May Peace Prevail in Korea

June 30, 2005

Yesterday we traveled out to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that divides the capitalist/democratic South from the communist North in Korea. Sitting in a lookout tower/tourist trap, we gazed out upon a land of… fog. Truly, we could not see a foot beyond the windows at first. A few minutes later the fog began to lift and we took in the sight of a beautiful, unspoilt-looking broad valley that encompasses the line of demarcation. Thanks to M-16s and land mines, the region has largely returned to its pre-war state in a swatch 2km wide on either side of the border.

This land, where undeveloped or used solely for agriculture, is breathtakingly beautiful. Built up over the five decades since the Korean War, the city is far from it – thus far I have seen only a handful of structures from before the War, and those built since represent the blandest of modern architecture (for UT-alumni: most buildings make Jester look good). Which is of course not altogether surprising, especially given the 30 years or so of Japanese occupation before the War.

While the hostilities in the DMZ are real, the surrounding tourism is not. Our bus was boarded by an armed soldier to check passports; we passed through at least 3 checkpoints; we were not allowed to take pictures from the observation post because they could theoretically be used by Northern intelligence; we passed by signs warning of a mined hillside only meters away, and so forth. Yet even at the observation tower one could buy souvenirs, and at Paju City, site of a well-secured footbridge for prisoner exchanges, we found multiple souvenir vendors, restaurants, and an amusement park of carnival rides.

Limited edition DMZ barb wire souvenirs

The young people here, to the limited extent I can tell, do not seem so concerned with unification. They have never known family or friend from the North, and are just concerned with their own (and family etc.) well being. But the adults desperately want peace and security. Baha’u’llah tells us that "the well-being of mankind, its peace and security are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established." What can we do to promote unity? We must promote dialogue.

To that very end, the URI Global Council will tomorrow release a peace proclamation, among other things encouraging "the North-South Summit, the Six-Party Talks and other efforts to promote peace in Korea, East Asia and the world." Of course this in itself will do no direct good except to placate our souls and mind – but hopefully it will also bring a bit of local and/or international publicity, helping to increase knowledge about this terrible situation and thereby increase pressure on various governments to enter into talks in a conciliatory, non-violent approach.

More than likely this will be my last post from Korea, though perhaps not the last about Korea. Tomorrow afternoon we conclude the gathering and head to a hotel in Seoul, where I may not be able to get Internet access during my stay through Sunday morning.

Me and Mussie Hailu (Ethiopia) at the Freedom Bridge between North and South, built for a prisoner exchange after the War.

1 Comment

Stephen - thanks for sharing your experiences from Korea. I have been an attentive ready.