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FROM VOLUME 10, NUMBER 2, FALL 2005: To accompany John Frank's article from the Fall 2005 issue of Education About Asia.
Click on photo links below to access any picture.
Early in the day, we leave Seoul, the capital of South Korea, to begin a one-hour bus ride to Panmunjom and the DMZ [Photo 1]. The distance from one of the world’s largest cities to the DMZ is only 40 kilometers (25 miles.) Panmunjom is an area where a Joint Security Area (JSA) has been created. The JSA is a place where North and South Korea meet to discuss military, economic, and political problems between their countries [Photo 2]. It is the only location where the two Koreas meet and has been the site of numerous disputes over the past fifty years [Photo 3]. Over 75,000 people visit here each year. (This area is also referred to as the United Nations Command Security Force—Joint Security Area.) Before the bus departs we are told of the United Nations Command enforced dress code—no jeans, t-shirts, halter-tops, or shorts. We must also read and sign the release form provided by the UN forces [Photo 4]. (Pass out the VISITOR’S DECLARATION form and request that all students sign the document.)
For most of our hour drive to the DMZ we will not be allowed to take photographs from the bus. At certain times it will be announced that photography is allowed [Photo 5]. Anyone violating this policy risks confiscation of his or her camera and exposure or destruction of their film. The highways that we will drive upon are named the Unification Road and the Freedom Road.
We cross a bridge called “Freedom Bridge.” No photos are allowed. In the event of military aggression by North Korea, this bridge will be immediately blown-up. (South Korean citizens are not allowed to go beyond this point.) A US Army soldier boards the bus and will now accompany us during the rest of our visit to this area.
We arrive at the UN Security Forces forward base named Camp Bonifas [Photo 6]. This US and South Korean military base is 400 meters from the DMZ [Photo 1]. (The DMZ is a zone, 2000 meters on either side of the 151-mile long armistice line, in which both sides’ military activities are strictly restricted and regulated.) At this location we will be given a briefing and required to wear an identification badge. We also change busses from one operated by our tour company to a bus owned by the UN Joint Command [Photo 7].
Our bus now enters the Joint Security Area. Today, there are 24 buildings in the 800- meter diameter area, where representatives of the United Nations and North Korea meet to confer about a variety of contentious issues [Photo 8].
The bus stops at a building called “Freedom House” where we will be allowed to take photos. From this observation platform we can see across the line that divides North and South Korea [Photo 9]. We can see a North Korean observation tower, [Photo 10] a North Korean visitors center, [Photo 11] and “Conference Row,” which are the buildings [Photo 9] where UN and North Korean officials meet to administer and enforce the armistice agreement of 1953.
Many famous people have also visited this area [Photo 12].
Here we see US and Korean guards inside a conference building in the Joint Security Area [Photo 13].
These are North Korean guards on their side of the JSA [Photo 14].
This village and the 480-foot tall flagpole on the North Korean side of the armistice line were established for propaganda purposes [Photo 15]. (The flag itself is 90 feet long) No one lives in the village. South Korean farmers are the only actual inhabitants of the DMZ and they tend their crops under constant military protection [Photo 16].
Since 1953 there have been numerous instance of hostility along the DMZ and Joint Security Area [Photo 17]. An example is the 1976 attempt of US forces to remove a tree that was obstructing their view within the Security Area. North Korean guards responded to the tree removal by taking the American’s axes from them and killing two American officers [Photo 18]. Four US enlisted men and four South Korean soldiers were also injured. The fight lasted four minutes. Five days later, heavily reinforced UN units cut down the tree [Photo 19]. Today, this monument marks the former location of the tree that sparked this severe violation of the Korean Armistice Agreement.
The North Koreans have attempted to tunnel under the DMZ on several occasions since their first tunnel was discovered in 1974 [Photo 20]. Four of these tunnels have been discovered as of today [Photo 21]. North Korea has dug these tunnels so that they can send spies and saboteurs into South Korea. Underground, deep inside a second tunnel dug by the North Koreans, we observe the actual line that has divided the Korean nation since the 1953 armistice [Photo 22].
Placing a small part of the Korean peninsula off-limits to intense agricultural and commercial development has had unintended consequences. Inside the DMZ, species of endangered and rare birds, bears, and other animals exist inside an unusual wildlife refuge.
In recent years efforts at Korean reconciliation have taken place at Panmunjom. Red Cross conferences, cultural, and sports exchanges are conducted within the Joint Security Area [Photo 23]. The reunification of Korea and the end of this heavily fortified line of division seems to be the strong desire of most individual Koreans as well as the official policy of both the governments of the North and South.
When we return to Seoul, you are encouraged to visit the War Memorial of Korea. Outside the Memorial’s entrance stands this statue [Photo 24]. The statue’s soldiers represent the divided people of Korea. Prior to 1945, when Korea was divided along the 38th parallel by Soviet and American occupation forces, the Koreans had been a united people. At the conclusion of a tragic three-year war in 1953, Korea remained a divided nation. Many Korean families were separated by the political division of their nation and have not seen members of their families for over fifty years. Koreans visit the boundaries of the DMZ to be as close as possible to separated family members. South Korean students have attempted marches to the DMZ to meet with North Korean students. Today, Korea remains divided by the most militarized border on earth.
After a buffet lunch at the NCO club at Camp Bonifas and a chance to visit a DMZ gift shop, [Photo 1] we begin the one-hour return bus ride to Seoul. I hope you have enjoyed your visit to the United Nations Command Security Force—Joint Security Area.