The DMZ as Prelude

The DMZ as Prelude


Although it is common in the media, and in books about Korea, to refer to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that rudely rips the nation in two as a “remnant of the Cold War,” I have argued on several occasions that  the DMZ is not a remnant, but rather a prelude to a new geopolitical reality: the forceful separation of different economic systems by barriers. This building of walls to keep economic systems, and even classes and ethnic groups separate,  is increasing around the world and we may well find that the DMZ is not a relic of past ideological battles, but rather the precursor of a new global phenomena.

The most striking parallels to the DMZ are without a doubt the walls recently erected around Gaza in Israel/Palestine and the militarized wall between the United States and Mexico. However, a recent special feature in the Guardian has drawn attention to a group of other notable walls around the world. Needless to say, similar walls are emerging at the urban level throughout all the cities of the world. Perhaps this proliferation of walls parallels the border-less society that is evolving at another level.

Recently, at an Asia Institute seminar in Seoul, John Feffer made a challenge to the Korean people, he said, and I paraphrase,


“For Korea to achieve reunification is to set forth a model for the entire world of how we can overcome  the economic and cultural gaps between the developed world and the developing world. Korea will have to wrestle with tremendous problems, but it can give hope to the world, and concrete best practices, through its successful reunification that will have meaning far beyond the Korean Peninsula.”

The DMZ is best seen in the context of this larger challenge for our age.



“Our Walled World” 

The Guardian

November 19, 2013

Our Walled World


World War Z

World War Z


Our Walled World


3 responses to “The DMZ as Prelude

  1. Craig January 2, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    The gap between n and s Korea is not merely one of developed and poor. What this analysis omits is the following.

    The economic system, state socialism with a stalinist twist, is wholly a human creation. And it has no redeeming features.

    It is at the same time cruel, capricious, and vicious. It has the usual features of socialism – dehumanizing collective denial of individuals, authoritarianism, repression and crushing of human creativity and initiative – but it also combines these in the most extreme form.

    The represents the most soul destroying aspects of socialist thought. It is also awholly human created poverty, and an unnatural one.

    Before it can be integrated into the South, the value system in the north must be replaced.

    His is notmerely a case of bridging two worlds and the rich one opening up. This is silly talk.

    It’s a case of freeing people from a certain evil, a philosophy that enslaves them.

    Inthat, it servesas a model for only itself. There’s no possible point of comparison to Israel or Mexico.

    Only if you blindly excuse a lot of things and are not hostile tothe grinding reality of the disastrously failed utopian ideology can you drawcomparisons.

    I’m reminded of he same kind of analysis I read in works written while stalin butchered Russia; basic sympathywiththe goals of communism led to willful blindness to realities.

  2. Emanuel Pastreich January 3, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    I do not agree with this distinction. The case with North Korea is perhaps more extreme in some respects, but we are looking at a common trend around the world. What Stalin did in Russia was a more extreme form of what was done elsewhere.

  3. CRAIG January 3, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    There is a fundamental difference between NK and Mexico or NK and Nk and the Palestinians.

    NK is a literally homocidal state, with virtually no redeeming features of any kind, except that its subjects – one could more accurately call them prisoners – are human. Aside from this, the state itself is wholly unethical in composition, philosophy and behaviour. There is no way to compare SK and NK. It’s as if a country was situated beside a human black hole. Every advance for North Korea is a major step backwards for the rest of the world. It’s hard ,from an ethical standpoint, to advance any policy that could assist the NK regime without betraying all liberal ethical values .The only reason to engage NK is to undermine its existence.

    Mexico and the US are two normal, human states in varying states of good and bad relations. That border is utterly unlike the NK-SK border in every way.The NK-Sk border isn;’t just an international border .It’s a split between a nightmare dystopian state which has no concern for or places on value on human life or existence. It is socialism in its most pure and threatening form. The US- mexico border is not an ideological or philosophical divide.

    The Israel-PAlestine border represents a state in an actual state of ethnic warfare. Again, this is not remotely similar to the NK-SK border .Were Israel to dismantle it, tens of thousands of people would see it as weakness and proceed to view this as license to exterminate Israelis. Israel has no partner in any peace project ,alas. For Israel, on the other hand ,the border represents both security and threat; it’s able to hide behind it while this ethic conflict rages through the generations but when this subsides, should it do so, it can embrace its real future – as a normal country with (likely then) very similar neighbours. In a real sense, that border is a cultural rather than a political one in an ethnic war zone. Dismantling it is only partly a political project. In a real sense, there is no “state” on the palestinian side worth considering -yet. A state whose only purpose is to nihilistically eliminate another is not a real state. It’s fairly clear from reading media on both sides that this division will continue so long as the ethnic walls continue.

    The NK-SK border is an ethical and philosophical one, a holdover forma much darker time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: