Let Me Get This Straight

Congratulations are in order for Shin-Soo Choo of the Cleveland Indians. Choo led his South Korean Fightin’ Baseball Devils to gold at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China. By ensuring glory for his nation, Choo earns a 30 month respite from the mandatory military service expected of all able-bodied Korean men between the ages of 20 (and a half) and 30. Choo certainly did his part, going 2 for 4 with a walk in the final game.

As intrepid MLB.com scribe Jordan Bastian reports Choo recently turned 28, meaning his 30 month “get out of barracks free” pass will push him beyond his 30th birthday and out of military service. Hooray! Wait, what?

Am I crazy or is it really strange to hear fans of the Tribe/Racist Nicknames express relief over Choo’s ability to co-opt his countries military tradition? A tradition, mind you, born of a 60 year cease-fire (the Korean War is, technically, still ongoing) to a bloody struggle pitting brother against brother with the ever-present threat literally right next door!

Think back to the World Series or even Veterans/Remembrance Day just a few weeks ago. The culture in North America goes out of its way to pay lip service to the men and women of the armed forces, admiring their sacrifices and making heroes of those who give up their status as exalted professional athletes to take up arms in the name of their nation. Until, of course, the needs and requirements of another nation might affect your favorite team’s pursuit of a pennant or, in Cleveland’s case, trying as hard as they can to avoid losing 100 games.

Far be it from me to wave the military flag or demand more of the manipulative, cheap coverage we already experience. If anything, this should serve as the perfect example of how little we value service and sacrifice. Honor those that serve, unless it impacts my afternoon at the ballpark? Something doesn’t quite add up.

Comments (13)

  1. Honor those that serve, unless it impacts my afternoon at the ballpark? Something doesn’t quite add up.

    I don’t think that’s it – you’ve gotta think that if, say, Derek Jeter decided to go “fight for freedom” in Afghanistan or something, the hyperbole and hero-worship would be flowing pretty heavily. This is just more of the “us vs. them” mentality of American patriotism – fighting for your country is wonderful and honourable, so long as your country is the same as my country. Otherwise, you can fuck right off.

  2. There’s also the added element of it being “mandatory service.” I feel that no one would mock Choo for serving, instead they’d focus their derision for the system that requires it.

  3. I don’t think it is unique to Americans. See: Cherry, Donald S.

  4. @DP – I don’t think anybody would herald Ted Williams had he bailed on his draft card.

  5. What’s really strange is that this ridiculous loophole exists in the first place.

  6. I see what you’re saying. The World Series during WWII would’ve been way more exciting if the winners didn’t have to serve.

  7. A G, it’s not really a loophole. The Korean government/military full well understood what they were doing. If they wanted Choo in the military they wouldn’t have excepted him.

  8. I don’t think it is unique to Americans. See: Cherry, Donald S.

    Of course, you can substitute pretty much any country in there and it’d still be true.

    What’s really strange is that this ridiculous loophole exists in the first place.

    I worked a guy from Korea who had already completed his service, and it’s all a bit of an odd situation. The military service is required because technically South Korea is still at war with North Korea, even though they signed an armistice more than 50 years ago. So it’s more of a “just in case” kind of thing – from what I was told, it’s basically like joining the reserves, as opposed to fighting in an active war.

    The other thing in play here is that Korean culture is much more nationalistic than what we’re used to; they really take sporting events like this seriously. At the same time, Choo’s success isn’t so much seen as a personal accomplishment as it is a national accomplishment – he’s winning for Korea, and his success in the MLB is also a pretty big source of national pride for a lot of people.

    That being said, it makes sense that he’s more valued as a hugely successful Korean baseball player on the international stage than as a reserve in a war that’s been stuck at a stalemate (albeit a very tense one) for more than half a century. So while it might sound crazy that winning a baseball tournament gets you out of your national duty, I don’t think that’s how they see it – it’s more like, he’s doing more for his country by representing them in such tournaments than he would be if he spent two years in the military.

  9. Patriotism for the military in the volunteer army age has always been more bumper-sticker than genuine.

  10. @Ty – I agree. I lived in Korea for a couple years and sports stars who excel overseas are held up on a pretty high pedestal.

    My bigger point is exactly what SP says – it’s more about bumper sticker false xenophobia than actually giving a damn about sacrificing for the “greater good.” Most people who sign up for the US Military only do so because they can’t find a better paying job or afford college anyway.

  11. Hey Drew,

    First off, I really enjoy this blog and the DJF blog as well.

    Anyways, Im living in South Korea teaching English and the way people understand it here is that if you win a gold medal in the Asian games or the Olympics you don’t have to do your service. This is the first I’ve heard of the 30 month respite thing…

    The military service in Korea is for every man under 30 years old as you said and with while the war with the North technically continues sometimes military service ends up being working as labourer in an elementary school. Korean music stars routinely opt out of military service for imaginary health problems.

    Regardless, I dont really see how this “loophole” as its been called here really degrades peoples respect for the military. Choo is just more valuable to Korea playing baseball than he is sitting around in the DMZ looking at North Korea or moving furniture around in a public school.

  12. “Regardless, I dont really see how this “loophole” as its been called here really degrades peoples respect for the military. Choo is just more valuable to Korea playing baseball than he is sitting around in the DMZ looking at North Korea or moving furniture around in a public school.”

    Wouldn’t that be the case regardless of whether he wins the gold medal?

    • I think my original point is getting obscured. My beef is with the way we canonize soldiers with one side of our mouth then cheer when a guy gets to avoid his service with the other.

      For a sport that exhausts so much energy paying lip service, I just found this disparity interesting.

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