How Do You Solve a Problem Like Yoo Seung Jun?
How do you solve a problem like Yoo Seung Jun (now mostly known by the name Steve Yoo)? That question came to mind after reading about the former Korean American idol and his infamous controversy. To figure it out, I tried to put myself in his shoes. How would I react if my country of birth, the same of which I had returned to as a young adult to forge a successful career, had banished me? How would I feel if I had to live over a decade knowing that I had become strongly disliked by what felt like an entire nation due to something I considered to be a simple mistake?
Each year, thousands of young men sign up to complete their mandatory military service. Idols, farmers, students, each and every last one of them together are completing a life changing regiment, which is not only physically and mentally draining but is also something of high importance in Korea. After all, South Korea is still a country at risk of war with what should be its closest ally, North Korea. If push comes to shove, it is essential that they have people who are trained to protect them. So if we take the following into account all Yoo had to do was spend two years completing his mandatory military service (likely in a better position than most due to his celebrity status) and then continue on with his career. Yes, if the worst came about, it was likely he would have been called upon, but so would many other young men with the same risks.
However, he opted not to do this. Following a successful career in which he sold over 5 million albums the then idol singer chose to move to the United States in 2002, seeking to ‘further his career’ and take the time to say goodbye to his parents and family before his enlistment. Or so he claims. Perhaps fans and critics alike may have been more convinced by these claims had they not come around the time he was drafted for military service. You see, by doing this and then denying being aware that he had done so, Yoo was committing the very serious crime of military evasion. Now military evasion is a serious offence to the Korean population as a whole. All Korean men are required to serve in the military with only a few exceptions. Some of these exceptions would be; being diagnosed with a mental illness, acquisition of citizenship in another country or a postponement of military service obtained before the person in question reaches the age of 18. While it’s often an extremely sensitive topic, many view it as a sacred duty and show of the person completing it entering manhood. To not partake in this rite of passage is like turning your back towards a key part of the Korean culture and what it is built upon.
But that is not the only wrong that Yoo has committed since his military evasion. For the past 13 years he has failed to disclose any information behind why he evaded his service or even attempted to make an apology. Until last month (May 12th, 2015) when Yoo left the following statement on his Weibo account:
“Hello everyone. This is Yoo Seung Jun. Do you guys remember me? It has already been 13 years since I left South Korea. Now, I dare to try to stand again in front of you all. I am nervous, but I will be truthful and honest in front of you all cautiously. I will tell the truth and the truth only.”
“Because it is so late and that it took so long for me to this, I am sincerely sorry. I will meet you all on May 19th 10:30 PM. Yoo Seung Jun.”
On May 19th in his first tearful interview with direction Shin Hyeon Won, Yoo claimed that it had been his parents that had insisted that he applied for US citizenship. His parents (who at the time were both residing in the US) apparently had consulted with him and Yoo explained that it was their persuasion to gain citizenship elsewhere that had been the most influential to him. He also shared that his father had felt that him deciding to enlist might actually be a more selfish thing to do than deciding to defect.
This odd reasoning, however has not passed by many, including the Gyeonggi Province mayor Lee Jae Myung. In a post published online Myung declared the entire apology little more than a publicity stunt stating “How can we change or violate the law for 50 million Koreans for one foreigner? I know it is impossible, but is again showing contempt for Koreans who are easily moved by tears.” Some commenters online declared that this was a little harsh, after all Yoo himself (as mentioned above) was born in Korea. But it is correct; Yoo himself gave up his Korean citizenship to gain a US one, therefore by Korean standards he is viewed as a foreigner.
However, Yoo does not seem to understand why this situation has transpired in the way that it has. Not even a fortnight after his first interview on the matter, he had for so long brushed aside, Yoo declared again that he was sorry for the things he had done wrong. Yes, once again, Mr Yoo begged forgiveness from the Korean Government, the justice department and the Military Manpower Administration in order to seek re-entry to Korea. He mentioned that he was now a father of two and was attempting to resolve the issue for the sake of his children, but failed to mention that he has spent the past decade doing absolutely nothing to put himself across in a better light to the country he offended so highly.
After all, let us not forget that the former idol is now a successful actor in China and has been for many years. Whilst he was marking out this career, where were his apologies? Let’s also not forget that this past December Yoo just so happened to pass the age for enlistment in the Korean army. It seems that this change of heart with regards to his actions has come at the perfect time… but only for him. As unfortunate as the situation is people have to remember, even when we are feeling tugged at the heartstrings, that Yoo himself made the decision to leave Korea and renounce his Korean citizenship.
What we should do, and what so many Koreans appear to have rightly done, is put aside any feelings of sympathy we have for a plight that Yoo brought on himself. If we put these aside and look right at the facts, we see exactly why this particular case of conscription evasion still affects so many people all these years later. Together, these facts only strengthen the reasons why Yoo should be made to live with the decision he made all those years ago. No matter how sorry he claims to now be. If Korea allows one man’s actions to be dismissed, will it not have to do it for everyone else? What would be the fairness in that?