From Seoul Station to Pyeongyang
Written by Jesse Robert Edwards
On September 3 of last year, reports of a small earthquake in North Korea spread throughout the news. This was widely believed to be the result of a successful nuclear weapons test. The previous month, American President Donald Trump had unleashed his infamous “fire and fury” comment to warn Kim Jong Un from provoking the United States. Logic and reason were seemingly absent in Washington and I can’t say I felt too paranoid for worrying about a catastrophic response from the White House.
As I was out doing errands in Seoul that Sunday, families were still out enjoying ice cream together, groups of friends were going into arcades, and cafes were still crowded with people playing games or catching up on their favorite dramas on their phones. However, I could not shake the grim feeling that peace was so far away and that this standoff felt like it could ignite at any moment. A friend tried to console me with assurances that America has top-notch missile technology, as if military might would bring comfort at the brink of catastrophe.
It was in fact American imperialism that brought division to the peninsula in the first place, and the two Koreas have suffered immensely. Rather than granting Korea independence after Japanese colonial rule, the United States insisted on occupying the south in order to prevent communism. After a cold war impasse, the north and south held separate elections for separate nations. Anti-communism in the south would lead to atrocities such as the Jeju Massacre in 1949, The Bodo League massacre in 1950 and the Gwangju Massacre in 1980. The North would become increasingly isolated, particularly after the fall of the Soviet Union, which would lead to a horrible famine that lasted for years in the 1990s. The Korean War claimed more than two million Korean lives and the two nations have developed in such radically different ways that it has become difficult to even imagine a peaceful solution, let alone reunification. It certainly wasn’t being mentioned as an avenue to explore on that September day in 2017. Fortunately, the climate has cooled since and both countries’ leaders have taken the initiative to seek that path together.
On October 14 of this year, departing from Seoul toward the DMZ on the Peace and Reunification Tour, I began to feel optimistic as people gave their introductions while showing confidence in the Panmunjom Declaration and the Pyeongyang Declaration. A few expressed that their wishes of someday traveling north could soon be realized. If I had any doubts about the future of the peace talks between Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae In, they simply didn’t matter anymore. This was the time for hope.
Being hopeful together was rather meaningful. Bringing that hope to a place like Imjingak made a statement of the people’s will. We weren’t a particularly large group, but we were a vital one carrying a demand for peace and progress. The Bridge of Freedom was the most conspicuous landmark spanning across the Imjin River. Access to the bridge is blocked and it has little function outside of a photo opportunity at its closure. It was dubbed in our booklets and on our tour as the “bridge that connects to nowhere” and it served as a signifier on how much work is left to be done.
Moving onward to the Dora observatory, I was reluctant to look through the binoculars. Taking the journey to be present somewhere carried a very different weight to me than intentionally engaging in a spectacle. I heard from others later that their feelings were very different, that they wanted to see as far as they could into the north to see the home of their relatives.
Dorasan Train Station had the biggest impact on me. I have never owned a car and never really desired one, but I have always been fascinated with trains. I enjoy riding on them, watching them, I even enjoy waiting for them. There is something so socially powerful about a train that is readily apparent to me, a native Ohioan, who grew up without any real form of public transportation. So it was very impactful for me to see a train platform in Dorasan for a train to Kaesong. It was there that I hoped that I could one day stand on that platform. I could choose a destination and could watch people get on and off the train in harmony. I could study its maps and stare out the windows. It is a symbol of all that is possible.
And if you turn around from the platform you can see a large photo of George W. Bush, the personification of 21st century American Imperialism. It’s not really clear what his role was when the station was constructed and the photo is heavily faded. Let the sun continue to wash the colors from the photo so it becomes an odd curiosity and gets replaced. Let the shadow of American imperialism leave the peninsula so that it can reunify and heal. Let the Dorasan Station connect from Seoul to Pyeongyang and beyond.