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[Opinion] Soldier Evaluations of Superiors

Posted January. 09, 2009 07:27,   


Obeying an order is crucial in the military since it must prepare for war. Whether to march on or fire at the enemy cannot be decided by a soldier’s free will. That is why a commander has the right to shoot a soldier in war time. When 8th U.S. Army Commander Walton Walker in the Korean War decided against retreating to Busan and electing to fight to the end, he was criticized as undemocratic and a fanatic. His boss, General Douglas MacArthur, bluntly said there is no democracy in the military.

The term “democratic military” is a buzzword these days both in and out of the military. To seek a more advanced military culture, the Defense Ministry has developed slogans such as “a military with dreams and goals - a place where everyone wants to go,” “a military respecting the people,” and ”a military like home where one can devote to his mission.” If the slogans are realized, young people and their parents will have nothing to worry about. Soldiers will have much more free time to learn computer skills and languages and earn degrees and certificates. They can serve in the same unit with a close friend. Except for the controversy over banned books, these are real changes.

A group of officers were formed as part of the professional military system after the 1800s. In Europe, mercenaries and aristocrats used to become officers. Mercenary officers were like businessmen responsible for the livelihood of mercenaries, and aristocratic officers were hobbyists seeking honor and adventure. Soldiers could choose the officers they served. Today’s military, however, does not allow soldiers to pick their commanders. This is why the issue of an officer’s democratic leadership has been raised.

The Army decided to allow soldiers to evaluate primary commanders including company commanders and platoon leaders. The results are not reflected in their promotion but commanders must be nervous. The key is how to balance democracy and a strong military. If democracy is overemphasized, training a strong military based on morale and psyche could be hampered. A meticulous program is required to boost officers’ democratic leadership and help raise trust between officers and soldiers.

Editorial Writer Yook Jeong-soo (sooya@donga.com)