These days, it seems so ludicrous that you would just split a country apart – especially along a fairly arbitrary line like the 38th parallel… but that’s exactly what they did to Korea at the end of the Second World War.
To try to deal with the remaining tensions between the major powers at the end of the war, the US and the Soviet Union agreed to temporarily divide the Korean Peninsula in a straight east-west line while they worked out what to do.
As we now know, though, they couldn’t work out what to do. This irrational hard border led to the Korean War. It led to the creation of two new countries – South Korea and North Korea. And led to the DMZ, or Korean Demilitarised Zone.
As an introductory video proclaims on my tour to the demilitarised zone, “the DMZ has remained a scar of the war”.
In the immediate aftermath of this division, many families were separated, jobs were lost, lives were upended.
Just think about what would change for you if suddenly you weren’t allowed into the other half of your country, your state, or your city.
Nowadays, we think of North Korea and South Korea as separate countries, with completely different cultures (and, of course, political systems). But one of the things that visiting the DMZ does is remind you that they were unified for centuries until this artificial border was drawn across the country.
Visiting the DMZ is one of the most popular things to do in Seoul, and I think it’s worth the day trip. What you’ll see on a DMZ tour is unique and, of course, you’ll even be able to peer over all the fortifications into North Korea.
Perhaps it’s just a bit of fun for some people – and certainly the small theme park here on the southern side suggests that even some locals see it that way.
Or perhaps, for many foreigners, there’s something adventurous about going to the front lines of a war that has not technically ended.
But the issues are really complicated around the Korean War, the separation of the peninsula, and any potential resolution. You won’t solve them yourself on a day trip to the DMZ from Seoul… but it does offer a good chance to give them some consideration.
As our guide Jenny ruminates towards the end of the DMZ tour when asked about whether there will be a reunification of the Koreas: “Honestly I don’t know, it will be very difficult. But what I do know – we need peace”.
If you take a guided tour, you’ll learn a lot about the history of the DMZ and gain an…