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  • Disrupting War:Women Cross the Korean DMZ
  • Christine Ahn (bio)

In 1945, on the eve of Japan's surrender to the United States, rather than liberate Korea, which had been colonized for thirty-five years by Japan, two young military officers were assigned by the US State and War Departments to divide Korea. The two officers tore out a map from National Geographic and literally drew a line across the thirty-eighth parallel because it placed Seoul in the US zone. President Harry S. Truman sent a memo to Joseph Stalin informing him that the Soviets could take Pyongyang and the area north of the thirty-eighth parallel, and that the US would take Seoul and the region south of it. It is through this arbitrary, imperial border-making process that Korea became divided over seventy years ago and still remains divided. In 1948 separate elections were held creating two nation-states, the Republic of Korea (ROK, South Korea) and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK, North Korea).

The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is a man-made partition dividing the North and South. The DMZ was established in 1953 by the Armistice Agreement, when military commanders from the United States, North Korea, and China signed the ceasefire that halted the 1950–53 Korean War. With barbed wire fences lining the 155-mile territory across the Korean Peninsula, armed soldiers patrolling the border with heavy artillery, and 1.2 million land mines in the DMZ, it is no wonder President Bill Clinton once called it the "scariest place on earth."1 As one of the most militarized borders in the world, the DMZ has become a site of imperialism, militarization, and division for millions of Korean families and the Korean people. It has also become the location for people's resistance to the unresolved Korean War. In this essay, I discuss the importance of women's mobilization in peace building, focusing on the 2015 women's DMZ crossing that I helped organize, and why we must have a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War.

The Korean War, from 1950 to 1953, claimed four million lives. US bombing campaigns flattened 80 percent of North Korean cities, dropping 635,000 tons of bombs on Korea, more than in the Asia-Pacific in World War II, and [End Page 1045] splattering 33,000 tons of napalm in Korea, more than in Vietnam. Although the July 27, 1953, ceasefire halted fighting, no peace agreement has been signed even though under Article 4, Paragraph 60 of the Armistice Agreement, North Korean and American leaders promised to return within three months to forge a peace agreement. This never happened, and thus a state of war has since defined US–DPRK relations.

In 2017 the Korean Peninsula became the focal point for a potential outbreak of war as tensions escalated between the United States and North Korea. In his first year in office, at the United Nations—the forum for international peace and diplomacy—President Donald Trump threatened to "totally destroy" North Korea, a sovereign nation. North Korea became determined to complete its mission to develop its nuclear capability to prevent the United States from regime change (like the US attacks against authoritarian rulers in Iraq and Libya). That year, North Korea tested a hydrogen bomb and over twenty missiles, including a long-range missile that many experts said had the capability to strike the continental United States. The Trump administration seriously weighed a "bloody nose strike" on North Korea, which would have had devastating consequences for the seventy million Koreans on the peninsula and others throughout the region.

On the Division of Korea

While the Korean War was predominantly a civil war between North and South, it was also an international conflict involving the US and twenty other nations, which led to hundreds of thousands of casualties and losses, and millions of civilians killed and wounded. Given the importance of the DMZ as a militarized border, it is critical to understand the origins of Korea's division.

In 1905 William Howard Taft, the US secretary of war, negotiated a secret agreement with Japan in which the US and Japan agreed to not interfere...


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