Had it not been for a heads-up from my good friend Glenn D. Paige, nonkilling.org, always on the lookout for the slightest shift in the wind apropos Korea, putting to shame the apathy of many of us Koreans, especially those of us living abroad, I wouldn’t have noticed this obscure article in the New York Times, dated March 11, 2015:
On May 24, 2015, 30 women, a couple of Nobel peace laureates and other prominent activists and leaders, will walk across the DMZ, demilitarized zone, astride the waist of the Korean peninsula cutting it in half.
Since 1953, when the Korean War went into a ceasefire, South and North Korea have stared at each other across the DMZ with murderous hatred. Beyond its see-through but bristly facade, a chain-link fence topped with concertina wire, 10 feet high mostly but double that height at places, lies a 2.5 mile wide no-man’s land, 160 miles long, sown liberally with land mines. Arrayed on either side is a battery of thousands of long-range guns and missile launchers, capable of pinpoint delivery within minutes to any part of the peninsula, particularly their capitals, Seoul 34 miles to the south with a population of 10 million and Pyongyang 90 miles to the north with 3 million.
1. Petrifaction in a Mortal Embrace
If I may indulge in an analogy, the two Koreas are Siamese twins joined at the hip, locked in a mortal embrace, gun muzzle pressed on each other’s chest, finger on the trigger, each twin bent on firing a millisecond quicker than the other but held back knowing that at that distance the human hand reacts in a microsecond, if not zero, with the certainty of MAD, mutually assured destruction. This deadlock, petrifaction, has been going on for nearly seven decades with no end in sight. Apparently, they are not suicidal, though homicidal. Otherwise the Korean race would have been finished since a long time ago.
Note that this bizarre tableau is entirely Korean crewed and maintained and there is nobody else to blame. Granted the original division at the 38th parallel in 1945 was the work of the USSR and USA but during the 1950-53 war China carried the ball, taking over from the USSR. In spite of the huge cost of this and the cost of substantial postwar military and economic aid, China has not tried to annex North Korea in return, perhaps because America has no such territorial interest in South Korea either after similar expenditure and despite a lingering military presence. Currently there isn’t a single nation in the world that will stand in the way if, for example, Geun-Hye Park and Jong-Un Kim met, shook hands, and announced a joint caretaker presidency pending a peninsula-wide general election in a month. Certainly not the US: US Forces Korea would be glad to pack up and go home to the welcoming arms of American tax payers.
But that is not happening, though by now the two Koreas must be getting tired of the impasse and secretly long for release, if only they could find a decent excuse for extrication without being called chicken or losing face. In particular, neither Geun-Hye nor Jong-Un can make the first move, both trapped in the status quo that has produced them.
2. All Female Foreign Legion
To the rescue comes the all-female cavalry of 30, the Foreign Legion. It has always been our women cleaning up the mess we make and what they find in Korea is right up their alley. I already hear the thunder of the shout, “Tear down this wall!” The wall is not the Berlin Wall and the speaker not Ronald Reagan. The barrier is the Korean DMZ and the voice, the chorus of the Foreign Legion, numbering 30 for now but soon to swell in a couple of months to hundreds of thousands, nay, millions, to form the Combined Legion or simply the Legion, as local Korean women join in, inspired by the initiative of their foreign-born sisters. They cut the wires, blow up the mines, and march across the DMZ, erasing the former boundary. The ground shakes as people on both sides, young and old, men and women, rise and run toward each other to embrace, weep, and laugh, never to part. The tragedy of our generation, seeing our motherland divide, turns into a triumph, seeing it rejoin.
Is this vision a fantasy to be shattered by reality? No, we have to seize an opportunity like the Foreign Legion that comes around once in a lifetime and pull off this unrelenting dream of ours, unification of our motherland, doing everything we can and doing it right, planning every step of the way with a level head, not giving way to emotions, impulses, conditioned reflexes.
3. Walking Permits
Public figures, law-abiding and transparent, the 30 Foreign Legionnaires have seen fit to notify both governments of their intentions and asked for a walking permit. To everybody’s surprise North Korea responds instantly with an okay but not South Korea, which is still mulling it over as of today, March 19.
Frankly, I hope South Korea keeps dragging its feet and never comes through. What good is a permit from either? The North Korean answer, prompt solely to beat its southern adversary to the draw, is noncommittal as to crucial details like where the Legion may walk, so at the last minute the Legion is apt to be told to stick to a narrow foot path with railing on both sides and guarded by armed sentries. Ditto with the South Korean permit when it issues, ostensibly for safety from mines. But then how different is the Legion’s walk from the hundreds of daily DMZ guided tours similarly permitted under the existing law, designed to perpetuate the status quo? What is the point of our getting all excited about the Legion’s visit? We don’t want another confirmation of the status quo. We expect the Legion to demolish it and everything associated with it, especially the laws that prolong and eternalize the standoff, the Siamese-twin petrifaction. If that makes them law breakers, revolutionaries, enemies of the existing regimes, so be it. Just don’t get arrested and for that you need cunning, not candor.
So application for permits was a blunder. But what’s done is done. What we do from here on counts. Let’s act dumb like a bunch of sheep, humbly waiting for their all-mighty permits. Let them hem and haw and strut, as we bow, scrape, and crawl, while we plan our strategy.
4. Point of Insertion
We could start the walk from either side of the DMZ, especially with the North Korean permit in place, for what it’s worth. But we’ll start from the south. They fall all over you here, thinking you, a tourist, must have money to burn. We want no fuss but it’s better than the paroxysm of crisis reactions in the north upon arrival of a foreigner, no matter who or why.
5. D-Day: Sunday, May 24, 2015
Yes, you are arriving on this very day, May 24, 2015, as announced, not any earlier, not to lose the element of surprise. Come to think of it, this delay to the last minute has an unexpected bonus: keeping them on edge, shaking in their boots, wondering whether you haven’t canceled for lack of enthusiasm to the indignation of the whole world. One thing they crave is favorable world opinion for one reason or another.
Upon arrival by the earliest morning flight at Incheon International, the Foreign Legion, traveling as plain tourists, 30 unrelated women, will take a waiting bus directly to Cholwon, 65 miles northeast, at the midway point of the DMZ, where the Korean Legion of 30 Corps would have just arrived from all over the country themselves. Upon arrival each Foreign Legionnaire will be led to her assigned Corps and meet the rank and file as well as the command staff.
5. Roll Call and Uniform
At a beep on their cell phones they take off everything they are wearing and put on the uniform (armor, more accurately): white V-neck, open back, miniskirt dress. Each Legionnaire brings her own.
Also to be provided individually is a white drawstring bag, either light or heavy, to be carried like a purse. Inside the light bag is a pair of metal cutting snips and in the other a foldable shotgun with ammunition. Most Legionnaires will be lightly equipped, weapon bags assigned only to a select group of qualified volunteers. Exempted from this requirement the Foreign Legionnaires will be provided each with a simple electronic bugle that at the flip of a switch synchronically broadcasts “Tear This Wall Down! Onward Unifying Soldiers!” sung to the tune and beat of the familiar Christian hymn at 150 decibels.
6. March Onward
Armored and mustered, off they go marching north out of town, a Foreign Legionnaire prominently leading at the head of each Corps, bugle on, everybody singing and stepping in unison. In no time they pass signs prohibiting civilian access, duly ignored. This being Sunday most security personnel are on furlough and nobody will bother. However, whoever comes around will, after one look, follow the procession in a trance right up to the DMZ fence where each Corps finds its assigned section between two adjacent guard towers about 300 feet apart.
Under the very nose of the guards in the towers, similarly neutralized, the Legionnaires start cutting up the fence. As soon as there is enough opening, the shooters squeeze through to lay down a barrage square foot by square foot to detonate every buried mine. By the time the fence is all cut up and cleared away, the mine-sweepers would have also cleared the entire block of the no-man’s land, 1.7 miles by 2.5 miles, across which the whole Legion surges to burst on the North Korean side with an even more dramatic effect on its population, military or civilian.
Soon the surge turns into a tsunami. A large segment of the 50 million South Korean population, here in Cholwon to watch after getting the word, fall in and follow the Legion to spill all over North Korea and hug their long-lost countrymen, exactly as envisioned previously. Who said it was a fantasy?