Demilitarized Zone, Korea -- The 38th Parallel runs through
the center of Korea.
Elsewhere in the world, it is an imaginary line that shows only
on maps. But in Korea it is a concrete-and-barbed-wire barrier
that divides a nation and threatens the peace of the country and
So it was fitting that in October, the International Conference
for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea should participate in a
study tour of the demilitarized Zone or DMZ--the restricted zone
that follows along the 38th Parallel.
Our international delegation was joined by about 150
participants. Young students and older workers took part.
Some were veterans of the reunification movement; some had seen
an ad in the newspaper and were taking part in such an activity
for the first time.
As might be expected, an uninvited escort of plainclothes police
"joined" the tour.
The journey started in a festive mood, with participants singing
reunification songs and sharing songs of people's movements of
the international delegates' countries.
But the mood became more solemn as the buses made their way past
the military posts, checkpoints and armed troops that dotted the
approach. Before we entered the zone itself, military police
searched the buses. We were warned that video cameras are not
Inside the DMZ, amid the farm fields, we saw remains of houses
and buildings destroyed in the 1950-53 war. What had been a busy
railroad station is now an empty field with a short piece of
track showing through the weeds.
OFFICE OF THE WORKERS' PARTY
A large structure that had been the office of the local Workers'
Party stands in ruins. This is the party that had been trying to
organize a popular government before the war started.
Looking at the shell holes from the war, we could imagine the
suffering and death that had taken place there.
We had lunch on the grounds of a war museum maintained by the
government, and sat in on the propaganda film being shown to
hundreds of small children from a scout tour. From the viewing
tower we could make out part of the concrete walls that divide
north and south.
The museum featured a few airplanes with marking from the
Republic of (south) Korea. There was no evidence of the
U.S./United Nations planes that had dropped most of the thousands
of tons of bombs during the war.
In the DMZ I couldn't stop thinking of a trip I had made five
years ago to the same province--but approaching the zone from the
north instead of the south. The farmland and scenery seemed just
the same. The narrow winding road was the same.
The faces of the farmers and workers we passed also seemed the
same. What I saw, north and south, made it clear to me that Korea
is one country--one nation.
INTERNATIONAL PEACE MARCH
Five years ago, I was part of the International Peace March for
Reunification. Starting from historic Mount Baekdu near the
Chinese border we had proceeded south with the aim of reaching
the southernmost mountains. This was to symbolize the struggle
But we were stopped at Panmunjon, in this same province at this
same 38th Parallel. U.S. troops stopped us. They were part of the
38,000-strong occupation force that has kept Korea divided for
almost 50 years.
When two Koreans from the south--Im Soo Kyung and the Rev. Mun
Kyu Hyun--did cross the line they were seized, arrested by the
southern authorities and held in prison for three-and-a-half
years for the "crime" of wanting Korea united.
Before heading back to Seoul, the study tour gathered at a
Buddhist temple--one of the few structures in the area that
survived the war. Exchanging our impressions of the trip, we
heard from one participant who was born in that province before
the war--just north of the line.
He said that after division he lived in Seoul and this was his
first time back to the area. Because of the National Security Law
he cannot visit the north and carry out his father's deathbed
wish to be buried in the family's burial grounds.
He still carries his father's ashes--waiting for reunification so
he can fulfill his father's request.
He pledged and asked us all to pledge to continue struggling for
the peaceful reunification of the nation.
For those of us from the United States, this pledge took on a
special meaning. We know that the U.S. military occupation and
economic domination of south Korea are the main reasons Korea