DMZ Visit

Since the Armistice Agreement was signed on 27 July 1953, the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) running for 160 miles roughly along the 38th parallel from the East Sea to the Yellow Sea, has been one of the most unusual places on earth. Less than 35 miles from Seoul, the capital of the Republic of Korea (South Korea), the 2  1/2 mile wide DMZ is centered on the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), the political border, the violation of which could get you shot.

DMZ Guard Tower
There are guard towers all along sections of the DMZ.

Despite the name which seems to indicate a lesser degree of militarization, the DMZ is extremely militarized with the North and South facing off eyeball to eyeball as though the war which preceded the armistice is just paused. The agreement, however, prevents either side from introducing large weapons or large numbers of troops within the DMZ, which acts as a buffer zone between the two belligerent nations, who, ironically, do not recognize each other as legitimate governments.

My visit to the DMZ was to the area known as the Joint Security Area which originally was jointly governed by North and South Korea, but after soldiers from North Korea killed 2 American officers and 4 South Korean Soldiers with axes the U.N. Soldiers were using to remove limbs from a tree which was blocking visibility between guard posts in August 1976, the MDL was established, separating the two and leaving the only area of responsibility that overlap being Panmunjeom. Panmunjeom is an 800 meter area which is most famously home to the building where the armistice was signed.

Panmunjeom
Panmunjeom. The blue building on the left is where the Armistice Agreement was signed in July 1953. The large building in the back is Panmungak, in North Korea, used as a waiting are for North Korean visitors and guards. If you look closely, you can see a North Korean Soldier just left of center of Panmungak.
Panmunjeom Conference Building
Inside the Panmunjeom conference building. The center table sits on the line between North and South Korea and is where the military leaders signed the Armistice Agreement ending hostilities during the Korean War.

The battalion tasked with security of the area around the JSA, formally known as the United Nations Command Security Battalion, operates under the Armistice Agreement, reporting directly to United Nations Command. the UNCSB is one of the few purely joint-nation battalions composed of approximately 10% U.S. Soldiers and 90% ROK Soldiers. Together, they are responsible for monitoring the area around the JSA, protecting visitors to the area and those who work in the zone, and executing the education mission (which includes tours of the significant sites around the DMZ).

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North Korea has always been antaginistic toward the South and countries allied to them. For years, plans have been in the works to re-invade the South. In 1978, as a result of information received from a North Korean defector, a third infiltration tunnel was discovered. This tunnel is about a mile long and about 6 1/2 feet in diameter. Had this tunnel been used by the North for an invasion, 30,000 soldiers per hour could have traveled through it. It is said that there still could be 20 tunnels running under the DMZ which are yet to be discovered.

Tunnel #3
The entrance to Tunnel #3. There are no photographs permitted within the tunnel.

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Near the DMZ in Peju on Mt. Dora is the Dora Observatory where onlookers can view several sites in North Korea. There are tourist binaculars available, but to take a photograph toward the North, you have to stand behind a line well behind those binaculars. Without recording what you see, you get a great view of North Korea from this observatory, though I did take a few pictures before I was told we couldn’t.

Dora Observatory
Dora Observatory in Peju
Dora Observatory
A view of North Korea from the Dora Observatory
Dora Observatory
There is a small Buddhist shrine next to the Dora Observatory. On top is a traditional Buddhist bell
Dora Observatory
Inside the Buddhist shrine next to Dora Observatory.

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In 1953, following the signing of the Armistice Agreement, prisoners of war (POW) were exchanged over what became know as the “Bridge of No Return,” so named because once a POW returned to the North, they would not be permitted to come back to the South.

Bridge of No Return
Bridge of No Return within the DMZ

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In 1976, a group of United Nations Soldiers were trimming limbs from a large tree in the DMZ which was blocking the line of site between two guard posts when they were attacked by a group of North Korean soldiers. 2 U.S. officers and 4 South Korean Soldiers were killed. Today, there is a monument near where the attack took place which was near the Bridge of No Return.

DMZ Ax Murder Monument
The monument honoring the deaths of U.N. Soldiers killed with their axes by North Korean soldiers. The round base of the monument is the size of the tree the U.N. Soldiers were trimming.
DMZ Ax Murder Stump
The stump of the tree involved in the 1976 ax murders located in the museum at the JSA Visitor’s Center

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Gijeong-dong Village
A view of North Korea from an observation post near Panmunjeom. In the center of the picture is Gijeong-dong Village, built by the North for propaganda, but there are many things that indicated it is not lived in but rather a “fake” city housing only some soldiers. The tower holding the North Korean flag is said to be the world’s tallest flag tower.

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For several miles along Highway 77, between Seoul and Peju, there are double fences with barbed wire and guard posts every few hundred feet. A vivid reminder how close Korea is to war.
For several miles along Highway 77, between Seoul and Peju, there are double fences with barbed wire and guard towers every few hundred feet. A vivid reminder how close the people of Korea are to war.

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Additional References:

National Geographic website, Korea’s DMZ: Dangerous Divide.

Life in Korea website, Joint Security Area (Panmunjeom).

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