The other Korea was a footstep away. The Games of peace and harmony seemed a million miles distant. In two weeks the Olympics will be over. The battle for hearts and minds may never end.
It's a short and winding road through rice paddies and a time warp, maybe 35 miles from the hum and Hyundais of downtown Seoul to the edge of reality, the military demarcation line between South and North Korea.Thirty-five years ago, July 27, 1953, after a war that came to be called a "police action," and a truce that should be called a joke, the Korean peninsula was conveniently divided on or about the 38th parallel.
The shooting stopped. The shouting and staring go on to this day.
They run tours up to the DMZ, which is the way my generation came to refer to Demilitarized Zone, a strip of land some three miles wide and 151 miles long created to save lives and save face, not necessarily in that order.
They haul visitors in buses up Highway 1, more than 80,000 came last year, to prove that beyond the stadium rims the world remains a less than perfect place _ and that the U.S and Republic of Korea are inextricably tied to each other in the pursuit of health, wealth and Samsung electronics.
Was it Henry Ford who said, "History is bunk?" Not for America and Korea it isn't. The shrapnel and mortar scars are hidden beneath decades of nature's province. Bushes and trees may green the landscape, but mental scores persist.
Some flippantly call P'anmunjom a Military theme park. If you think Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean is exhilarating, try Korea's Gawk at the Enemy.
Sure you sign a disclaimer freeing the United Nations hosts from legal action. But they're selling souvenirs, hats and other paraphernalia. Sorry, none with a red star. Impartiality is not big here. Ah, but preparedness is.
Remember Pork Chop Hill? Remember the Inchon landings? Remember Eisenhower's campaign promise to go to Korea and bring home the U.S. troops?
Thirty five years have not blurred memories. And every now and then troops from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea _ North Korea, the Communists _ bring the problem to focus once more, ignoring the agreement and the sanctity of human life.
A stone monument marks a spot where a poplar tree grew. Branches from the tree once blocked the view of United Nations observers. Two soldiers were sent out to prune the tree. They were hacked to death by North Koreans who infilitrated the DMZ.
After the ceasefire a Joint Security Area, 800 meters in diameter, was set up exactly on the line that separates north from south. The JSA often is called the Truce Village but is best known as P'anmunjom, which was a village destroyed in the war but gained infamy as the site where the armistice was signed.
They allow people to walk into the room that extends halfway into each territory, and, momentarily, poke a foot or a fist across the border.
Centerpiece of the 60-foot room is the negotiating table where through 35 unproductive years representatives from each side have talked and talked.
"It's okay for you to stand on the North Korean side," Sgt. Bruce Leming, a 23-year-old Virginian advised, "as long as there's nothing but good guys in the room. But don't even think about trying to go out that door at the northern end."
The enemies continue their vigil, in effect babysitting a border, living so near but so far. A couple of hundred yards south of that conference table, in a green building encircled by barbed wire and combat bunkers, the Quick Reactionary Force waits in eternal vigilance.
These are elite U.S. and ROK troops, specialists in hand-to-hand combat, who in 90 seconds can be in full gear and ready to fight.
Four hundred fighting men are stationed under U.N. command in the JSA. They train constantly. No women are allowed.
Four miles below the camp is the Imjin River, in effect where life begins. On the south side is a restaurant decored with balloons and Olympic flags. Across the road an MP guards the entrance to a one-lane, wood-planked span, the Freedom Bridge.
In one direction were roadblocks, troops and tension. In the other freedom, fun and games. Is there anyone who wouldn't know the way to go?