Two Korean soldiers– one from Sariwan, North Korea, and one from Chongju, South Korea– stare intensely at one another, watching each and every move. They are in the DMZ, a 4 km wide band stretching across 250 km of deserted land, known as the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas. They each represent their part of Korea. The soldiers are in this uptight position because of the Korean War, which never officially ended with a peace treaty. As they watch one another, it is as if they are looking at a mirror image of themselves. Even though they are identical on the outside, they are far from similar on the inside.
North Korea and South Korea, like the two soldiers, share some similar characteristics. First, they both have an extremely high literacy rate; North Korea has 95% and South Korea has 97% literate citizens. Education is free for students ages 5-16, and many take advantage of this academic offering. Second, what better food is there to be found in Korea than the fish than the fish that surround the peninsula. The North and the South have major commercial fishing businesses. In fact, did you know South Korea ranks third in the world’s fishing industry? Another common food between the North and South is rice. It’s the chief crop of the north and a wet- season crop in the south. Third, Korea has a homogenous society, which means the citizens in the North and South have a common ethnic background. Lastly, both sides share the Korean language. Approximately 110 million people living on the Korean peninsula speak this language, which originated in Neolithic times. Although you can see these few similarities, it is difficult to find many common links between the two parts of Korea. On the other hand, the differences are far more apparent.
The first big difference between North and South Korea is their government. While North Korea is a hard- line Communist nation, the South is a democracy. The political power in the North rests with the leadership of the Korean Worker’s Party. Governing democratically, the south’s legislative power is vested in the popularly elected National Assembly, and executive power rests in a president elected to a single five-year term. Unfortunately, the citizens in North Korea live in poverty and starvation, while the South Korean citizens are wealthy and stuffed. For example, if North Korean citizens came in contact with South Korean citizens, they would be jealous of how fat they were! Controlled by their government, the North has little foreign involvement. Trading withother countries is nearly non-existent. They have practically cut themselves off from the outside world. Having a growing prosperity from foreign trade, South Korea is a key US ally. Exports from the South include many manufactured and electronic goods. Lastly, resources and land formations have their differences between the North and South. The mountains, coal, metal, and hydroelectric power are rich in North Korea and the electricity is provided by a large hydroelectric source on the Yalu River. Unlike the North, South Korea has good agricultural land, yet it’s much smaller. Their rice fields are growing rapidly and are among the best in the world. The differences in the resources and land are due to the political division at the 38th parallel.
This brings us back to the DMZ, where the two soldiers continue constant eye contact. Although the North and the South share these similarities and differences, one can only help think of the possibility that the soldiers, from both Koreas , one day will be hand in hand as they defend Korea as a whole. But until that day comes, think of the fear and tension between North and South Korea and know it will continue to exist.