It has been widely reported that the seven members of the globally popular South Korean K-pop group BTS will be performing their mandatory military service. Artists Jungkook, RM (Rap Monster), Jimin, Suga, V, Jin and J-Hope plan to return to the stage in 2025 after each completing between 18 and 21 months of required service for their country.
The highly publicized call to duty raises a question: how would young Canadians feel about compulsory service in this country’s armed forces?
Jin, the oldest member of BTS, was expected to be the first to start his service this month following the release of his first solo track “The Astronaut.”
The announcement was not unexpected for many BTS fans, commonly referred to as the group’s “army”. There has been a lot of debate in South Korea about whether BTS should be given an exemption from military service due to their musical achievements and the group’s huge impact on culture, economy and life. international influence of South Korea.
South Korean men can only delay enlistment until the age of 30. With Jin’s 30th birthday in December and Suga’s in March, conversations about exemptions and mandatory service surrounded the group for much of 2021 and 2022.
For fans, it seemed clear that the group would undergo some kind of change anyway with the release of their anthology album “Proof” in June and their subsequent hiatus to pursue individual projects over the summer months.
As a member of the military, I expected this news at some point. But I was still shocked when I read the recent statement on Twitter confirming the band’s planned military service, and I’m still coming to terms with the fact that I probably won’t get more music or content from the band until my 26th birthday (although it will be a great birthday present!)
The announcement, however, made me think more about my life in Canada without compulsory military service.
I expected this news at some point. But I was still shocked when I read the recent statement on Twitter confirming the band’s planned military service.
Canada has a complicated history with compulsory service. The last time the government imposed conscription was during World War II, when Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King passed the National Resources Mobilization Act of 1941.
The law focused only on authorizing conscription for home defense.
The government later received permission to enlist for service overseas when Canadians held a plebiscite on the issue in 1942. A clear majority of 66% of Canadians voted in favour. But residents of Quebec were adamantly against the idea of compulsory military service, with the majority of that province’s adult population voting against the bill.
Quebecers also opposed conscription during the First World War. When this 1914-18 battle began, Canada had enough volunteer men to serve in the army, so conscription was not immediately necessary. By 1917, however, news of the high war death toll and images of Europe’s grim battlefields had spread across the country.
The Canadian government realized that it had to find a way to increase the number of troops overseas. Prime Minister Robert Borden’s solution was conscription, which became the main issue in the 1917 election.
Liberal leader Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Quebec nationalist Henri Bourassa and the majority of the Quebec population strongly opposed it.
Despite vocal opposition, the Military Service Act was passed in September 1917 and all men between the ages of 20 and 45 could be drafted. Riots occurred in Montreal and Quebec as a result.
Knowing how sensitive the issue of conscription has been in Canada in the past, what might compulsory service look like today? Would that even be possible? Would the young people of this country share the same desire to serve their country that the members of BTS showed in South Korea?
My father has always been an inspiration to me. I grew up admiring his UN Peacekeeper beret, his military portraits and his travel memories in our old photo albums.
My father joined the Canadian Armed Forces when he was 17 years old. He began his basic training at the age of 18 at CFB Cornwallis in Nova Scotia before serving for seven years as an armored crewman and photographic technician.
During his military service, he had the opportunity to travel to Germany, Turkey, Israel, Egypt and Cyprus with the United Nations Forces in Cyprus (UNFCYP). He also served in Gagetown, New Brunswick, as well as in Alberta at bases Wainwright, Suffield, Cold Lake and Calgary.
My father has always been an inspiration to me. I grew up admiring his UN Peacekeeper beret, his military portraits and his travel memories in our old photo albums. Among the photos, faded handwritten notes and dog tags he carried remain untouched for many months at a stretch – until I inevitably pull out a scrapbook during my visits to the house.
My interest in my father’s military career encouraged me to learn more about becoming a military public affairs officer. With my background in communications and journalism, I thought this role could be a way to give back to my country.
The idea of compulsory enlistment, however, has always made me nervous. I think enlisting as a PAO would give me more control over my career, whereas compulsory enlistment could put me in a different role as needed.
Canada’s vast geography compels it to maintain a larger military force. So what could conscription look like if it were ever necessary to apply it again in this country?
The Canadian Armed Forces fulfill both a military role and assist communities across the country in times of need. When a natural disaster strikes, the military is there to provide relief. Canadian reservists and the Disaster Response Team (better known as DART) often help support these efforts.
Perhaps this branch of the military could become mandatory for young people as the impacts of climate change and natural disasters become a bigger part of our daily lives.
There are other mandatory service models around the world. Israel requires men to serve in the army for 36 months and women for 21 months. In Switzerland, every man must serve in the army for at least 260 days.
Austria requires six months in the military or nine to 12 months of community service if an individual cannot pass physical tests or declares himself to be a pacifist.
I think Canada could benefit from the presence of young people to some extent. It may be one or two years of community involvement. Helping to provide clean water to rural and Indigenous communities, helping to plant trees, participating in shoreline cleanups and natural disaster relief are just a few examples of the ways young Canadians could serve their country.
In 1977, Senator Jacques Hébert and Federal Minister of Defense Barney Danson developed Katimavik, a program that promotes the idea of community service as a means of contributing to the development and civic engagement of young people.
In one year, Katimativik mobilized 1,000 participants who worked in more than 40 communities across the country.
The program has now shifted to helping young people make the transition to working life. However, his model of the 1970s and 1980s could be an inspiration for the type of community service work that could be promoted as part of compulsory service in the country.
Not only would this kind of service create more empathy among young Canadians for their neighbours, but it would also be a way for young people across the country to work together for the benefit of their own communities.
Canada is not currently at war. However, there are places and people across the country that could possibly need help from the military. Conscription, whether for military or community service, could be a solution.
If members of one of the most influential groups in the world can serve their country, should Canadians think more about what such service means to them? I think the members of BTS are role models not only for South Korean youth, but for young people around the world.
The members of BTS stand up for young people and the issues they care about through their actions and their song lyrics. Their commitment to serving their country and the messages they incorporate into their music set a standard for being a good role model and good global citizen.
While the members of BTS fulfill their conscription requirements, I will await their eventual return – inspired by their actions to better serve my own community here in Canada.