Seung-kyung Kim presented this year's Samuel C. Chu Memorial Lecture for the History Department at Ohio State University. Her lecture was titled: "South Korean Millennials’ Military Service and Neoliberal Calculations."
Mandatory military service has been an inescapable fact of life for young men in South Korea from the time of the Korean War until the present. It continues to this day, despite the country’s neoliberal transformation that began following the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997 and the extension of the neoliberal values of market competition, individual freedom, and meritocracy into all facets of contemporary South Korean life; and despite the contradiction between an ideology of freedom and rational choices, and an institution that obligates men to serve in the military or face imprisonment. Based on interviews with 45 South Korean college students who had recently completed their military service, this study examines how the neoliberal ethos instilled in Korean millennials as they grew up in 21st century guides their decisions and strategies regarding military service.