The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is a chilling reminder of the war that never ended.
It is a strip of land — 160 miles long from east to west and just 2-1/2 miles wide — that separates North and South Korea. With the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of East and West Germany in 1989, Korea is the only partitioned remnant of the Cold War.
And the DMZ is the most heavily militarized border in the world.
The Korean War death toll is staggering: nearly 2,000,000 people, including 58,100 South Korean and 36,500 U.S. soldiers, 215,000 North Korean troops and 150,000 Chinese soldiers, including non-combat deaths.
The seemingly irrational behavior of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) — the North Korean government — cannot begin to be comprehended without realizing that the Korean War, which began on June 25, 1950 has never formally ended. The July 27, 1953 ceremony that concluded the armed fighting was simply a cease-fire. A formal peace treaty has never been drawn up.
"We are in a halfway house, neither peace nor war," Gen. Ri Chan Bok, North Korean representative at the DMZ, told political historian Selig S. Harrison, author of Korean Endgame: a Strategy for Reunification and U.S. Disengagement (2002, Princeton University Press). "How can we let our guard down and talk of arms control in such an uncertain situation?"
During a two-week visit to North and South Korea — hosted by the Korea Christian Federation in the North and by the Presbyterian Church of Korea in the South — a five-person delegation from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) heard the same refrain repeatedly on both sides of the DMZ: a formal end to the Korean War, replacing the cease-fire with a peace treaty; a deep longing for reunification of North and South Korea, though views vary widely on the political and economic form that reunification should take; and the de-nuclearization of the entire Korean peninsula.
In the meantime, the DMZ — with troops on both sides, barbed wire and concrete fences, watchtowers and bunkers, surveillance cameras and motion-sensors — stands as a stark reminder of the wages of war and the obstacles to peace.
During our visit there, the PC(USA) delegation — General Assembly Council Executive Director Linda Valentine, Area Coordinator for Asia/Pacific David Hudson, former Area Coordinator Insik Kim, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance International Associate Luke Asikoye and this reporter — paused to pray for peace and for the reunification of families who have been torn apart for 60 years by this seemingly intractable conflict.