Panmunjom tops my bucket list
For almost 30 years from August 1961 to November 1989, the Berlin Wall was the universal symbol of the Cold War. It divided the capital city of Germany into West Berlin — under Allied forces the United States, Great Britain, and France — and East Berlin under Soviet control. The Wall, about 27 miles-long was made of concrete, 12 feet tall and 4 feet wide, with barbed wire on top, and the only way to move from one side to the other was through a number of checkpoints, the most famous of which was Checkpoint Charlie.
Under a UN-sponsored study tour, we were part of a group of officials from different countries who were provided with the opportunity to visit and familiarize ourselves with government operations in several European nations. The divided city of Berlin was one of our destinations. We flew into the city via Tempelhof Airport, one of the major facilities used during the Berlin Airlift to supply the city in the face of a Soviet blockade. While in West Berlin, we were allowed to visit East Berlin, passing through Checkpoint Charlie. I can only describe the visit as moving from a vibrant, progressive community to a drab and dreary town with little to offer the visitor.
The Berlin Wall would be taken down in November 1989 and its stones broken up and sold as souvenirs and reminders of
Soviet domination. Berlin would later be restored as the capital of a united Germany in October 1990.
Another symbol of a formerly divided nation was the 17th Parallel in Vietnam. Following the defeat of France in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, an agreement was reached by France and Vietnam, known as the Geneva Accords of 1954. Vietnam was separated at the 17th Parallel with the northern half governed by the Viet Minh and headed by Ho Chi Minh, while the remainder to the South becoming the State of Vietnam led by Emperor Bao Dai and Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem.
In the continuation of the conflict known as the Vietnam War, South Vietnam in spite of strong US support, was defeated by the North. This led to the reunification of the entire country under President Ho Chi Minh, with Hanoi as the capital. Saigon, formerly the capital of South Vietnam and known in the past as the “Paris of the Orient,” was renamed Ho Chi Minh City.
On a personal note, my father Modesto Farolan — after serving as commissioner of tourism under Presidents Ramon Magsaysay and Carlos Garcia — was appointed ambassador to South Vietnam by President Diosdado Macapagal. He succeeded Ambassador Trinidad Legarda.
The last and possibly the most enduring symbol of an ideological conflict involving communism and the free world, is a small village, Panmunjom, located just 56 miles north of Seoul in territory held by North Korea. It was in this village that the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed in July 1953, bringing to a temporary halt the Korean War that broke out in June 1950. As peace was never fully agreed upon in the negotiations, the two sides are still officially at war. A demilitarized zone at the 38th parallel separates the two forces—the UN Command and North Korean units—making it the most heavily armed region in the world. Pillboxes, land mines, barbed wire, and tank obstacles
fill up the entire demarcation line with more than a million
fully-armed and combat-ready forces on both sides prepared for war at any time.
So, why would Panmunjom be on my bucket list, or on anyone’s bucket list?
Well, for one thing, the way things are moving, Panmunjom may not be around or available as a tourist destination in the weeks and months ahead.
Consider this: We have two crazy people who have their fingers on the red button that would trigger nuclear warheads, sending them toward their targets.
One is a young man in his 30s (age not certain) whose obsession is basketball. (Perhaps, he has some Filipino blood in his veins.) As a student in Switzerland, Kim Jong-un lived in an apartment filled with NBA memorabilia. Among his idols were Toni Kukoc of the Chicago Bulls and Kobe Bryant of the LA Lakers. For him basketball was everything. Today, Dennis Rodman, another NBA star, is a visitor to Pyongyang from time to time.
Kim Jong-un is the Supreme Leader of North Korea and his toys these days include intercontinental ballistic missiles that can reach parts of the United States. They may soon be capable of carrying miniaturized nuclear warheads. He recently announced plans to target Guam, but for some reason decided to hold back for the time being.
The other character is an older man in his 70s, who happens to be the president of the United States, Donald Trump. He won the elections in the Electoral College, but lost to his opponent Hillary Clinton in the popular vote by close to three million votes. Because of this, he claims fraud and electoral irregularities and has created a commission to investigate the matter.
After seven months in office, he has replaced his communications director three times, with one of them Anthony Scaramucci, serving for only 11 days. He also has changed his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, with a retired Marine general, John Kelly. Earlier he accepted the resignation of his National Security Adviser Gen. Michael Flynn. Eight prominent CEOs on his
Manufacturing Council and the Strategic and Policy Forum
have quit their posts in view of unacceptable presidential statements on recent racial violence in Virginia. His chief political strategist, Steve Bannon, recently left or was fired from his job at the White House. Close associates of the president are facing probes on alleged Russian collusion in the 2016 elections. In response to Kim Jong-un’s threat of attacking Guam, Trump declared “these threats will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
Folks, ask your travel agent to book you now for the Panmunjom tour. It may be your last opportunity to see the place before all hell breaks loose.
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