많았지만 자는 시간과 휴식 시간을 쪼개 어렵사리 작업을 마무리할 수 있었다고 한다.

X병장은 “이 상을 수상하게 된 것은 절대적으로 한국에서 군 복무를 할 수 있었기 때문”이라고 말했다.

미국 시민권자인 X병장은 2년 전 한국에 오면 군에 입대해야 한다는 사실을 모르고 귀국했다. 당시 이중 국적자였던 그는 한국말을 거의 하지 못했지만 한국인이라면 당연한 의무였고 조국을 몸으로 직접 느끼고 싶다는 생각에 흔쾌히 입대를 결심했다.

X병장은 “처음 입대를 결심했을 때는 2년 동안 가족을 볼 수 없다는 걱정과 한국어를 제대로 구사할 수 없다는 문제 때문에 고민도 많이 했다”고 말했다.

하지만 X병장은 입대 후 부대 동료들로부터 많은 도움을 받으며 차츰 한국, 그것도 어렵다는 군생활에 적응할 수 있었다. 물론 항상 노트를 들고 다니며 모르는 부분이 있으면 메모하고 질문하는 그의 노력도 있었다.

그런 노력과 동료들의 도움 덕분에 군생활에 적응한 X병장은 아프가니스탄에 6개월간 파병되기도 했고 그에 대한 포상으로 휴가 기간중 미국으로 건너가 그리운 가족들을 볼 수 있었다.

내년 1월 전역을 앞둔 X병장은 “이제는 군생활에 적응이 다 됐다”“군에서 긍정적으로 생각하는 법을 배운 것이 가장 큰 수확”이라고 말했다.

또 X병장은 “군대가 내 삶에 많은 영향을 줬다”“내 인생에서 절대 잊을 수 없는 좋은 추억이 될 것 같다”고 말했다.

X병장은 “군대에서 한국 문화에 대해 많이 배웠고 이제는 정말 자신 있게 한국 군대에서 2년을 복무했다고 말할 수 있을 것 같다”고 덧붙였다.

X병장은 전역 후 여행도 하고 생각할 시간을 갖겠지만 한국에 대한 더 많은 이해를 위해 당분간 한국에서 대학원에 다니고 싶다는 뜻을 내비쳤다.


6 Responses

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  1. This is one of those situations in which I find myself wondering…

    Is it OK to laugh?

    Will your novel include the above article and a rebuttal?


    June 5, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    • Of course, it’s okay to laugh. It’s ancient history and even back then, there was nothing I could do but laugh.

      The article isn’t in the book, just a mention and maybe a quote or two. It’s already long enough as it is.


      June 12, 2013 at 5:14 pm

  2. Are you sure you can’t squeeze it in? This is just golden.


    July 24, 2013 at 11:01 am

    • Thanks. I’m going to take another look at that last chapter and figure out what works best.


      July 24, 2013 at 12:54 pm

  3. […] with my company commander and almost got me thrown in military prison, and I’ve been used for propaganda in the Defense Daily without even giving an interview. I also don’t appreciate some of the speculation that has been […]

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