Reader: Experience in Korea reflects not much has changed

Posted: Friday, June 23, 2006

In the spring of 1972, while stationed two hours south of Seoul, I visited the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, several hours’ drive north of the capital. We had to wait our turn to be ushered into the small building that straddles the DMZ and that is used for ongoing “peace negotiations” that are intermittently conducted in the wake of the shaky truce that followed the cessation of hostilities in July of 1953.

The long narrow building had a thin table covered with green felt that ran the length of the room, with chairs on both sides, pitchers of water, microphones, etc. There was a one-inch white tape that ran the length of the building, along the floor and lengthwise across the table that delineated North from South. Groups from the North and the South took turns visiting inside the building.

When it was our group’s turn, we entered the building, accompanied by tall, husky American MPs armed only with baseball bats and police night sticks, who positioned themselves silently around the room. One of them took a position on the “North” side and stood with his back to a door. North Korean guards continually peered into the windows at us with undisguised ill will.

After about 10 minutes, we had apparently overstayed our allotted time, because an unseen North Korean guard began banging on the door behind the MP. The American soldier kept both hands on the door knob as the North Korean guard tried to pull it open. Our small group was quickly ushered out back into a waiting bus for the return trip.

As we drove southward, past North Korean guards, I could not help but note the extreme hostility that was displayed toward us and our American GI escorts. I came away from that experience having concluded that the North Korean government, while they hate our collective guts, must really have no clue as to the power of the United States and the futility of starting some sort of ill-advised scrap.

Although that was over 30 years ago, the situation today appears to be generally the same.

North Korea is a poor country, its people starving and with little agricultural capability. They are being propped up by other communist countries, and North Korea’s role in the world would appear to parallel that of Luca Brasi’s to “godfather” China. Remember, Luca wound up sleeping with the fishes.

Bill Gronvold


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