Previous court rulings in Yoo’s case have said his return would “demoralise” troops and induce teenagers to evade conscription.
Decades after the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, for many young Korean men military service is an unwanted and deeply resented intrusion that interferes with their studies and career.
Refusing to serve is a crime in the country, which is still technically at war with the North. It can lead to imprisonment and stigma that can affect social standing and employment prospects.
But some South Koreans have taken extreme measures to avoid conscription, including a dozen music students who were caught last year deliberately putting on weight before their medical exam, hoping to be declared too heavy for service.
Others have undergone unnecessary surgery, including extracting their own teeth.
And like Yoo, some – including adult children of powerful lawmakers – have taken foreign citizenships.
John Lie, a sociology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said Yoo’s status as a “half outsider” — formerly a South Korean fluent in English and now a Korean-American — partly underlay South Koreans’ long-running resentment of him.
“Many South Koreans hold ambivalent feelings about Americans, as at once admirable — help during the Korean War, rich, advanced, etc — and arrogant,” he said.
“Some of the sentiments are in turn hurled at Korean Americans… (with) the sense that diasporic Koreans are ‘imperfectly Korean’.”