World’s Most Armed Border

I’ve recently made another visit to the Demilitarized Zone that has separated North and South Korea since 1953.

The DMZ is a hot potato, a war waiting to happen. “Demilitarized?” No, it’s the most armed border in the world. We have agreed to a 2.5-mile buffer zone. In the 1960s, our guys and theirs were almost shoulder to shoulder. My Waikiki friend, former Sgt. George Deden, was siting mortar positions when a North Korean decided to shoot him in the foot and stab him in the side. In 1976, an American captain and a lieutenant trimming trees – that were blocking line-of-sight between two U.S. guard posts – were murdered by North Korean soldiers with axes.

So why can’t we turn that 60-year-old cease-fire agreement into a peace treaty that recognizes two Koreas until they eventually find their way to reunification?

Basically, we’ve opted to put a Korea settlement on the back burner and handle bad things on an incident-by-incident basis. Examples: the North’s capture of our ship USS Pueblo, or North Korea’s Kim Jung Un threatening to nuke our West Coast or Hawaii, and firing missiles into the Sea of Japan.

The DMZ has gotten blatantly silly. The North brings a big desk flag to the weekly meeting at Panmunjom, and then we bring a bigger flag. They build a large concrete administration building on their side of the line, and we build a more architecturally magnificent structure on our side.

We bring in our tourists to see the neutral-ground meeting room on a schedule; they do the same. We have our armed guard with us; they have theirs.

Most silly is all the posturing at the demarcation line (yes, a painted white one). Both sides post their tallest soldiers there. Ours (now mostly Republic of Korea troops interspersed with Americans) stand in stiff positions with fists curled in a martial-arts manner, and always wearing dark sunglasses; theirs with clenched fists but no sunglasses.

I’m reminded of participants in heavyweight boxing matches who must put on displays of macho for the cameras at the weigh-in.

Most bizarre is that we haul busloads of tourists to the DMZ to watch this macho display ($95 per person including an after-DMZ lunch), and take them to the Joint Security Area gift shop where they can buy Army uniforms, MP armbands, and model airplanes, helicopters and tanks, and also boxes of candy.

Oh, and no jeans, tank tops or odd hairstyles allowed. Don’t hold anything but a camera in your hands. Don’t point or make faces at the North Koreans. You’re closely watched every moment by a U.S. or South Korean army minder who doesn’t smile and wears his dark sunglasses, even inside the bus and buildings.

You’re encouraged to feel that war might break out any moment and you’ll be in the middle of it.

One visitor said, “If the other side starts shooting, I guess we all pick up a rock.”