Military Service and Folk Music

Informant Information

The informant is my uncle: He often told stories to my brother, my cousins and myself during holiday gatherings, and I heard it mentioned before that he served in the Korean marines. Curious, I decided to ask him about it, and he told me about things he found most memorable: the constant risk of injury (“if the bamboo [spear] splits into the visor, the wearer is probably already blind”), occasional beatings issued by superiors and how he was “counting his days”. He told me that by the time he was almost done with his service, he found himself remembering a song his superiors sang when they were almost done with their services; the song is shown below in the original Korean, revised Romanization version as well as the translated version:


나 태어나 이 강산에 의경이 되어
꽃 피고 눈 내리기 어언 이십육개월
무엇을 배웠느냐 무엇을 하였느냐
데모막다 돌맞아서 병가가면 그만이지
아, 다시 못 올 흘러간 내 청춘
방석복에 실려간 좆같은 군대생활

Phonetic (romanized using Revised Romanization)

Na tae-eo-na i gang-san-e ui-gyeong-i doe-eo
Kkot pi-go nun nae-ri-gi eo-eon i-sib-ryuk-gae-wol
Mu-eos-eul bae-won-neu-nya mu-eos-eul ha-yeon-neu-nya
De-mo-mak-da dol-ma-ja-seo byeong-ga-ga-myeon geu-man-i-ji
A, da-si mot ol heul-leo-gan nae cheong-chun
Bang-seok-bo-ge sil-lyeo-gan jot-ga-teun gun-dae-saeng-hwal


I was born and became a conscripted policeman in this land
Flowers blossomed and snow has fallen for twenty-six months already
Regardless of what I learned or did
I’ll get hit by a rock in a riot and be on sick leave
Oh, my springtime of youth has already flown
This fucking military life, stretchered away in protective gear


Once reaching adulthood, a South Korean man has to serve in the Korean military unless dealing with debilitating conditions – it is very much considered a rite of passage. In the military, the man may deal with instances of hazing on top of the military training, while the thought that his life is being wasted (especially as certain privileged people and women can spend time to have fun or better themselves instead with no drawbacks) is very much an existential crisis on its own. The Korean military police is particularly notorious for their hazing practices and perpetual danger in duty as it is often tasked with stopping violent, politically extremist riots. In such an environment started the singing of songs – defeatist songs lamenting their wasting of time and their lives.

The lyrical structure and the instrumental of the song itself was taken from the Korean song “An Old Soldier’s Song” written by Kim Min-gi and performed by Yang Hee-eun. Therefore, the example provided above is a variant of this song, but the narrator has changed from an old professional soldier who sacrificed his youth for future happiness to a nihilistic youth who laments the wasting away of his ‘best days’. As a musical piece performed by a member of a folk group (with military service being the common interest), the subject highlights the flexibility of folklore in that folklore can be repurposed to suit new folk groups and practices.

A link for the original song is shown below: