Mandatory military service has been an inescapable fact of life for young men in South Korea from the time of the Korean War. It continues to this day, despite the country’s neoliberal transformation that began following the Asian financial crisis of 1997 and the extension of the neoliberal values of market competition, individual freedom, and meritocracy into all facets of contemporary South Korean life; and despite the contradiction between an ideology of freedom and rational choices and an institution that obligates men to serve in the military or face imprisonment. Based on interviews with forty-five South Korean college students who had recently completed their military service, this study examines how the neoliberal ethos instilled in Korean millennials as they grew up in the twenty-first century guides their decisions and strategies regarding military service.

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