Gather ’round, comrades, and watch this excerpt from a lecture on the DMZ’s Joint Security Area, courtesy of an officer from the Korean People’s Army.
POTD: Lecture in the Military Armistice Commission (MAC) Conference Room in the DMZ’s Joint Security Area
In this photo, an officer in the Korean People’s Army lectures our group of American Imperialists on, among other things, U.S. Imperialism. Before the officer began his lecture, our North Korean guide (also in the above photo), Ms. Lee, said “I apologize in advance. I will say ‘American Imperialists’ several times.” I was pretty floored when she said this. A North Korean apologizing for calling us imperialists? Never in a million years would I have expected that.
This lecture was held in the Military Armistice Commission (MAC) Conference Room in the DMZ’s Joint Security Area. Aside from being a major tourist attraction, this conference room is where the North Korean and South Korean/UN Command occasionally meet for diplomatic negotiations.
In a previous post about North Korea I described our group’s visit to the USS Pueblo, an American ship that was captured by the North Koreans on January 23, 1968 and has since remained in North Korean hands. To this day the North Koreans love bragging about how they captured the “US ARMED SPY SHIP PUEBLO!” (as they refer to it) and have made the ship into a tourist attraction on the banks of the Taedong River in Pyongyang. They have also placed images of the Pueblo and its crew on stamps and postcards that are available for purchase at souvenir stores in Pyongyang. For those of you who have an interest in the USS Pueblo, I am posting scans of two of the stamps I purchased that feature the Pueblo and its crew and a postcard I sent to a friend. If you speak Korean and can provide a translation for the stamps, please let me know!
Notice the fake roses, seagulls, and windsurfers that have been added to the postcard. I definitely did not see any windsurfers on the Taedong River when I was there.
I guess they have more important things to do than clean the windows on the buildings that straddle the Military Demarcation Line in the Korean DMZ’s Joint Security Area. As seen from one of the buildings where negotiations are conducted, this North Korean soldier is standing guard on North Korea’s side of the MDL. On the other side of that concrete line is South Korea, which, when we visited was devoid of any soldiers. It seriously looked like a ghost town.
I was curious if anyone had ever attempted to flee North Korea by running across the MDL to South Korea. As it turns out, such an incident did occur on November 23, 1984 when Vasily Matusak, a Soviet citizen touring North Korea, ran across the MDL into South Korea. Soldiers from the North Korean People’s Army pursued him, firing their weapons. A firefight between the North Korean and US/South Korean forces ensued, resulting in the deaths of one South Korean (Corporal Jang Myong-Ki) soldier and three North Korean soldiers as well as several wounded.
Here is the North Korean produced footage of our visit to the DMZ. I had to break this up into two parts due to YouTube’s ban on videos over 10 minutes.
Part 1: This has some incredibly dramatic music as well as dialogue that explains how the “U.S. imperialists bent their knees” to the North Koreans. It also talks about the structure the North Koreans built for the signing ceremony against the wishes of the U.S., which merely wanted to hold the ceremony in a tent because the “U.S. Imperialists were afraid that future generations might see the place where they signed the surrender documents after suffering shameful defeat in the Korean War.”
Part 2: U.S. Imperialists visiting the Joint Security Area (JSA) in Panmunjom. Incredibly dramatic music followed by something that is more appropriate for a cheesy musical.
“For your own safety,” the lieutenant colonel explained, “several of our soldiers will be accompanying you to the border.”
Statements like this are to be expected when visiting the demilitarized zone that divides North and South Korea, but when that announcement is coming from an impeccably dressed officer from the North Korean People’s Army, rather than one from the South Korean or U.S. Army, you have reason to be wary. Were the soldiers there to prevent us from wandering into some minefield, I wondered, or would they protect us if the “U.S. Imperialists” and their South Korean lackeys decided to randomly open fire? I wasn’t quite sure. Nevertheless, our tour group now had our very own North Korean soldiers to watch over us as we visited a place once described by former President Bill Clinton as “the scariest place on earth.”
We left Pyongyang around seven that morning for the three hour drive south to the demilitarized zone. Our bus traveled down the empty six-lane “Reunification Highway” at breakneck speed, passing by the occasional military checkpoint, tank barriers, and village. I spent most of the trip south downing Pepto Bismol (I think the meat from the previous night’s dinner was slightly undercooked) and writing postcards that would hopefully be approved by the censors and sent onwards to my friends in the US and Europe. (“Great trip so far. Beer is delicious. Highly recommend visiting. Cheers, Lindsay”)
A few scenes from the drive south. More photos in a later post.
Our American guide told us these were anti-tank barriers that were rigged with explosives. In case of invasion, the North Koreans would set off the explosives, creating obstacles for American tanks along the Reunification Highway.
Once we arrived at the staging area just outside of the DMZ, we hopped off our bus and stood around a large map of the DMZ while the North Korean officer gave a short talk on the surrounding area. We were then instructed to form a single file line and walk past the gated area, where our bus had pulled forward after being searched and cleared by several soldiers. We got back on our bus and drove past electric fencing surrounded by strips of landmines. We had officially entered the Korean demilitarized zone, a 2.5 mile wide buffer zone that divides the Korean peninsula in half. Home to over two million soldiers, the DMZ is the most heavily militarized border in the world.
Farm inside the DMZ
Because everything’s bigger in the DPRK, the country is home to the world’s tallest flagpole, which sports a 600lb DPRK flag. The flagpole is situated at the entrance to the “village” of Kijŏngdong, which is really nothing more than a Potemkin village built to extol the luxurious living enjoyed by DPRK citizens
Our bus stopped at the site of the former village of Panmunjeom, which is now just a set of buildings in which the North Koreans and United Nations negotiated and eventually signed the armistice agreement in 1953.
Entrance to the building where the armistice was signed. It is now home to the “North Korea Peace Museum”. The sign reads “It was here on July 27, 1953 that the American imperialists got down on their knees before the heroic Chosun people to sign the ceasefire for the war they had provoked June 25, 1950.”
The officer explained that the United States wanted to sign the agreement in a tent, but the North Koreans insisted that it occur in a building so that there would be a permanent monument to their victory over the United States. Apparently they constructed this building the night before the agreement was signed.
The officer also claimed that this is the original North Korean flag that was present when the agreement was signed.
See how much better the North Korean flag has fared compared to this discolored UN flag? Hmmm…
The “museum” consisted mainly of photos depicting Americans surrendering.
The axe from the “Axe Murder Incident” in which two US Army officers were killed by North Korean soldiers.
Ensuring our safety
Approaching the Joint Security Area (JSA)/Panmunjeom. More electric fences and landmines.
We arrived at the Joint Security Area (JSA)/Panmunjeom, where North and South Korean soldiers stare at each other from their respective sides. In the middle of the JSA are several blue buildings where diplomatic talks are held. I was disappointed to discover that there weren’t any South Korean or American soldiers visible in the South Korean side of the DMZ. In fact, the place appeared to be downright deserted.
Inside the conference room, sitting in the translator’s seat, with one leg in South Korea and the other in North Korea.
Before the officer began his lecture on U.S. Imperialism and whatnot, our North Korean guide said “I apologize in advance. I will say ‘American Imperialists’ several times.” I was pretty floored when she said this. A North Korean apologizing for calling us imperialists? Never in a million years would I have expected that.
Two guards posted at the door leading to South Korea to ensure you don’t attempt to run away.
Two North Korean soldiers standing on the North Korean side of the Military Demarcation Line. When I took this photo, I was technically in South Korea.
Our time in the conference room was limited. After the officer’s lecture, we only had a few minutes to take photos. The two soldiers stationed at the door leading into South Korea soon began clapping loudly and shouting in Korean while moving towards us. I guess that was our signal to leave the building.
We then entered the large building on the North Korean side so that we could have a nice view of the JSA. I have read several accounts of tourists who toured the JSA from the South Korean side and were told that the North Korean building is nothing more than a façade. I can assure you, it is indeed a real building.
Smile, you’re on camera. The Freedom Building in South Korea.
Of course I had to have my picture taken with one of the soldiers
Our visit to the DMZ complete, we headed back north for a visit to Kaesong. First, though, we stopped at the staging area right outside the DMZ to hand out cigarettes. Specifically, genuine American Imperialist Marlboros straight from the good ol’ US of A. One of the things you are told before coming to North Korea is to bring along a few gifts, specifically cigarettes for the male tour guides and soldiers at the DMZ. We pooled together our packs of cigarettes, handed them to the American guide, and watched as she quickly passed them out to the North Korean soldiers. At first, some were reluctant to take them, but they eventually gave in and sheepishly accepted these small tokens of thanks for ensuring our “safety”.
Photos taken while driving from Pyongyang to the DMZ.
A section of the highway was closed, so we had to take a slight detour.
I really wanted to steal that cone
A quick stop at the Sohung Rest House
Anti-tank barriers. Rigged with explosives so they can be blown up and the rubble strewn across the highway to prevent tanks and other vehicles from moving north.
Not so sure about that structural integrity of this bridge…
Here is the North Korean Tourism DVD footage of our trip to the USS Pueblo in Pyongyang. In this clip you can hear the narrator describe how the “US armed spy ship Pueblo” was “captured by the heroic Korean People’s Army while committing espionage acts”. You can also see us “imperialists” playing around in the wheelhouse of the Pueblo and looking completely bored as the North Koreans subject us to a propaganda film describing various acts of U.S. aggression towards the DPRK. A few of us definitely have “WTF?” looks on our faces.