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Posts Tagged ‘DMZ Tour’

The UN-blue quonset huts straddle the Military Indication Line.  They serve as the meeting place of dignitaries and organizations from both sides. (photo by Geoff Martin)

These UN-blue quonset huts straddle the demarcation line between North and South Korea (notice the raised cement bed running between the two buildings). They serve as the meeting place of dignitaries and organizations from both sides. (photo by Geoff Martin)

There is something ethically unsettling about buying into a half day tour of a military standoff.  At what point in the progression of battle does one side decide that there is money to be made parading tourists along the line of contention? And at what point does that tour become the “must see” destination of a country, like Disney World for Orlando, Florida or The Farmer’s Market for St. Jacobs, Ontario?

A short section of rusted, barbed wire on sale at the Camp Boniface gift shop for 15,000 won ($13 CDN)

A short section of rusted, barbed wire on sale at the gift shop for 15,000 won ($13)

The answer is relatively simple: you marshal camera-wielding foreigners through the war front after nearly sixty years of a military and diplomatic impasse.  In the Korean conflict, no one is going anywhere, so why not display the theatrics of war to the curious?  As for it being a “must-see”, it is only a matter of time and consistently safe trips before millions of visitors have stood at the line and gaped across at the binocular eyes of North Korean soldiers.

In South Korea it is now something of a rite of passage to go to the DMZ.  Yet, I had never really heard rave reviews (of the level enjoyed after Billy Joel played Seoul).  The experience was largely chalked up as “interesting,” and nothing more.  This, combined with my unease over being something of a war tourist made me hesitant to buy in; yet my brother and his wife were visiting for three weeks and wanted to see the full range of the country.  Since everyone else we knew had done the tour, I thought we may as well do it too.

And so we did.  Last weekend, we took the 45 min. drive north from Seoul and visited the DMZ.  My opinion, I can gladly say, has changed.  The experience was well worth the cost:  walking “across the line” inside a UN-monitored negotiating room; peering out at ‘Communist North Korea’ (as referred to by our soldier-guides) from an observation deck; slouching low through a long tunnel dug by North Korean soldiers for the  purpose of infiltration and surprise attack.  All proved to be immensely informative.

An elite South Korean soldier stands on The Line at one end of the negotiating table.  Vistors are allowed to "cross the line" for a few moments from the other end of the table.

An elite South Korean soldier stands on the Military Demarcation Line at one end of the negotiating table. (photo by Geoff Martin)

I may now be “yet another war tourist,” but I can visualize the conflict a little better because of it.  I have a semblance of the chronology of the war and the subsequent standoff.  In sum, I have a greater sense of Korea-at-war; a fact that is all but absent from the surface level of South Korean culture– the odd eighteen-year-old in camouflage, and nothing more.

The DMZ tour, then, enabled me to actually see, however quickly and cursorily, this entrenched scar running the width of the Korean Peninsula.  The threat is real; both armies continue to seek the intimidation of the other.  Rhetoric is leveraged to extremes.  Small incidents, such as tree-trimming, flare up into axe murders, or the act of raising a flag, into a contest of height and size (the North Koreans are currently winning with a 160m high pole and a 600 lbs flag).

Kijong-dong, North Korea (aka "Propaganda Village" or "Freedom Village" depending on your allegiances).  This uninhabited town was initially constructed in the 1950s to encourage South Korean soldiers to defect

Kijong-dong, North Korea (aka "Propaganda Village" or "Freedom Village" depending on your allegiances). This uninhabited town was initially constructed in the 1950s to encourage South Korean soldiers to defect. (photo by Geoff Martin)

This is a gaping wound that refuses all stitches.  No salve seems strong enough to smooth over the ideological divide, the sixty years of vehement hatred.  This is a crisis now into its second and third generations.  Yet there is internal pressure for reunification, not least of which, from the oldest members of society– those who were children when the conflict began, who were separated from their siblings, and who were kept apart by the militarized border for sixty years.  Now, in their old age, they want nothing more than reconciliation.

My brother, Scott, and I do our small part for the reunification of the Peninsula.

My brother, Scott, and I do our small part for the reunification of the Peninsula.

The DMZ tour, for showing simply “what’s there” and for attempting to contextualize the conflict was entirely worth the time (8 hours) and cost ($44 USD).  I highly recommend.

For details:  http://affiliates.uso.org/korea

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