Pictures of North Korea, part 4: the Arch of Reunification

October 16, 2011 by Joshua
in Freedom, NorthKorea

Continuing writing about my North Korea trip… More pictures. Click on them for larger views.

The Arch of Three Somethings

Approaching our first bona-fide tourist site, the Arch of Reunification. North Korea claims as one of its greatest goals and sources of victimhood is the division of the two Koreas. I don’t sense from South Koreans a great desire to reunify, but I don’t claim any deep insight or knowledge of either culture.

The Arch of Three Somethings

Approaching the first site on the first day, I took this picture from inside the bus, through the tinted window. Much of the public art consisted of grand mega-scale architecture promoting the state and various of its ideals with little individual personal expression. I guess many countries have that too. I would still call many of the works magnificent. Maybe it’s just my ignorance, but of the many state-built arches I’ve seen, I’ve never seen one formed of two people coming together. The scale is just colossal, and it’s in the middle of nowhere.

The Arch of Three Somethings

You can see the number 3 under the globe they hold, which I believe represents three interests North Korea has for reunifying, something like they want the Koreas to do it themselves, freedom, and some consistency of government. I found major discrepancies between what the government claimed it wanted and its actions — kidnapping South Koreans, sinking their ships, threatening them. North Korea doesn’t capitalize the S in South Korea. The North Korean government’s behavior seems more consistent with it believing it owns South Korea, like it would annex it if it could.

The Arch of Three Somethings

While showing the arch from a different angle does show something, I took too many pictures of the same arch, as much as it fascinated me.

The Arch of Three Somethings

The grooming of the land around the arch looked great, like around many other tourist locations around the world. Only one thing — North Korea has almost no tourists. For that matter, this location has almost no anyone. The road under this arch goes directly from Pyongyang to Seoul — connecting two world capitals of what for a thousand years was one country, still sharing the same language and countless family bonds. Yet in the maybe half hour we visited, maybe two or three vehicles passed.

The Arch of Three Somethings

Garrison Keillor once remarked that Americans — maybe he said midwesterners in particular — don’t just want pictures of the Grand Canyon. They want pictures of Aunt Sally and Uncle Mike in front of the Grand Canyon. We do, but I think all cultures share that trait. So you, who came to learn about North Korea, have to deal with pictures of dorky me.

The Arch of Three Somethings

Not only do you have to deal with pictures of me, you have to deal with many of them because Alex, who took most of the pictures of me, tended to take many each time, like we all do with digital cameras. I’ll point out that the globe the statues hold shows a red unified Korea. The North Korean story of the Korean War says that the U.S. started it, probably unprovoked. As far as I know, everyone outside North Korea agrees North Korea invaded the South after Kim Il Sung got permission from Russia, expecting to conquer the peninsula within a few months. You’d think the discrepancy would require double-think skills or cause cognitive dissonance, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they wiped out any record of alternative stories to the official government story.

The Arch of Three Somethings

Alex adopts an Il Duce pose in front of the totalitarian monument. I kept trying to rhyme Il Duce with Juche, the North Korean religion/philosophy promoting independence and self-reliance among other things, in a funny way, but never came up with one I liked — a shame because they seem so linked. I’ll cover my analysis on Juche later, informed by a book on strategy from one of Columbia Business School’s top professors. Business and political strategy differ, but have enough in common for that book to apply here.

The Arch of Three Somethings

If you want to unify with someone, killing them, disrespecting them, closing borders with them, and so on won’t help. Behavior like that makes it look like you want to take over. You could technically call that reunification, but no one would voluntarily submit to your taking control. I’m addressing the North Korean leadership, not Alex, pictured here.

I had posted these pictures on social networking site and included the following below one of the pictures, which I include here for completeness. Sorry some of it repeats.

The globe they hold shows the Korean peninsula with the Koreas united. North Korea holds unification as one of their greatest goals. I’m not sure what they think is holding the countries back from the goal, but I think the government presents that the U.S. is occupying South Korea and that South Korea’s government or economy is in shambles. They say that the U.S. started the Korean War. I haven’t found verification of these beliefs outside North Korea.

North Korea seems to love and hate South Korea, which they call south Korea with a lower case ‘s’. They claim they want to reunify, but they also do what appear counterproductive things. They have a large army poised to invade, point missiles at South Korea, tunnel under the Demilitarized Zone apparently to enable invasion, kidnap South Koreans, don’t allow North Koreans to visit South Korea and vice versa, and so on.

South Koreans, I hear, are concerned with how joining with North Korea would affect their economy. They point at the drain the former East Germany put on the former West Germany after reunification and that the difference in economies between the Koreas dwarfs that of the Germanies.

A couple paragraphs barely scratches the surface. Still, it looks to me like an overarching consideration is that reunification acts as a goal that the North Korean government can always hold as an ideal that, since likely unachievable, forever provides the people with something to work toward while providing a common enemy. That South Korea’s economy, freedom, and human rights are so much better than the North’s, apparently contrary to what the North’s government says requires North Korea to cut the flow of information across its borders.

I’m also taking the liberty of posting comments to that post by my friend Ava, who is from South Korea.

When I first saw photos of this reunification arch, I was surprised. I did not expect to see it. I did not know the North wanted reunification, or maybe I thought they just wanted to take over the South (by force). During the Korean War, among other things, they abducted boys and men from high schools and colleges one day, to join the North Korean army. Anyone who refused was executed. My mother lost an uncle who was abducted in college, and was never heard from again.

She posted again

My mother had another uncle who was abducted in high school same day (two were brothers). But he was lucky. While he was with the North Korean army during the Korean War, one day he heard US soldiers nearby and escaped. He stayed with the US army, and after the war ended found his family and went on to live a full life.

I responded

Saying they want reunification doesn’t mean behaving to attain it. This place has so much in common with 1984 and Animal Farm it’s hard to grasp. The power structure seems to require promoting enemies internally and externally as well as common goals.

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