By Alex Bregman
As North Korea continues to hold missile tests and tensions mount, there may be no place on earth where that strain is felt more than in what’s known as the Demilitarized Zone, or the DMZ.
So what is it and how did it come to be?
The DMZ is an area established in 1953, at the end of the Korean War, that divides the Korean Peninsula between North and South Korea. It’s about 150 miles long and two and a half miles wide and sits roughly along the 38th parallel — the line that divided the North from the South at the end of World War Two.
The areas around the DMZ are heavily fortified with troops from both the North and the South, but inside the space itself there’s not a whole lot.
Each side maintains what’s called a peace village or truce village. Much of the area has become a nature reserve and home to rare birds and fish.
Then there is what’s called the Joint Security Area, which, for a long time, was the only official place the North and South communicated. That doesn’t mean both sides haven’t used the tense border to communicate in other ways, including installing loudspeakers and even floating balloons with attached propaganda messages to try to get them to the other side.
At least four tunnels have also been built by the North, which it claims is for coal mining, but it’s assumed they would be used for troops if there were to be an invasion.
Despite the high tension surrounding the border, the area itself has remained relatively peaceful over the years, with the exception of a couple of incidents, including one in which two American soldiers were killed by North Korean troops in 1976 and another in 1984, when three North Korean soldiers and one South Korean were killed in a firefight.
More recently, land mines installed by the North have also raised concern, particularly when two South Korean soldiers were maimed.
Maybe most importantly for American politics, the DMZ has also been used for presidential photo-ops to send a message to the North. The area has been visited by Presidents Carter, Reagan, Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama.
Under the Trump Administration, both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Vice President Mike Pence have also visited the area. In a recent interview, Pence described the visit: “To stand there, as I had the privilege to do, at the DMZ, and to look into North Korea for me was … a chilling experience.”
So as the tensions continue to rise in the region, when it comes to where those tensions may be the highest, the DMZ, at least you can say, “Now I get it.”