The two Koreas: a border made real

The most heavily-militarized border in human history does not exist between religious enemies. Nor does it form a logical divide based on language, ethnicity, or culture. It divides a single people, with common customs and a long history of collectively resisting foreign invasion and rule. And it shows the terrible power of politics in creating conflict and fostering hatred.

Cancan Chu, Getty Images

A line on the 38th parallel, a reminder of a bloody war that achieved nothing. There are two Koreas, one capitalist and democratic, one authoritarian and militaristic. In recent memory they do not walk alone- there were once two Vietnams, two Germanys. The story of the Korean peninsula is one of foreign occupation, cultural suppression, atrocities against women, and since 1945 a hardened separation that seems no closer to ending than when it began.

Cultural differences have sprang up- the South Koreans live in one of the most technologically advanced societies on Earth, while the North Koreans have struggled with keeping factories running and creating a functional electrical grid. Physical differences have arisen despite an identical genetic background; chronic malnourishment has led North Koreans are up to three inches shorter than those in the South. This artificial division has in time become a real one. A common people have become strangers to one another.

The Korean War is not over. Koreans continue to die whilst trying to leave one country and enter the other. As the years become decades, and in four decades could become centuries, the bonds are weakening. The fields inside the Korean DMZ do not hold crops, instead they hold tens of thousands of landmines. A huge amount of money is spent by both countries, as well as the United States, to produce weapons- including weapons of mass destruction- in case mass killing is called for.

One day the two Koreas may unite and join other people that have torn down their walls and ceased their wars. Until then there is nothing but two hands reaching for each other, but slowly falling away.

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