A Day in the DMZ
The day before we left Seoul, we joined the USO tour to the DMZ, the roughly 4km wide border that bisects the Korean peninsula. It was a sobering day to see a people torn apart by an artificial and impassable border. The split has persisted long enough that the present generation wonders how unification could ever happen.
After the one hour bus ride north from Seoul, visitors arrive at Camp Bonifas and listen to a briefing about the history of the JSA (Joint Security Area) as well as details about the tour. Look closely at the first and last sentences of the opening paragraph in the waiver; the Korean War has never officially ended and the language of the waiver reflects past episodes of aggression in the JSA. Camp Bonifas is named after one of two US soldiers who lost their lives in the 1976 Axe Murder incident.
The briefing is held in a building intended for divided families on both sides of the border to meet, but the North has never participated. Groups are then driven by a different bus into the JSA, where we could see across the meeting houses into North Korea. We were permitted to enter the blue South Korean meeting house where two soldiers stand guard (it used to be one, but the North Koreans once tried to drag a ROK soldier through their door). On the return trip, the soldiers point out the Bridge of No Return where POWs were given a choice to cross, but never return.
After leaving the JSA, the USO tour continues to a high viewing platform where we could see into North Korea including their dilapidated and possibly abandoned border town. The large flagpole in the picture was actually the second one North Korea erected in the town of Kijong-dong; the first was replaced when South Korea put one up in their border town that was taller.
Two final stops comment on the strained relationship between North and South Korea. The Third Tunnel is one of four incursion tunnels found by the South, intended to shuttle invasion forces under the DMZ quickly and undetected. Of course, North Korea claims the South built the tunnel and expresses outrage that South Korea profits from the tunnel as a tourist attraction. Our last stop brought us to Dorasan Station, a train station that connects Seoul to Pyongyang. Completed in 2007 for the hope of strengthening trade and goodwill, the tracks have been left undisturbed since 2008. The station sits lonely, quiet, and purposeless.