Revelations of special treatment received by Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae’s son during his mandatory military service and the Defense Ministry’s attempts to shield him from scrutiny are damaging troop morale and discipline. Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo told lawmakers on Wednesday, “It’s true that documents have not been preserved at the unit, but no regulations were violated so there are no problems” with the justice minister’s son taking nearly a month’s sick leave after minor knee surgery. When asked why other soldiers who suffered much more serious injuries were not granted extended leave, Jeong said, “Their commanders did not consider the matter carefully.” In other words, any discrimination is entirely somebody else’s fault and has nothing to do with the fact that they have no friends in high places. Jeong himself seemed confused what the party line is. First he told lawmakers that the young man should only have taken four days off, but then he backpedaled and said he “misspoke.” Perhaps he got confused trying to cobble together so many conflicting bits of information. When ruling-party lawmakers said it was perfectly okay for a soldier to request an extension of his sick leave by text message to his commander, the defense minister nodded in agreement, even though in fact a proper document has to be submitted. A career soldier who rose through the ranks by sheer hard work, Jeong is now about to cap his career by dragging the entire military through the mud because of party pressure.
The nominee for Jeong’s replacement, Suh Wook, also blamed the military and said, “There are several unsatisfactory areas” as well as “administrative problems.” When asked about the controversy surrounding the justice minister’s son, Suh said, “It is difficult for me to make an assessment, since that is a matter for the commanding officer.” It is amazing to see how many people are willing to harm their own integrity in their attempt to save the justice minister. What must be going through the minds of the 500,000 soldiers who are watching this debacle?
Last week, the Defense Ministry suddenly distributed a statement to reporters saying it is possible to extend a soldier’s sick leave by telephone since related documents can be submitted later, and sick leave can be authorized verbally. Apparently ministry officials had been taking dictation from ruling party lawmakers. The ministry at first claimed that records of a telephone call allegedly made by Choo and her husband pressuring the military to extend their son’s sick leave had been “erased,” but that turned out to be false. The military appears to be more interested in protecting the government than the safety of or troop morale among conscripts. No wonder people are deriding it as the “Choo Mi-ae Defense Ministry.” Choo in turn has been tasked with shielding President Moon Jae-in from a probe by prosecutors. In the end, this whole debacle is about protecting the president. The old soldiers may have saved their jobs by kowtowing to this corrupt rabble, but the damage they have done to the military will take a long time to fix.
- Copyright © Chosunilbo & Chosun.com