Monday, July 1, 2019

Powerful Images from DMZ Produce Powerful Perceptions

The President's visit today to one of the world's most tense borders is an interesting juxtaposition to America's current debate about border security. But this isn't a post about politics. Rather, it's about advertising and the power of images to forge perceptions. (It also draws from my personal experiences stationed at the DMZ in the U.S. Army.)
On the left is an image of the DMZ Panmunjom "Peace Site", looking from the so-called DPRK ("Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea) looking to South Korea (Republic of Korea). This is the standard configuration of hand-picked North Korean soldiers at the border.
The KPA (Korean People's Army) soldiers in Panmunjom are hand-selected for their physique, height and military bearing. They are fed better and more than regular KPA troops. At the DMZ, they are supplemented by dozens more, hidden in the building at the top of the stairs in the photo at right. The soldiers record every minute of every visitor at the site.
Even if they could afford to visit, most NK civilians can't go to Panmunjom. Only the Elite of the Elite may visit; when they do, they are ringed by KPA soldiers to prevent them from defecting. By comparison, the DMZ is one of the ROK's most-visited tourist destinations.
After visitors on the South side sign a form stating they will not make any offensive gestures nor take any photos, they are escorted into the Peace Building (where the Armistice was signed in 1953) by ROK soldiers in dress uniforms.
Neither ROK nor U.S. soldiers are permitted to visit the DMZ in ACUs--Army Combat Uniform--as the NKs would interpret this as a provocation. Visitors either react with stunned silence or giggle nervously as two pairs of ROK and KPA soldiers glower at each other from each side of the room.
On the right is a press pool photo of President Trump and Kim Jong-Un, looking North into the DPRK. No soldiers, no uniforms, no visible military presence at all. It appears like just another photo opportunity between two state leaders--and most Americans will see this "advertisement" and accept it as reality.
In my experience, the moment VIPs departed, trailed by their entourages and the media maelstrom, soldiers on both sides returned to the watches they have stood since 1953.
That's the reality at the DMZ, and it's going to take far more than words and handshakes to achieve a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.

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