The DMZ was interesting. It is a combination of the tourist splendor of the Wisconsin Dells and the sobering reality of the last totalitarian state on the planet. Plus the tour makes sure you have several opportunities to buy some DMZ swag.

The tour we went on was run by the USO, it is supposed to be the best. The DMZ is only 45 minutes north of Seoul, and the drive up is on a highway next to which runs a double barbed wire fence with manned guard posts every 100 meters. These are looking for North Korean midget subs which come up out of the river.

The actual time spent in the heart of the DMZ in what is called the Joint Security Area was the most interesting. The US Army, which mans the free side of the DMZ alongside Korean (ROK) soldiers, actually leads the tour. We had a US staff sergeant who led the tour, he was funny and seemed both personable and smart and gave a good face to the US command in Korea.

He was armed throughout, as were the other soldiers surrounding the tour. You sign a wavier at the start. Overall, it is a well practiced and professional operation during which the sergeant hit all of the appropriate laugh lines guiding us along and we all dutifully snapped pictures throughout. But there is always the remote possibility the North Koreans will decide to do something like kidnap you and have you make films for Kim Jong Il.

It seems ridiculous, but then you read a list of the North Korean incursions into the DMZ and into South Korean territorial waters, and it is striking how many there have been up to the current time.

The major emphasis of the tour is definitely propaganda, although it is worn rather lightly. Like any western propaganda about totalitarian communist states, the core truth is there.

For example, the one incident that is referred to a great deal is the time when North Korean troops axed to death American soldiers trying to trim a tree in the JSA in 1976, bringing the US and ROK forces to Defcon 2 war footing and revealing a truly insane brutality on the part of the North.

One exaample of the US unabashed propaganda would be that the model town maintained by the South Koreans in the DMZ is called, unironically "Freedom Village" while the North Korean town is called "Propaganda Village."

The center of the JSA is the famous view toward the North Korean side. The actual line is in the middle, a low concrete wall. It was cool to see it in person finally. I will also say that is felt pretty silly to be lined up with a bunch of camera toting tourists snapping pictures of it. But I think the coolness of seeing it in person outweighed the tourist reality.

Here is looking directly through the meeting buildings, where the the UN and two Koreas meet, into North Korea. North Korean soldiers observed us the whole time we sat at snapped pictures:

Here are the South Korean guards facing the North. They all wear shades and fierce expressions and hold their fists in what we were told was "a modified tae kwon do stance." They are standing half hidden by the building, they say, to make smaller targets. I think some of this is theatre, but it worked pretty well.

This is the building where the meetings are held at the table in the middle. This is the staff sergeant leading our tour with a ROK guard standing inside.

This is me standing by the door that leads to North Korea behind me. The North Koreans once tried to drag a ROK soldier out of this door when he came in for the tour, so now it is bolted beforehand.

This is a viewpoint of the armistice sight a 1000 meters ahead. This is standing on a high looking into North Korea. This picture is terrible. Visibility was poor and the weather was very cold. As they tell you repeatedly, at this point you are standing at a US observatory surrounded by North Korea on three sides.

This is the military demarcation line that actually separates the countries (it is in the middle of the whole DMZ).

This is a view of the "Bridge of No Return" where they swapped prisoners. The ax murder happened just to the front right of it.

You drive along roads with fences and these little signs that say "mine". The pictures were hard to take because we were moving.

In the afternoon we went through one of the North Korean tunnels dug under the DMZ to funnel troops into Seoul. This was one of four tunnels discovered. North Korea painted the inside black and claimed it was a coal mine! To reach it, you walk down a very steep interception tunnel and then through a section of the tunnel.

(you aren't allowed to take pictures in the tunnel).

This gives you and idea of how many tourists came to the tunnel complex tour. This is big business! They are quite candid. Our tour guide said "we use this tunnel for anti-communist education for the school kids and for foreign tourists."

You can buy all manner of souvenirs, t-shirts, booze made in North Korea, and rice grown in the DMZ. The best thing though has to be the DMZ honey! I saw quite a few beehives as we drove through the countryside in the DMZ.


Robert said…
Bring back any barbwire? My dad did when he was there.

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