DMZ, Dora - South Korea

The Line of No Return

Military time off
South Korean soldiers visiting the Dore DMZ photograph themselves.
At the wheel
Bus driver at Dore military complex.
Dorasan's recent history
Electronic panel depicts Dorasan station's recent past.
camouflaged concrete
Camouflaged building next to the Korean demilitarized military zone in Dore.
observation tower
Military personnel control the movements of the North Korean army beyond the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas
painted train
A painting exhibited at Dorasan Railway Station shows a composition that runs along a railway line connecting Seoul to PyongYang.
binocular line
Binoculars placed to allow visitors to observe the Demilitarized Zone and North Korea.
visiting soldiers
South Korean military scrutinize North Korea's border line.
Military Visit
Woman leaves a Dore observation platform that is handed over to the military.
photo line
South Korean soldiers cross the line to where visitors can photograph in Dore, South Korea.
dream train line
A panel at Dorasan train station, which once linked the two Koreas but remains unconnected to North Korea
George bush jr
Photograph exhibited in Dorasan, shows the presence of former President Bush at this train station.
Korean War Memorial and Museum
Military silhouettes at the Korean War Memorial and Museum in Seoul.
War memories
Military man observes a reenactment of the Korean War Memorial and Museum.
A nation and thousands of families were divided by the armistice in the Korean War. Today, as curious tourists visit the DMZ, many of the escapes of the oppressed North Koreans end in tragedy.

On the fringes of Korean relaxation, lively nightlife and the capital's growing sophistication, there is a military atmosphere in Seoul that is hard to escape.

Poorly camouflaged in the urban environment, South Korean and American soldiers appear all over the place and concentrate on the vast Korean War Memorial, where they discover the past of the conflict to which they were handed over and photograph themselves between planes, helicopters and decommissioned tanks.

Korean War Memorial and Museum, South Korea, No Return Line

Military silhouettes at the Korean War Memorial and Museum in Seoul.

Even if symptomatic, this light activity says little about the old confrontation between the Koreas that tore apart the original country and prolongs and threatens to annihilate the artificial nations that are left of it.

Sheung Lee and Alex. The Providential Hosts of Seoul

Sheung Lee, our hostess in Seoul works at a publishing house until late. He arrives home on his knees and has no time or patience for great tips.

Alex, a polite Singaporean friend of hers, visits her frequently. In a room filled with Winnie The Pooh stickers, she lectures on the strongest South Korean themes – from the “miraculous” kale kimchi to the popular surgeries that Korean women use to enlarge and westernize their eyelids.

He also makes a point of explaining to us in detail what we cannot miss in the city. Sheung Lee listens from the living room and can't resist participating, despite the dark circles under her eyes and other signs of exhaustion: “And the DMZ, Alex, you're forgetting about the DMZ. They're leaving early tomorrow morning. There's even more fun after the War Memorial.”

Korean War Memorial and Museum, South Korea, No Return Line

Military man observes a reenactment of the Korean War Memorial and Museum.

That's how many young South Koreans end up talking about the place. Like an aberrant attraction. A kind of military theme park that, despite being able to dictate their lives for better or worse, should not be taken too seriously.

There was no reason to distrust the spontaneous advice of a native. So, in the following morning, we got, still sleepy, on the bus that was carrying the visit. In three times, we left the center of Seoul towards the north and the famous 38th parallel.

camouflaged concreteThe Genesis of the DMZ in the Edges of the Cold War

Shortly before the end of World War II, Korea was still occupied by the Japanese invader who increased the power of the imperial army by resorting to forced recruitment of Koreans.

So much so that, in January 1945, Koreans represented 32% of the Japanese labor force. In August of that year, the two atomic bombs dropped by USA about Hiroshima and Nagasaki hastened the capitulation of the aggressors and the end of the conflict.

At the Potsdam Conference, under pressure from the new Soviet threat, the Allies deliberated to divide the peninsula. Against what had been established at the Cairo Conference, they did so without consulting the Koreans.

At the end of 1945, after several political-military episodes, the US and the Soviet Union already shared the administration of Korea. This intrusion led to frequent Korean uprisings.

The process ended with the political division of the country into two rival zones separated by Parallel 38. One, to the north, communist, validated by the Soviets and by the China. And another, to the south, nationalist, defended by the US

North Korean leader Kim Il-sung's plans to invade the south forced the United States to once again mobilize pan-world allied forces to halt the spread of the communist sphere. The Korean War broke out.

Binoculars, South Korea, Line of no return

Binoculars placed to allow visitors to observe the Demilitarized Zone and North Korea.

The Advance and Retreat that Divided the Koreas over the 38th Parallel

From June 1950 until 1953, both sides advanced and retreated above and below the 38th Parallel. And, irony of ironies, after the long and destructive conflict, once the armistice had been decreed, they were very close to their original positions.

North Korea (DPRK) and South Korea (RC) were then renewed, separated by a Korean DMZ, a nobody's territory between two heavily militarized borders.

We stopped for the first time at the third of four infiltration tunnels excavated by North Korea which, when faced with its discovery from the south, claimed to be used for extracting coal, despite the fact that there is no coal there.

As we move through the semi-darkness of the interior, we are amused by the eccentric guide's explanation that the black stains we see on the walls were also the work of the North Koreans who dyed the excavated granite in order to illustrate the theory.

Dorasan. The Railway Station from Que Nem o Sonho Departed

This is followed by a passage through the Dorasan train station that once linked the north to the south but was deactivated when the North Koreans closed that border after accusing the south of fueling a confrontational policy.

George Bush Jr, DMZ, South Korea, No Return Line

Photograph exhibited in Dorasan, shows the presence of former President Bush at this train station.

Among the images displayed, there are those of a visibly intrigued President Bush's visit. And, above all, that of a graphic and color panel that exposes railway lines Asian and European departing from that station and the Korean Peninsula.

It's a dream that South Korea still harbors, even though the pride of the communist regime continues to bar its land connections.

Railway line never completed, South Korea, Line of no return

A panel at Dorasan train station, which once linked the two Koreas but remains unconnected to North Korea

Dora and the Foggy Glimpse of North Korea

The last stop on the visit to the DMZ is next to the Dora observatory, one of the numerous points from which the South Korean army controls events in the north.

The military dominates the place. The military and civilians present are dedicated to spying on North Korea through the installed monocles. At this point, a strong fog reveals only the gigantic pole (the third largest in the world at 160m) from which a North Korean flag flies which we are told weighs about 270 kg.

DMZ, South Korea, Line of no return

South Korean military scrutinize North Korea's border line.

There are also railings and distant walls. And buildings lost in a brown expanse, dry and inhospitable.

These are the architectural ghosts of Kijong-do, a North Korean village of peace or propaganda, as the South prefers to call it.

DMZ, South Korea, Line of no return

Military personnel control the movements of the North Korean army beyond the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas

The Mysterious Mirage of Kijong-do

The North Korean regime ensures that the village houses a communal farm run by two hundred families. And which is served by a nursery, primary and secondary school and a hospital.

Careful observation from the South Korean border allowed us to conclude that it was, in fact, a Potemkin village built in 1950 at great cost with the real purpose of encouraging the defection of the South Koreans to the north.

And to house the soldiers who ensure the vast defensive artillery network of fortifications and bunkers along the border. It is, in fact, the only North Korean settlement detectable from the south of the DMZ.

As if the poor visibility were not enough, it is forbidden to photograph or film in front of a Photo Line set back from the threshold of the platform, painted in yellow on the ground.

This limitation prevents visitors from making any record of what is on the other side.

Photo line, DMZ, South Korea, No return line

South Korean soldiers cross the line to where visitors can photograph in Dora, South Korea.

Due to the apparent lack of alternatives, we submit to the regulations, but a young couple decides to improvise. She climbs onto her boyfriend's piggyback. Positioned much higher up against the wall, it points a compact machine to the north and starts firing.

For a moment, the boldness amuses the South Korean soldiers on guard who, of course, have witnessed it before. Soon, they comply with their instructions and force the couple first to undo the stunt, then to delete the photos.

From there, any passage north would be final. Or, at the very least, extremely problematic.

This was proved by two American journalists captured by North Korea and saved only because of dictator King Jong Il's admiration for the former president Bill Clinton.


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