The camo-clad American soldier stood up from his seat at the front of the bus and faced us. He waited until he had everyone’s attention and then, his voice conveying no emotion, informed us that the sparse forest on either side of the dirt road we were driving down was devoid of any signs of human activity because it was full of landmines. Then, pointing out the front windshield, he explained that the giant, thick concrete arch we were about to drive under was an anti-tank obstacle lined with dynamite. Observing the growing concern on our faces, he smiled, tipped his military issued hat and said “Welcome to the DMZ folks."
Once called the “scariest place on earth” by Bill Clinton, the DMZ is the most militarized border in the world and the lasting result of the Korean war. The war began on June 25, 1950 and continued until a ceasefire was negotiated, splitting the country in half in 1953. What most people don't realize is that there has NEVER been an official end to the war. The fragile ceasefire still holds, but technically, North and South Korea are STILL AT WAR.
The blue buildings in the photo above are United Nations buildings that straddle the border (where the black gravel in the photo ends, North Korea begins), and are where dignitaries from either side meet to discuss issues like nuclear weapons and possible unification. When these official meetings are held, soldiers from both sides line up along the grey concrete border eye-to-eye, close enough to poke each other in the stomach if they wanted to. Having heard first-hand accounts of how family and friends were unwillingly separated when the country was split in two, I often wonder if soldiers lining up at these meetings ever find themselves face to face with a long lost cousin, brother or childhood friend.
The DMZ can be visited, by guided tour only, at times when the threat risk is low.
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