Popular Netflix series sparks new debate over S Korea’s military conscription

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A hit Netflix series is reigniting a debate in South Korea over the country’s massive military, its history of abuse scandals, and the mandatory conscription that fills its ranks with young men.

“D.P.”, short for Deserter Pursuit, has been among the top Netflix shows in South Korea since it premiered at the end of August.

The series follows military police assigned to capture deserters, shining a light on daily life for many conscripts, including mental and physical abuse from other soldiers.

Director Han Jun-hee said he sought to tell a humanising story about how the system makes deserters both victims and criminals, as well as the toll it takes on those forced to do the hunting.

“‘D.P’ is a story of tracing a deserter, but at the same time, it is a paradoxical story of looking for someone’s unfortunate son, brother, or lover,” Han told Reuters in an email.

Asked about the popularity of the show, a defence ministry spokesman said that the military environment has changed and that the ministry has tried to stamp out abuse and harsh treatment.

Last week the military announced that even before the series came out, it had planned to do away with the system of having rank-and-file soldiers track down AWOL comrades. That change will go into effect in July 2022.

South Korea maintains an active duty military of 550,000, with 2.7 million troops in reserves, amid decades of tensions with North Korea. All men must serve for up to 21 months, depending on the military branch.

South Korea’s military criminal law punishes desertion by up to 10 years in prison.

The Defence Ministry says abuse and desertion among conscripts are down, largely because of a 2019 decision to allow enlisted soldiers to use cellphones in their barracks.