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Donations for Nat’l Defense

Posted May. 27, 2010 13:06,   


“A fifth-grade girls’ class at Wooi Elementary School donated 1,675 won; a senior class at Seoul Girls’ High School 6,000 won; children at Youngeun Kindergarten 15,180 won; an ethnic Korean association in Ecuador 470 U.S. dollars...” This list of donations for national defense appeared in South Korean newspapers in the mid-1970s. Companies and children of ethnic Koreans abroad donated money to enhance the Republic of Korea’s defense. The funds raised from December 1973 through August 1988 reached 60.9 billion won (88.5 million dollars). With that money, the government purchased F-4D fighters and 500MD helicopters and developed armored vehicles independently. One thousand won in 1975 was equal to 30,000 won (24 U.S. dollars) now.

Ensuring the safety of the people and protecting their property are basic government duties. Raising funds from the people for defense expenditures is undesirable, but significantly raises public awareness of national security. In the 1970s, the country lacked money for national defense spending, which accounted for 30 percent of national finances since per capita income at the time was less than 1,000 dollars. In addition, self-defense was badly needed after then U.S. President Richard Nixon announced a doctrine in July 1969 urging Asian countries to be primarily responsible for their defense.

In the 1970s and 80s, grassroots donations were made for causes ranging from promoting the unity of volunteers for the Saemaeul (new community) Movement to buying furniture for police boxes. According to a survey by the Korea Federation of Small and Medium Business in August 1988, businesses paid 210 types of contributions worth a combined 773 billion won (1.1 billion dollars) a year. So the government eliminated all kinds of contributions in 1989 except donations for the poor, disaster relief, and the Red Cross.

Kim Yong-cheol, 89, a businessman and former public official, has donated his entire estate worth about 10 billion won (7.9 million dollars) for national defense. He has just a suit, worn-out shirts, and a pair of shoes, and has never eaten a meal costing more than 10,000 won (eight dollars). Kim received an award from the Defense Ministry Tuesday, and said, “Hopefully, my donation will help raise public interest in the importance of defense and awareness of national security.” The people praise Kim’s noble act.

Editorial Writer Kwon Sun-taek (maypole@donga.com)