The Chinese New Year ends next week and Monday everybody goes back to work. I came to Korea explicitly to see the DMZ close up and to walk one of the tunnels the North Koreans dug so that they could move armies into South Korea without being detected. The traffic at the end of the Chinese New Year was unusually dense; it took some time to get to the 38th parallel.
The dividing line between North and South Korea is a heavily fortified, demarcated zone. Both sides built walls, fences, anti-tank installations and mined woods and fields with millions of mines. Signs are everywhere spelling out “Danger Mines” in 2 languages, Korean and English. Even harmless looking roads ‘near’ the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) are
fenced in and signed
profusely with ‘ Mines ‘. Soldiers are guarding every conceivable infiltration
point, loaded weapons at the ready. The situation feels tense and is palpably dangerous.
We needed our passports to enter the DMZ. A Military Police (MP) officer
stepped on to our bus and inspected the passports and checked out every face.
While it is routine for him, he still did not take his responsibility lightly.
He was taking his job seriously and outside the bus were 4 or 5 additional MP’s
with loaded weapons pointed at the bus. It only takes one spark to start a fire;
the area seems to be a powder keg, waiting to go off.
|This Area Is Right Beside the Parking Lot|
The latest news reports from North Korea are not friendly. It is said that the North Koreans hate 3 Nations in particular. They hate the U.S., South Korea and then Japan. We arrived at the DMZ just after the face slashing of a US Diplomat. Not a good sign, is it? The face slasher was a S. Korean but rumor has it that he was a defector from the North. Who knows?
|Demilitarized Zone Is Well Guarded|
We all recall former U.S. President Bush calling North Korea the Axis of Evil. It sure seems this way when standing at the DMZ. The fact that North Korea, in the early 1970’s, dug at least 4 underground tunnels that would have been able to move whole armies into S. Korea shows their militaristic thinking. Those tunnels were only detected after a N. Korean defector, who worked on the tunnels, told S. Korea about them. To find the tunnels on the S. Korean side without digging was not an easy task. It took months to finally confirm that the defector told the truth. S. Korea, even today, still wonders if there are more tunnels than the 4 they discovered. Tunnel #1 was discovered in 1974, #2 in 1975 and tunnel #3 in 1978. Then after some years they found tunnel #4 in 1990. Like I said, nobody knows how many tunnels there are. Maybe some of them have been discovered but the public has never been told about them. Each of the tunnels was built to let 30,000 men pass through each hour. The tunnels are deep in the ground.
We visited tunnel #3 and an electric train took us down 230 feet below ground. The walls are rough hewn into the granite ground. Each visitor has to wear a hard hat to protect their heads. The tunnel we walked through was low. I am 6.3 and had to crouch down to move forward, in some sections so much so that it felt like ‘duck walking’. After maybe 100 yards I stopped walking, turned
around and ‘walked’ back. No use banging my
head on the rough ceiling and getting injured. I got the basic picture, I saw
the tunnel and left the rest to Carol who went on and reports that after about
400 yards one comes to a concrete wall that blocks the tunnel. Signs with “no
pictures” faced Carol and there were short circuit security cameras recording
everything near that blockage. Nothing to do but walk back, reports Carol. I
understand that there are 2 more, similar blockages like this, deeper inside
this tunnel. No picture taking was allowed inside the tunnel. But you know people;
some had their phone cameras clicking in overtime. We left our cameras in
lockers above ground, we are still too honest.
|Military Making Sure All Is Secure|
Tunnel #3 is open to the public and is a tourist attraction today. The tunnel is 54 km from Seoul, Korea’s capital. Interesting is the fact that S. Korea made the location of the tunnels public. I would have built devious traps inside each tunnel knowing I could kill 30,000 enemies each hour. S. Korea is nice to not do that. Or? Maybe they did that with some other tunnels they found and nobody knows about it. What do you think?
Every young man in S. Korea is required to serve in the military for 21 months. Every S. Korean is aware that they live their daily life within range of missiles, artillery and sudden attack by North Korea. I think knowing this adds to inner tension or one gets so used to the danger that it fades into oblivion. The DMZ is 4 km wide. It lies 2 km in the South and 2 km plus in the North. In case a war starts again, the US President automatically becomes the Commander in Chief of the South Korean Army. The DMZ is
|Town In the DMZ, North Side, |
Has Been Evacuated
a line drawn along the 38th parallel and represents a cease fire line, not an actual border. Technically North and South Korea are still at war. Inside the 2 km border on the Southern side is a village named Freedom Village with 500 inhabitants today that live in abandoned US barracks. Land and buildings are too precious to just leave barren. This village harbored North Korean spies in the past that came over as refugees. The S. Koreans take to N. Korean spies with a smile. If S. Korea needs info about N. Korean state secrets they found ways to just ‘buy’ the information in North Korea. People are poor in N. Korea and hungry too. With enough money there are few secrets money cannot buy.
|Frost on the Viewing Platform For the DMZ|
A large amount of the DMZ runs along the Han and Injin rivers. When the rivers are frozen in the winter people could easily walk across were it not for the fencing on both sides. There is no longer a mutual trust among the people. The North Koreans are forbidden to learn English, it is the language of the enemy, they are told.
The only bridge still in existence is the Freedom Bridge. There is only one bridge between the two halves of Korea. We made a stop next to the bridge but of course nobody was crossing it. We also stopped at a lookout point where the border is clearly visible. The North is easy to recognize, there are no trees growing on their side. All the hills are barren. The trees were used up long ago for fuel or food (people ate the leaves) and nobody replants them. For me that alone was a disturbing sign.
How did all this happen? How did this wall spring up, this division of one Nation? Korea has a long, long history. It would take a few books to write the Korean History, so let me just go to the 19th Century and start from there. Korea wrests itself from China’s Qing dynasty after the Sino-Japanese war. China recognizes an independent Korea in 1895. But in 1905 Japan invaded Korea and ruled brutally over Korea until 1945. The 40 years of Imperial Japanese rule made the Koreans hate the Japanese. Japan's rule was without mercy. To speak Korean was forbidden. Korean women were forced to become Comfort Women to supply the Japanese army. Capital punishment was commonplace etc. After Japan lost World War II Korea was given its “independence” with the help of the Americans and the Russians. But Korea was split along the 38th parallel when it became obvious that the Soviets and the Americans did not agree on a form of government. All went well for a few years but the differences in political views became aggravated when China stepped into the picture. China had just become a Communistic country supported by Russia. The new China did not recognize the agreement that was signed by the Qing Dynasty creating an independent country.
Kim Il Sung, a puppet of Russia, a Communist and North Korean Prime Minister, received help from Russia to fight the occupying Japanese during World War II. After the U.S. dropped the Bombs on Japan and ended the war with Japan, Kim Il Sung saw his chance to make all of Korea another communistic county. He now turned to China and asked for support to kick the remaining US
soldiers out of South Korea. The U.S., not wanting
another war, agreed to a compromise and to separate Korea into a communistic
part and democratic part. But in 1950 North Korea declared war on South Korea
and invaded. The North pushed the South almost off the peninsula. Just a small
area around the most Southern part of Korea, around Busan, remained free. In
1953 South Korea asked the U.S. For help and MacArthur landed in Inchon and
pushed the Northern Armies back to the Chinese border. Diplomats agreed to a
cease fire and a separation of politics around the 38th parallel,
and the rest you know.
|A Monument Proposing Reunification|
Kim Il Sung ruled over North Korea. The total death toll for this Korean war?
· 33,000 American Soldiers killed,
· 1.3 million North Koreans died,
· Civilians and South Koreans 1.2 million,
· Chinese 500 thousand.
Oh, did I forget to tell you that the U.S. had to fight the Chinese, too. And fight some Russians? It was a rotten war, betrayal and lies on all Asian sides.
After Kim Il Sung died the power went to his son Kim Jong Il. After Kim Jong Il passed away in 2011 the power over North Korea now lies with Jong Il’s son, Kim Jong-un, a 27 year old brutal leader, who advises foreigners and tourists to leave South Korea because their lives are in danger. Nice guy, right? He also had his uncle and others killed because they doubted his ability to lead. Like I said, nice guy! This 27 year old kid is now in charge of all North Korea, he is the Dictator. He seems to know everything; his word is law in North Korea.
You will find a lot of Kim names in Korea. Kim is the last name for 20% of the population in Korea. Another last name is Lee, about 10% of the population. The reason is that in old Korea most people had just one name, Jong Il for example. But when dealing with other nations one name was not enough so the people added their King’s name, to show their allegiance. About 1000 years ago the King’s name was Kim, so everybody from that time was a person from the Kim regime. If you were a true descendant of the Royal house of Kim, you had your name entered in to a Royal Book. Today the Kim’s are mostly the descendants of the name alone. Very few are true bloods and very few Kim’s can trace their heritage to royalty. The same story relates to the Lee or other names. The house of Lee was around 100 years ago, so very much more recent. Kim is a very old and honored name in Korea.
|Shopping Street in Seoul|
After the visit to the DMZ we had a Korean lunch back in Seoul. Bulgogi (marinated beef) served on a grill right on the table. Kimchi (fermented, spicy vegetables), Radish Salad (mild, white radish salad), vegetable laced pancakes, more assorted veggies and of course rice. One person did not eat meat; she was served Bibimbap (rice with lots of veggies).
All in all, the entire visit to the DMZ was a sad trip. To just split a country in half just because there are different points of view in politics is sad. I found this even
stupid. Both sides in
Korea speak the same language. Both sides have the same roots, even the same
last name. After 60 years plus, the results speak for themselves when one looks
at which political view was (is) the better one. South Korea is an economic power-house with
an abundance of food and healthy, happy people. North Korea is a hermit nation where people
the wrong info and don't even have the most basic needs filled. There
are foods shortages, people must do as told or else. There is no freedom of
speech. Ruled today by the spoiled, insane, young Dictator, Kim Jong-Un, who
might even, one day, push a button to prove himself (in his mind alone) equal
to the rest of the world. Communism in theory sounds good, but it turned into
a disaster when applied to real people.
think the DMZ will be there awhile. I cannot see a reunification like Germany
had. The differences and the brainwashing of the northern people are severe. The
DMZ keeps the northern ideology contained. Maybe that is a good thing.
|Korean Dolls in Traditional Clothing|
|Enjoying Street Food|
|Happy People in South Korea|