South Korean Politician Apologizes for Involving BTS, ARMY in Military Exemption Debate

Courtesy of BigHit Entertainment


In the lead-up and aftermath of the Asian Games, South Korea’s political scene has become embroiled in a debate over what sort of star qualities may qualify a man to be exempt from the nation’s military draft. Now, one politician at the center of the debate has apologized for drawing BTS and their fans, known as ARMY, into the narrative.

The ongoing debate in the country’s National Assembly largely stems around why athletes and classically trained dancers and musicians are able to earn exemptions from the country’s mandatory draft for their international successes but pop stars and modern artists are not included in the parameters, originally instituted in 1973.  In July, opposition lawmaker Ha Tae-kyung of the Bareunmirae "Righteous Future" party originally cited BTS’ topping of Billboard charts and public opinion of their success as an example of pop stars on an international stage who have similarly positively impacted South Korea’s image internationally.

Following the end of the 2018 Asian Games, which took place in Indonesia throughout the second half of August and ended on Sept. 2 and resulted in 42 athletes earning military exemptions, the debate reignited in South Korea this week as politicians, media, and the general public addressed who, if anyone, should be able to earn their way out of the nation’s draft.

After the increased widespread media attention led to intense debate, Ha issued an apology for bringing BTS and their fans into an extremely sensitive political debate that could potentially impact their image in South Korea, where conscientious objectors until recently were imprisoned and celebrities’ careers are regularly impacted by their service paths. Ha blamed the media after discord grew over BTS and their fans became a main focal point of the discourse.

“I am sorry to hear that BTS have become the center of this political debate,” Ha said, reports JTBC News. “I have tried to address the reality of popular music, which is suffering from severe reverse discrimination compared to classical music... There is no guilt for BTS and their fans. Please throw all the stones to Ha Tae-kyung, a member of the National Assembly.”

Neither BTS nor their label Big Hit Entertainment have addressed the political controversy. 

All able-bodied South Korean men between the ages of 18-35 are expected to serve a period of around two years in the country’s armed forces. Conscription regularly affects the entertainment world by interrupting the careers of K-pop stars and young actors -- members from some of the biggest names including BIGBANG are currently serving -- and the sports-based exemptions ignited a national discussion about who, if anyone, should merit exception. Some have suggested deferments rather than exemptions, reports AP, and Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon recently chaired a task force to look into reducing the period of military service, the size of the country's armed forces, and to review the exemption system.

Lee reportedly suggested that the military “come up with a more reasonable measure by reflecting the public’s growing demands,” according to The Guardian.

The commissioner of the Military Manpower Administration Ki Chan-soo also addressed the topic, with the Joongang Ilbo reporting that he seeks to tighten exemption parameters due to societal stigma towards those who do not serve.

“We need to make military exemption standards more rigorous,” he said.


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