A couple of weeks ago, we finally got the opportunity to do something not many people in the world get to experience – We visited the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. This buffer zone between the two warring countries is bordered by the largest military presence in the world.
The Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, is roughly 155 miles long and 2.5 miles wide. On the North side is the DPRK or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This country is known to the Western world as “North Korea.” To the South lies the Republic of Korea, or “South Korea,” our current home.
The North side of the DMZ boasts roughly 1,000,000 soldiers, while South Korea keeps it lite at around 500,000. All are armed and ready to face off if one country attempts in any way to cross the boarder. According to a 1954 treaty, if North Korea ever attempts to invade its southern counterpart, the United States is automatically at war, having vowed to protect South Korea.
Meanwhile, the DMZ itself, since it is rarely crossed by either side, has become a natural wildlife preserve, despite the still-active landmines.
Down the middle of the DMZ is the DML, or Demarkation Line. This is the actual boarder between the two countries. In the center of the DML, sits the Joint Security Area, a building in which both Koreas may enter for peace talks. It is the only area where you may technically cross the line into North Korea, as the building sits on top of the line.
While on our tour we were able to view the DMZ and, from a safe distance, the DML. We have not yet had the opportunity to visit the Joint Security Area, but hope to do so soon.
One of the most fascinating points on our itinerary was a visit to what is known as the 3rd Tunnel. After the Korean War had settled into a cease fire, the North Koreans began digging tunnels into South Korea’s capital city. Only 4 of an estimated 20 of these tunnels have been found. The 3rd tunnel, which is wide enough to allow 300,000 soldiers (with artillery) into Seoul within one hour, was discovered when a North Korean slave and tunnel digger escaped into South Korea and told military officials from the ROK about his work. When asked why they were building tunnels into South Korea, the North Korean leaders claimed it was to dig for coal. As this is not geologically possible, the South Koreans asked for proof. Retreating soldiers painted black “coal” dust onto the walls as they exited. This is still visible in the tunnel. When South Korea proposed to the North that coal mining was not possible in the tunnel, the North then claimed that the South had built the tunnel to invade the North. However, dynamite drilling sloping toward to South suggests this is also a lie. When the 3rd Tunnel became a tourist attraction and South Korea began to benefit from from it financially, North Korea became angered and basically said, “Hey, it’s not fair! We built that tunnel and you are making money off of it!”
Going inside the tunnel was spooky. Seeing the “coal” marking and dynamite holes really makes the scene of these invasions come alive.
We really enjoyed this tour and hope to be able to go to the DML soon. Since North Korea recently began allowing Americans to visit with tour groups, we may check into that as well. (Just don’t tell our mothers!)