Nov 16 2009
Last English class, Ms.Edmunds handed out a poem that was ‘meant’ to be inspirational. The poem is called “A Call to Arms”, written by Callinus, translated by Richmond Lattimore. Here is the poem:
How long will you lie idle, and when will you find some courage,
you young men? Have you no shame of what other cities will say,
you who hang back? You think you can sit quiet in peacetime.
This is not peace, it is war which has engulfed our land.
A man, as he dies, should make one last throw with his spear.
It is a high thing, a bright honor, for a man to do battle
With the enemy for the sake of his children, and for his land
and his true wife; and death is a thing that will come when the spinning
Destinies make it come. So a man should go straight on
forward, spear held high, and under his shield the fighting
strength coiled ready to strike in the first shock of the charge.
When it is ordained that a man shall die, there is no escaping
death, not even for one descended from deathless gods.
Often a man who has fled from the fight and the clash of the thrown
Goes his way, and death befalls him in his own house,
and such a man is not loved nor missed for long by his people;
the great and the small alike mourn when a hero dies.
For all the populace is grieved for the high-hearted warrior
after his death; while he lives, he is treated as almost divine.
Their eyes gaze on him as if he stood like a bastion before them.
His actions are like an army’s, though he is only one man.
Callinus is a Greek poet who lived in the 7th century BC in Ephesus. During his life time, Asia Minor was frequently invaded by Cimmerians. For this reason, he wrote this poem to inspire Greeks to stand up and fight for one’s country. As the powm implies, Callinus believes that one would be considered ‘divine’ and honorable when one fights for the country. In contrast, he deems one a coward if one does not take any action when a war erupts.
As my classmates came across this poem, the debate about military service rose to the surface: should military service be a duty or a right? The best example I could find was military service in Korea and the United States: for Koreans, military service is a duty, whereas, for Americans, military service is a right. But is there any answer to the posed question?
However, before serching for an answer to the question, I have to acknowledge that I am biased towards this issue because I am a Korean. Also, because I have heard from Koreans who have gone and will go to military, but none of Americans, my view towards military service is certainly biased.
First of all, why is military service a duty in Korea but a right in the United States? I, as a knower, looked at this question from cultural perspective, in detail, the founding principles of the country. In the constitution of both countries, there are statements specifically about military service. Interestingly, the statements deliver different ideas by using different languages.
Constitution of Korea clearly states that serving in the military is a duty as a Korean:
Article 39 [Duty to Military Service]
(1) All citizens have the duty of national defense under the conditions as prescribed by law.
In contrast, Constitution of the United States expresses that serving in military is merely a right:
That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and sate defence of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, and therefore ought to be avoided, as far as the circumstances and protection of the community will admit; and that, in all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.
Statements in Korean Constitution use words that are straightforward and concise and have strong connotation, for example, “have the duty” and “prescribed by law”. Moreover, these words stress the importance of the duty. On the other hand, words in the U.S. Constitution are relatively moderate, such as, “have a right” and “civil power”. Additionally, these words emphasize the concept of freedom.
In brief, whether the military service ’should’ be a duty or a right is stated in the constitution. Constitution is crucial for a nation because it’s the founding principles of the country. In other words, it is designed according to people’s mindsets and thus it reflects people’s perceptions in specific nation. As a result, people in different culture perceive the issue of military service differently.
Apart from cultural implication of the military service, there is also historical implication to this issue. Korea is actually “in a war”: South Korea and North Korea reached an armistice, but Korean war was never declared to be ended. In contrast, the United States is not in a war like Korea does. Hence, it would be considered inevitable for Koreans to think military service as a duty instead of a right.
In fact, there is no answer to the question. I believe it is not justified to ask whether it ’should’ be ot not because decisions are made by a community that has indigenous culture. Every culture is unique, so does every underlying perspective of different cultures. Thus, acknowleding difference is one of the criteria that one needs as a ‘knower’.
“Callinus (Greek poet) — Britannica Online Encyclopedia.” Encyclopedia – Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Web. 16 Nov. 2009. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/89995/Callinus.
“ICL – South Korea – Constitution.” Web. 16 Nov. 2009. http://www.servat.unibe.ch/icl/ks00000_.html.
“Second Amendment to the United States Constitution -.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Web. 16 Nov. 2009. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution.