Friday, July 17, 2009

the korean dmz

This is Joie (and a ROK soldier) standing next to the table where the armistice was signed that ended the fighting of the Korean War.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Joie and I had the privilege of visiting the Korean De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) that forms the border of North Korea and South Korea. The tour was organized by the USO in Seoul, you cannot just drive up to this place. The DMZ is a strip of land on either side of a very specific line of demarcation. In the picture above, the line is marked by the concrete slab between the South's gravel and the North's dirt. At the top of the stairs there is a North Korean soldier staring at the tour group with a large pair of binoculars. To his right is an open window with a very big camera lens visible. They probably have a file about me now.

The blue buildings belong to the UN and the grey buildings are for the North Koreans. They are not generally in such close proximity as these two buildings, but in the JSA (Joint Security Area) the soldiers spend time every day staring at the enemy. The JSA at Panmunjom is the only point of remotely diplomatic contact between the two nations. And it is remotely diplomatic. The rest of the border is not to be crossed under any circumstances.

The bridge in this picture is called "The Bridge of No Return" for its role in two major operations in which soldiers were allowed to return North or return South some time after the war.

The above picture shows the North Korean 'propaganda village' built near the demarcation to demonstrate (to envious South Korean eyes) the grandeur and lavish living enjoyed by the communists. In reality, much of the world fears that North Koreans starve to death in droves, suffer in poverty and probably receive little or nothing of the aid that is sent there from the rest of the world. Our guide informed us that the village is generally deserted and some of the buildings are only facades. The south has a similar village that exaggerates the green grass of democracy. A feisty little show of escalating nationalism left each village with an enormous flagpole.

For this picture, I was standing in the conference building looking over the line to South Korea, where a vigilant Republic of Korea (ROK) soldier stands in a half-exposed location. The soldiers in the DMZ (being demilitarized) are only allowed, under the provisions of the armistice, to carry single-shot weapons.

Joie and I appreciated the chance to see this situation, this relic of a recent war. It boggles the mind to witness the tension there and the profound effort that is needed to keep a peace. The line is so arbitrary and artificial, a division that does not want to be there, and so many forces press to renew and resolve, one way or the other, a suspended conflict. As Robert Frost says, "Good fences make good neighbors."

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting. Thanks Nate. Karin