Marine Corporal Kim Min-cheon ran amok on Tuesday, firing at fellow soldiers in his unit on Ganghwa Island near the western sea border with North Korea and killing four and injuring one. It was the largest toll in such an incident since June 2005, when an Army private based along the border killed eight fellow soldiers in his unit and injured two in a rampage involving guns and a hand grenade. The pain of the parents of the slain marines is impossible to imagine.
Based on Cpl. Kim's behavior and his diary, it appears that the main reason for the tragedy was his inability to adjust to life in the Marines, which place huge importance on rank and discipline. "Many have tried to correct my rebellious behavior but have failed," Kim wrote in his diary. "I think my personality remains the same even in the military." When questioned by investigators at the hospital where he is being treated, Kim said, "It is too painful. Beatings, bullying and ostracism must stop."
The ostracism Kim mentions refers to a culture of ignoring someone regardless of rank if he is either incapable of accomplishing his mission or has a tough time adjusting to life in the military. Such bullying is apparently common in the Marines. It would have been tough, especially for a young man, to undergo such pressure.
What is even more troubling is that up to 20,000 out of 500,000 soldiers in the military are apparently considered at risk due to problems adjusting to military life or issues with their family. Soldiers who are given live ammunition need to be supervised closely, but except for a rudimentary psychological aptitude test in boot camp, little is being done.
In the U.S. Marines, which are known for their tough training and strict discipline, experts hold annual meetings to come up with scientific ways of dealing with stress.
In March this year, the National Human Rights Commission announced a list of abuses in the Marines, such as beatings or harsh disciplinary measures meted out to soldiers who fail to accomplish their orders, and even instances of force-feeding. The Marines should immediately seek the help of experts to conduct a thorough investigation and reform practices so they fall in line with the requirements of a changing society.