“And when all the wars are over, a butterfly will still be beautiful.” Ruskin Bond (Day 223)
Today we got a better understanding of the horrors of war and what it leads people to do. Let's hope that peace and love prevails.
Before 1945 Korea had been a united country for thousands of years. After the mess of WWII, the country was split up. Sixty-Eight years ago yesterday the Korean War began, claiming over 3 million lives. Just over 3 years later on 27 July 1953, the war was put on hold with the Korean Armistice Agreement signed and the demilitarized zone (DMZ), an area 160 miles long and 2.5 miles wide was formed to create a buffer zone, separating North and South Korea. This is where we visited today. First, we visited the Freedom Bridge which was used to trade nearly 13,000 prisoners of war. The Bridge was later bombed so just thick concrete pillars can be seen going off into the distance. The area now serves as a place of remembrance for families who are separated. Bright coloured ribbons with messages written on them are tied to the fence, looking at odds to the ominous curls of razor wire above. We crossed over to the DMZ area by bus, showing our passports to a soldier. Civilians and tourists are permitted in this area, the military is not. However no one can go off wandering around, there are lots of unexploded mines still about. As we got off the bus in the pouring rain, birds flew by. They have the freedom to fly from one area to the other. They must look down at us humans and wonder at the ridiculousness of it all. Within the area is Dorasan Railway station and trains from Seoul run here, mainly for tourists. This used to connect the North with the South and the station was restored in 2002 just before the Korea-Japan World Cup. Now, the main purpose of the station is symbolic, the hope that one day there will be reunification. Let’s hope with recent discussions, this will happen. At least both countries have agreed to family reunions taking place in August. We then went onto the Third Tunnel. A North Korean defector, Kim Bu-Seoung, informed the South Korean military that a tunnel had been dug. This was finally found three years later and is 1,635 m long, 73 m beneath the surface and 2 m in height and width. When this tunnel was discovered it was 435 m beyond the DMZ area into South Korea. We put on hard hats and walked down a long steep slope and walked 250 m into the tunnel. We were glad we wore the hats as both of us hit our heads on the protective ceiling. Our walk back was a bit more challenging than going down. My legs were fine, not aching at all, I just found it very difficult to breathe. A most surreal experience. I wonder if it is because I have very low blood pressure. Three other tunnels have also been discovered in other parts of the border, all going into the direction of Seoul. It is thought that once all 4 had been completed, there would have been a major invasion. I can imagine that the discovery of these tunnels must have been very concerning for the South Korean people. Their military is just a fraction in size of the North Korean military. And what is this all for? Power? Greed? Fear? When will the human race learn to love one another? When will we all realise that we are all part of planet earth, so why destroy part of ourselves? If we saw each other as one, connecting with love, care and respect, then there wouldn’t be any war, starvation, or power over another person. To complete the day full of reflection, after lunch and getting our train ticket for tomorrow, we went to the War and Women's Human Rights Museum - International Outreach Team Sometimes I feel very uneducated. I had no idea about the Imperial Japanese military sexual slavery issue. Women and girls as young as 13 were forced into sexual slavery before and during WWII. They were known as “comfort women” and estimated numbers vary from 20,000 to over 300,000. The women were either abducted, lured with the promise of better work or higher education opportunities. The museum was delicately powerful, they didn’t glorify it with gruesome details; the stories of the women were given humanely and with deep respect. The museum also gave details of The Korean Council for the Woman Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (known as “the Korean council”) who have consistently been demonstrating outside the Japanese embassy every Wednesday at noon since 1992 for 7 demands including an official apology and admittance of these war crimes, pay reparations to the victims and erect a memorial monument. At the end of the museum tour, it broadened out to focus on women in other areas of the world who suffer from inhumane treatment and shared details of The Butterfly Fund which was set up by two of the “comfort women” victims so that more women around the world who have suffered sexual violence can be supported. A very moving day, and reminds me that one of my aims with our #grownuptravellers journey is to connect with people from a place of peace and love. And I hope that perhaps this small gift from my heart ripples around the world just like the butterfly effect.