Train to nowhere and dead-eyed stares: my visit to the Korean demilitarized zone

Originally published at: Train to nowhere and dead-eyed stares: my visit to the Korean demilitarized zone | Boing Boing


My girlfriend visited in the early 90s. She was doing consulting for the Air Force. A trip to the DMZ was a standard “entertainment” for new arrivals. They flew up there by helicopter. There were no tour buses. You couldn’t enter the building, but you could see the North Korean soldiers on the other side through the windows. They were huge guys with rouge on their cheeks so they looked like soldiers in a propaganda poster. The weather started changing, and they were could have been stuck there for the night, but they all scrambled back to the helicopter before things got too hairy. It was a rough flight back to base. My girlfriend is from a military family. Her mom was sleeping on base when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Her grandfather was out there in his underwear saying that he knew the Japanese would catch them with their pants down. Otherwise, this was her closest encounter with a place where it was not about the rule of law but about the rules of engagement.


“United Nations” in this context does not mean what you might think it means.

United Nations Command (UNC or UN Command)[1] is the multinational military force established to support the Republic of Korea (South Korea) during and after the Korean War. It was the first international unified command in history, and the first attempt at collective security pursuant to the Charter of the United Nations.[1]

The UNC was established on 7 July 1950 following the United Nations Security Council’s recognition of North Korean aggression against South Korea. The motion passed because the Soviet Union, a close ally of North Korea and a member of the UN Security Council, was boycotting the UN at the time over its recognition of the Republic of China (Taiwan) rather than the People’s Republic of China.[2] UN member states were called to provide assistance in repelling the North’s invasion, with the UNC providing a cohesive command structure under which the disparate forces would operate.[3] During the course of the war, 22 nations contributed military or medical personnel to UN Command;[1] although the United States led the UNC and provided the bulk of its troops and funding, all participants formally fought under the auspices of the UN,[4] with the operation classified as a “UN-led police action”.[5]


That should be the title to a military based rom-com.


Thanks for sharing your experience at the DMZ; it captures the not quite at war/not quite at peace status of the peninsula and the surreal disconnect between the essentially calm natural environment in the area and the man-made tension. This disconnect is a strange feeling.

In Seoul, when walking on packed sidewalks among the rows of highrises and glitzy shopping malls, it can be easy to forget about the north despite its proximity. After a DMZ visit, you’re a little more likely to notice the gas masks in display cases in the metro, the fall out shelters, and the related signage faded by time; it can change the feel of the city a bit. A DMZ stop definitely can be worthwhile for more perspective.


This is important to remember. The war never really ended. It’s just been dormant. Those guards on either side are at the highest level of readiness prepared to kill one another at any moment. It just takes one chucklefuck doing something stupid to potentially provoke an armed conflict right then and there. It’s pretty wild.


Meanwhile we’ve got K-Trump on our hands, seemingly doing everything he can to escalate the situation.

He boarded the U.S.S Kentucky, a nuclear sub, and declared: “If North Korea initiates a [nuclear] provocation, it could lead to the end of its regime.”

Dude! It’s not your sub!

Meanwhile, ponder this photo, which shows Madame President the way she likes to be seen, while making sure official photos in public release from the presidential office shows she has the real power.

Imagine while with Trump, it turned out that Melania had been brokering deals behind the scenes, engineering the moving out of the White House, making Mar A Lago the new Presidential Compound and everyone had an unspoken agreement that everything must go through her for final approval.

That’s what’s we’ve got going this time around, and it’s not looking good.


“A vending machine on a nuclear submarine? Americans, eh; am I right?”



I’m currently watching a Korean Drama which very much fits the bill. It’s on Netflix, and it’s called “Crash Landing on You”. The (beautiful) head of a South Korean Fashion company tries paragliding, is caught in a storm (which fortunately wipes out all the radar in the area) and lands on top of a (very handsome) North Korean Captain, in the DMZ. It’s very romantic (I’m a sucker for this kind of thing), has thriller elements, and a lot of humorous stuff. The only drawback for some is that there is no english dubbing, but only subtitles. I’m fine with that. Anyway, I commend it to you.


I did this tour around the same time the South Koreans were raising the ROK Navy corvette that the North Koreans had sunk. I do count “North Korea” among the counties I’ve been to, even thought it was only five minutes!

One thing I that was pointed out that on this main highway from Seoul to the DMZ there are a number of overpasses that are just giant concrete blocks that are pre-drilled for demolitions teams to blow out the supports and drop them to cover the roadways in the event of war.