A woman whose brother died fighting in the 1950-53 Korean War has been told by the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs she will get just W5,000 (US$1=W1,142) in government compensation. The woman, identified only by her surname Kim, found out only a few years ago that her older brother had died in the war and applied for compensation three years ago. The paltry compensation became known after a panel of judges at the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission ruled that the payment was unjust and told the ministry to reconsider.
Since last year, the ministry has been searching for surviving family members of the 18,600 soldiers who were killed in the Korean War but had no known family or friends and paid W5,000 to each family whose relationship to the dead had been confirmed. The amount was 50,000 hwan under a military regulation that was abolished in 1974. The hwan was the official currency of Korea from 1953 to 1962. The amount was derived by applying the 10:1 exchange rate of the 1962 currency reform.
Under current regulations, the surviving family of a soldier killed on active duty are eligible for compensation if they apply for payment within five years of his death. But a court has ruled that this deadline does not take effect until the surviving family members find out about a soldier's death, which has led to an increase in the number of family members applying for compensation much later.
Yet there are no government guidelines for the amount and range of compensation. The Defense Ministry and Ministry of patriots and Veterans Affairs are trying to avoid the responsibility, hence the minuscule amount. And the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs has ended up giving them the amount that has been calculated solely based on the monetary amount of decades ago, without taking account of inflation and other factors. As a result, the lives that were sacrificed in defense of their country 60 years ago are worth less than a bowl of soup.
Moreover, Patriots and Veterans Affairs Minister Park Seung-choon apparently only learned about the paltry compensation when a lawmaker questioned him about it during a National Assembly audit.
The Korean government and public were enraged in 2009 when the Japanese government gave just 99 yen (W1,300) to former comfort women who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II as severance pay for withdrawing from welfare annuities. The Japanese government claimed it was merely following regulations that stipulate payments according to currency values during World War II. Now the Korean government is using the same shameless method for its own war dead.
After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the U.S. government boosted the compensation it awards soldiers killed on active duty and now gives US$100,000 in condolence money plus $400,000 in life insurance payments. The Australian government gives around W2.6 million a month to Korean immigrants who served in the Vietnam War by considering them allied soldiers. That is the same amount Australian veterans get.
Yet Korea is trampling on the dignity of the surviving family members of fallen soldiers by giving them a mere W5,000. Korea may have become a wealthier country since the Korean War, but it still has a long way to go before it becomes a fair nation. As long as such things continue to happen, people are unlikely to develop any enthusiasm to defend freedom and democracy in tough times.
Korea will become a fair nation only if it properly honors those who sacrificed their lives for it and makes sure that those who fail to fulfill their military duty are shamed before society.