I wrote this while visiting the International Peace Garden on the U.S./Canada border north of Minot, ND two days ago.
Sitting here, it is impossible not to compare this experience to when I visited the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea in 2005. Reflecting on this, I wonder if there will ever be a time when Korea will reunite, or at least develop a friendly, non-hostile relationship.
Along the 49th parallel between North Dakota and Manitoba, I can walk or drive across the border almost without realizing it. When I leave this garden I’ll need to pass through a border checkpoint, of course, but within this park, the border is just a line in the pavement. I sit here, in Canada, looking across that “border” at my car, which I happen to have parked in the USA.
It seems fitting to the atmosphere of both regions that I am at the US/Canada border on a warm, pleasant summer day, whereas I visited the DMZ on a frigid winter afternoon. The DMZ is not a warm, friendly place (as you could probably guess). Barbed wire, lookout towers, armed guards–that’s what you see from the South Korean side. There are bridges and railroad tracks that end abruptly at the DMZ fence, with boarded-up gates and fences; literally now bridges to nowhere. Ironically, the road I took most of the way here–US-83–is often called “The Road to Nowhere” because it traverses such empty plains and grasslands. Yet US-83 actually continues, after a customs station, into Canada without barbed wire or military defenses anywhere in sight.
I hope one day the DMZ can be like this: not a place of guards and weapons, but a peaceful garden like the one in which I’m writing. Here, there is a memorial to those who died in 9/11. There, a park memorializing the pain of decades of division would be fitting. If only the Korean authorities could come here and just quietly contemplate for a while what a border could and should look like.