BTS singer set for military training – but South Korea is far from alone in retaining national service

Late last year, the first member of the most successful and famous boy band on the planet – BTS – began military service.

Singer and songwriter, Kim Seok-jin (popularly known as Jin), 30, began five weeks of compulsory military training in South Korea by posting a selfie of his new “buzz cut” hairstyle.

There had been speculation this call-up was on the horizon and that upcoming military service for several members of BTS was the real reason for the band’s break-up which had been announced during the summer.

Jin’s service has sparked a debate in South Korea about exemptions for its stars, echoing similar discussions when Tottenham Hotspur footballer and national captain Son Heung-min was called up in 2020. Son was excused the full 21 months of service and only served three weeks thanks to having led his team to victory in the 2018 Asian games. Jin, by contrast, is still required to complete an 18-month posting.

Military service – sometimes called national service or conscription – is compulsory for all able-bodied men in South Korea and young Korean migrants living and working in other countries – such as Son, for example.

‘Moral fibre’

More than 70 countries worldwide have military training of some sort for their young adult citizens. These include other countries in Asia such as China and Singapore, but also European countries, including Austria, Finland, Norway and Greece. Only Israel and North Korea have mandatory conscription for women as well as men.

Geographical research shows that mapping national service matters. It can reveal a lot about an individual nation’s hopes and fears. For example, Taiwan very recently extended its compulsory military service from four months to one year, likely due to growing geopolitical tensions with China.

In the UK, national service ran from the second world war until the early 1960s. Since then, there have been regular calls from famous figures, commentators and politicians to “bring it back”, including from Prince Harry. These nostalgic requests often happen during times of national crisis or in response to a youth crime event or perceived youth apathy. These calls therefore reveal wider anxieties about young people’s character, duty, discipline and “moral fibre”.


For the full article by Dr Sarah Mills and Sophie Milnes visit the Conversation.

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 23/07

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2022 QS World University Rankings – the sixth year running – and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2023, 10th in the Guardian University League Table 2023 and 11th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2023.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’, and in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 over 90% of its research was rated as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally-excellent’.

In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.