[Interview] Former marine says subculture and beatings must change

Posted on : 2011-07-13 15:03 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Marine Corps reform has been under the spotlight since a shooting spree at a Marine base July 4

By Lee Soon-hyuk 


The Marine Corps has become a central issue in South Korean society in the wake of a July 4 shooting spree and suicides occurring soon after. The Hankyoreh met with a former Marine who reported working both in the Marine Corps Command and at a checkpoint on the front lines in the early 2000s. The former Marine emphasized, “This situation needs to serve as an occasion for ridding the Marine Corps of its deep-seated problems,” but also repeatedly affirmed his love for the corps.

Hankyoreh: What unit were you part of?

Marine: I worked at a lot of different places, including at the 2nd Marine Division and Marine Corps Command and in Seoul.

H: What do you think needs to change in the Marine Corps?

M: To put it bluntly, it is the beatings and the subculture. The beatings and brutality are too severe, and there is a unique Marine Corps subculture behind it. Since it is made up of volunteers only, there are a lot of tough guys. The macho-ism is intense. In my case, I had a very rough time because I was from Seoul, from one of the so-called “elite universities.”

H: What kind of problems are there with regions and schools?

M: With all the toughness there, people from Seoul were viewed as being “like girls.” I remember the day I moved into a unit, when one of the older guys in the internal affairs group asked me, “Where are you from?” I told him Seoul, and he told me, “Brace your mouth.” And then he punched me. As far as the university went, they would make sarcastic remarks like, “Since when are the Marines letting in these bookworms?”

H: Do you have any other examples of the subculture?

M: I remember it like it was yesterday, even the date. One of the lance corporals, Kim [name omitted], committed suicide. He tore a towel into two strips and hanged himself from the drying rack. This happened three or four days after he came back from lance corporal leave, and it was handled as a suicide stemming from recruit depression. But among the ranks, there were rumors that he had been brutalized, sexually brutalized, before his leave.

H: What kind of brutality are you talking about?

M: In the Marines, they don’t just hit you. When they try to look after you, they really look after you. The same goes for leave. Once your leave has been decided on, they raise money for you, and they have you go without eating the day before. The idea is that you are supposed to go out and have a lot of delicious meals. We use the term “landing” when Marines take leave.

I don’t know how it is these days, but when a bunch of guys went on leave at the same time, the first place they would stop was the red-light district. But there was a ritual they did the day before, saying it would build up their masculinity. They called it “[expletive deleted]-hitting,” and it involved striking the person’s genitals with a toothbrush in the showers. They bent the brush back as hard as they could and then let it go. The idea was that your masculinity strengthened. In addition to this kind of brutality, there were stories going around that Lance Corporal Kim was also abused at the checkpoint.

H: There was also abuse at the checkpoint?

M: Naturally. I remember one thing that happened at the thermal observation device (TOD) checkpoint. An older soldier tried to get a younger one to perform oral sex on him, and the younger guy refused. The older guy cursed the younger guy and threatened him, and finally the younger guy couldn’t take it any more and started hitting the older guy. He really let the guy have it, and finally the older guy passed out. There was no response, and he got scared and deserted. The alarm went up in the unit, and finally both of them were arrested. The younger guy was charged with mutiny and desertion, the older guy with sexual misconduct and inducement to action. This happened in the 8th Regiment, where the shootings took place.

H: Why have these problems not been fixed?

M: The Marines have a very strong belief that it is the soldiers [rather than commissioned or noncommissioned officers] that keep the corps going. The first of the orders involves doing things for older soldiers [rather than commissioned or noncommissioned officers].

H: What are the orders?

M: It literally means that orders are passed down. When you reach your fifth month, you can issue orders. Another one of these is ostracism. If one of the older lance corporals says, “Hey, you guys under me, disrespect such-and-such corporal since whenever,” and issues an order, everyone has to follow it.

H: Do you have any other experiences to share?

M: Ordinarily, when there is a problem soldier in the unit, they send him out. But that has no meaning in the Marine Corps. It is because of the seniority culture. I transferred to the Marine Corps Command, and on my first evening there I got a beating in the Command office. As I was getting hit, I thought, “I wonder if the Commander who has talked openly about rooting out beatings knows that there is one taking place right now in his office?”


Please direct questions or comments to [englishhani@hani.co.kr]


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