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 © Hugh Siegel (
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and 1 draft(s),
created on 02-07-2009
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Well, I wanted to call this "No Man's Land" but "no special characters" again.  Who knew an apostrophe was a special character?  Anyway, it's not as though No Man's Land is such an original title.

These are some impressions from my day trip into the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea.  I found it to be an intriguing place.  Half war zone, half amusement park.  It was difficult to take it seriously in some ways, but it's clearly the fulcrum of a very serious situation.  With Seoul only about 60 km from the border, tens of millions of people are a flashpoint away from big trouble.

I happened to be there just a few days before the recent escalation of hostilities, which started concurrently with the suicide of former South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun, and the test-firing of long-rang missiles and a nuclear weapon by the North.

"Up North" is how the U.S. soldiers who patrol the South Korean side of the DMZ refer to trips they take from their base, Camp Bonifaz, up to the Joint Security Area, where a meeting house actually straddles the border between the two enemy countries.

The scene there is at once tense and quite tranquil.  After all there are very few people living there and there parts of the area that have been untouched by humans for 50 years, leaving the zone replete with wildlife found nowhere else on Earth.  The regular tourbuses and the giftshops give the place an air of a tourist attraction, but all visitors to the JSA are under close control and required to sign a release acknowledging their entry into a war zone.

Clearly there is no other place like it in the world.  I've tried to reflect my mixed impressions of the DMZ through a series of sometimes whimsical photos.  I should add that photography is prohibited more often than not while you're there, so it's difficult to be a thorough documentarian there.

My trip was run by the USO in Seoul, which, by most accounts, runs the best trip, and the most economical.  The people on the tour are all tourists or people attached to the military.  While South Koreans of every age visit the DMZ, and crawl through the infiltration tunnels and such, they are prohibited from visiting the JSA, as are citizens of a number of other countries.  It's fascinating to note that South Koreans, although a sitting duck in the sights of their aggressive other half, tend not to pay much attention to the North and the news media doesn't seem to give it much coverage.  For their part, from what everyone can tell, the North Koreans have no idea whatsoever about world events at all.



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