The 38th parallel. A simple line that separates the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, aka North Korea, and the southern part of the Korean peninsula, two countries that have been battling with hatred for more than seven decades.
Japan’s rule over the Korean peninsula, a brutal experience for the Koreans, started in 1910 and lasted for 35 years. As a result of Japan’s defeat in WW2, the peninsula of Korea was then occupied by two world superpowers, Russia and the U.S.
As the two countries used their newly claimed lands as puppets during the cold war, Korea was forced to split along the 38th parallel, imbuing the northern part with communist ideas and turning the southern into a democratic state. Kim Il Sung became the head for the North, while Syngman Rhee led the southern state. Both leaders claimed their nation as the most accurate representation of the entire Korean population.
On September 8, 1948 in Pyongyang, Kim Il Sung officially established his nation as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. After the American and Russian troops retreated from Korea, strains between the South and North grew rapidly. Both claimed to have full control and administration of Korea, which inevitably led to greater tension between the two leaders and their respective countries.
The year 1950 marked the beginning of an exceptionally bloody war that altered the fate of almost every Korean and even until this day the Korean War has not been completely resolved.. On June 25th, 75,000 North Korean troops advanced across the 38th parallel, declaring battle. As the invasion progressed rapidly, the capital of South Korea, Seoul, and much of the land surrounding it was successfully occupied by North Korean armies.
As communist ideas were spreading, the U.S. leader at the time, President Truman, had to take action to prevent the domino effect progressing any further. President Truman turned to the United Nations Security Council for aid, initiating a request for North Korean troops to evacuate. Due to North Korea ‘s refusal, an international armed force was formed, consisting mostly of American soldiers. Commanded by American five-star General Douglas MacArthur, the UN-initiated army landed in South Korea and formed a solid protection barrier around Pusan, the only corner of South Korea that wasn’t infested with North Korean troops.
On September 15th, 1950, Douglas MacArthur led his troops to Inchon, where he forced the North Korean military back to their side of the border. Less than a month later, the U. S. army started a foray into North Korea and eventually captured the capital, Pyongyang, and claimed it for the Republic of Korea. After a series of battles between the North Korean troops and the U. S. troops, an armistice was signed on July 27th, 1953 with the aid of President Eisenhower, who sought an end to this violent war that led nowhere. Although no official peace treaty has been signed yet, a 160-mile-long demilitarized area has been separating the two states from any violent acts.

– Jessie Liu

I’ve heard so much about North Korea throughout these years: About how it operates under a necrocracy government; (run by a dead leader), how its deals with South Korea and how isolated it is from the rest of the world. It’s not until recently that my perspective of viewing North Koreans has changed.
It all started with a Ted Talk about a South Korean journalist who works for the American company, speaking about her experience as a prisoner in North Korea for 3 months. I followed up her story by reading her book “The world is bigger now.” The journalist, Euna Lee, risked her life to shoot a documentary at the border of North Korea because she wanted to know more about the people who escape from North Korea to China for better life but ended up being arrested by North Korean soldiers.
She was put under interrogation and into a cell for 140 days. She wrote about how her faith and family helped her go through and most importantly how she made friends with the North Koreans who were supervising her. She realized that they are no different than her. Young girls asked her about the feeling of being in love and they spend a lot of time wearing make up everyday too. The male interrogator offered her cloth and boil eggs, telling her everything will be all right. Throughout these months, she realized that how people view North Koreans should be separated from the country. They are the same as the rest of the world.
A group of Chinese people once recorded their trip to North Korea. In the video, everything seems to be monotone and grey. The mall sells clothes that look from the 70s; the calendar starts at the date of the birth of Kim Il sung; the capital city Pyongyang has nothing but square buildings, monuments and pictures of the great leader. Besides this, they prepared a birthday celebration for the local tour guide who was a young girl. The excitement on her face is just the same as any one else who would have received a surprise.
In another Ted Talk, South Korean teacher Suki Tim told of going to a school said to educate the future North Korea leaders, and taught students English there. They are not allowed to connect with their parents or outside world and every lesson is recorded and reported. She realized that students wrote nothing about their great leader when they were required to write a letter to their family.They started to reveal their true feelings, about how everything is the same every day and how eagerly they wanted to get out and explore the world.
These stories of North Koreans have touched me a lot as I feel so sad about people living in such environment but at the same time they are the same as us. They have emotions, minds and ideas. I used to think that North Koreans should rebel or change the current situation but now I would rather hope they stay the same since somebody is always watching. It will put them in great peril. I think of them as equal to others. Maybe they just have more curiosity and hope than the rest.

– Ellen Wu