Hostile thank-you letter draws criticism, question on soldier letter campaign


SEOUL, 14 Jan. (Yonhap) — An unfriendly letter a high school student wrote to a compulsory military soldier surprised many this week, not only because of the sarcastic tone of the letter but also because the practice of asking students to send letters of thanks to the troops still exists.

In a country facing a belligerent North Korea across the world’s most heavily fortified border, writing letters to soldiers was once a staple for students in South Korea, especially elementary school students, when Cold War tensions were high until the late 1980s.

Few thought such a letter-writing campaign still existed, until the disclosure this week of the letter a student at an all-girls high school in western Seoul wrote to an unnamed soldier, apparently out of frustration, she had to write a letter as part of a school requirement.

“Is it difficult to do your military service? Even if so, work hard. There will be many difficulties in your future. Don’t you think that you can only call yourself a real man if you overcome a test like this? the student wrote in the letter dated December 30.

“I’m also struggling as a future high school third-year student, but I’m partaking in this damn task,” she wrote, referring to the letter-writing campaign. “It’s cold there, but if it snows, work hard to clean it up.”

Far from the usual thank-you notes to soldiers, the letter drew criticism that it mocked and taunted innocent soldiers in compulsory military service, in which all able-bodied men in South Korea are required to perform for about two years. .

The student and some of his classmates have been cyberbullied, with angry people posting malicious and sexually derogatory comments online against them and others even trying to reveal the schoolgirls’ identities.

Students reportedly said they were practically forced to write the letters. But the school said the letters were written by those who wished, and the event was meant to raise awareness of the importance of national security and to thank soldiers.

The case has prompted calls to halt such letter-writing campaigns.

On Wednesday, a petition calling for the abolition of such events in girls’ high schools was posted on the website of the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae, garnering support from more than 120,000 people as of noon Friday.

The petitioner said it is inappropriate for schoolgirls to write letters of comfort for soldiers who are mostly adult men and can be dangerous for writers if their personal information is exposed.

A similar petition was also posted on the Seoul Metropolitan Bureau of Education website, receiving support from more than 20,000 people.

“We know that writing such letters rarely takes place in public schools these days as there have been criticisms of why young girls should send letters of comfort to older soldiers, as well as their coercive and undemocratic in nature,” an education office official said. .

But it is difficult to verify whether schools, especially private schools, organize such letter-sending campaigns, the official added.

The recent event shows that there is still a feeling that “obedient and kind girls” should write friendly letters to boost the morale of soldiers who work hard for the country, says WeTee, a civic group of teenage girls advocating for the improvement of women’s rights. A declaration.

The practice of writing letters was more prevalent in girls’ high schools and has led to instances of sexual harassment in the past, WeTee said.

Some online commentators, however, said the problematic letter was disrespectful to soldiers protecting the country and that students should be better educated to show them respect.

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