North Koreans mourned late ruler Kim Jong-il for a second day. Hundreds of thousands turned out in Pyongyang’s Kim Il-sung Square on Thursday.
If there were any questions left as to whom now runs the reclusive state, the answer was made clear. Kim Jong-un. The son of Kim Jong-il, who’s in his late 20s, was called the Supreme Leader of the party, people and military.
Kim’s command of the North’s million strong army has some in South Korea concerned. Namely, that country’s own military conscripts.
Service in South Korea’s military starts with a buzz cut.
Lee Kwang-min’s barbershop is right outside an army post in Seoul. Soldiers drop in for their regulation shave. But Lee says, it’s not just a haircut for new conscripts, it’s a rite of passage.
“It’s kind of becoming a man,” he said with a laugh. “New life is coming.”
Soon conscript Kim Min-jun will sit in the barber’s chair. Kim was informed this week that his mandatory military duty will begin in February.
He had hoped against hope that this day would never come.
“When I was very young, I thought when I become 20 years old, which is the age you have to complete the duty of military, I thought our nation would be unified with North Korea. So it doesn’t really matter to me, I thought. That’s what I thought when I was 10 years old.”
That didn’t happen. In fact, relations between the Koreas are arguably worse now than they were a decade ago.
North Korea’s military is twice the size of the South’s. It also has a nuclear weapons program. And the North Korean army is now under the control of Kim Jong-un, who’s only in his late 20s.
Some South Koreans are concerned about the age and inexperience of North Korea’s new leader.
“The problem is that he’s too young,” said Kim Min-jun’s friend, Choi Chanyong. “In the young times, in the young ages, you can be aggressive, take risks, adventures, so what I was worrying about is that he’s young he wants to do something, he wants to show something, so he could accidentally do something”
Do something, Choi says, like launch an attack on South Korean soil. That’s not a far-fetched scenario. Last year, the North bombarded Yeonpyeong Island. Two South Korean marines and two civilians died in the shelling.
And so, Kim accepts the necessity of mandatory conscription, though, he’s not exactly looking forward to serving in the military.
“Very personally, I don’t like it,” he said. “But thinking about the country, yeah there are no options, no other options, yeah, I’ll have to accept it”
Kim says for now, he just wants to enjoy his last two months of freedom before he gets that buzz cut.