National Geographic : 2003 Jul
"But if an invasion happens, we'll defend the DMZ and evacuate noncombatants." Cleared to enter the DMZ and join the patrol, I climb into a Humvee, the bulky, all-terrain vehicle of the U.S. military. As we rumble north ward through the dark with the headlights off, Captain Davis hands me a pair of $3,600 elec tronic night-vision goggles, standard issue for the forward troops. In the eerie green glow of the goggles, I see the DMZ fence loom up like a jungle wall-a ten-foot-tall chain-link barrier with a canopy of coiled razor wire. A rock-hard embankment, erected to stop onrushing tanks, edges the fence on the other side. Beyond that the ground is seeded with mines. Watchtowers crop up every hundred yards or so. Except for the areas where steep terrain makes man-made obstacles un necessary, this bristly fence walls the peninsula into two irreconcilable halves. We drive through a gate in the fence, cross ing into the DMZ, and soon we sight the platoon as it prepares to set out on patrol. I quickly apply camouflage paint to my face, take a place in the soldiers' line, and begin walking. An hour into the patrol the sky begins to lighten, causing the soldiers to crouch down and switch off their goggles. It is a vulnerable time, these moments dividing night from day, and the soldiers wait in their defen sive posture for a couple of minutes until their eyes readjust. We are within sight of the tightly clus tered farmhouses in the hamlet of Daeseong-dong, the only South Korean settlement allowed to exist inside the DMZ. No lights shine in the windows. Daeseong-dong's 225 residents live under a strict curfew: off the streets by eleven, confined until dawn. "Look, there's the enemy," a soldier in front of me says, motioning his head toward a squat concrete guard tower rising up across the MDL less than 50 yards from us. North Korean sol diers in brown uniforms press against its win dows, squinting through binoculars and firing off photographs as if we're some kind of wild life attraction. "It's OK; we want them to see us," mutters 12 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC * JULY 2003 Captain Davis. "These patrols say to North Korea: 'We're here, we're armed, and we're not afraid of you."' In the early light we can make out Kijong dong, North Korea's only DMZ village, an orderly collection of buildings fronted by a flag pole 52 stories high, the tallest in the world. A strong, cold wind, compliments of Siberia, barely manages to ripple the huge 600-pound red, white, and blue North Korean flag. Soldier of Fortunemagazine, I had been told, will pay big money for a piece of that flag. Our patrol's in-your-face attitude is com pletely lost on the village: Its population is zero. The fancy-looking apartment buildings are actually flimsy movie-set facades with painted on windows. Kijongdong, nicknamed Propa ganda Village by U.S. and South Korean troops, was built in the 1950s to lure defectors to cross over to the good life in North Korea. So far there have been no takers. As the sun cracks the horizon, ragged for mations of geese and ducks begin to pass noisily above us and swoop down on the fields. The soldiers don't appear to notice. Grimly, silently, they finish the patrol. The truce has survived another night in the DMZ, and morning brings a sense of peace. But don't be fooled by the quiet, cautions Maj. Kim Bong Su, a senior Korean officer back at Bon ifas. "The North Koreans are the same blood as us, but they are the enemy. They always have a gun pointed at my soldiers' hearts."