PBS Wide Angle: “Field Trip to the DMZ”

Yesterday, I received the following e-mail from WNET-13 in New York about a documentary about North Korean refugees that will air this summer. The message I received describes it as well as I could:

I’m writing from Wide Angle, the Emmy award-winning international current affairs documentary series on PBS. We recently launched a web-exclusive documentary shorts series called FOCAL POINT and I thought you might be interested in linking to the latest episode, “Field Trip to the DMZ.

As North Korea’s relations with its neighbors grow ever more strained, FOCAL POINT visits the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea. “Field Trip to the DMZ” trains its lens on one of the 15,000 North Korean defectors who have made it to South Korea, following twenty-year-old Haejung and her high school class on their annual trip to the DMZ.

You can watch a clip here:

Once again, it’s driven home that the peoples of the two Koreas are genetically identical yet culturally and psychologically centuries apart. What other nation tears families apart like this?

Update: I’ve changed the embed link at the producers’ request.


  1. Along the “what other nation” line, this touches slightly on one of the things about the reception of the Sunshine Policy — and also the academic-type blame the US gets for causing North Korea by its part in dividing Korea in the first place:

    It became more and more irritating the more I saw people in the press and think tanks giving North Korea credit for doing virtually nothing — for hardly even rhetorical changes – for nothing more than letting South Korea, the US, and others give it things – things it desperately needed just to survive.

    What was so irritating?

    What could North Korea have EASILY done if “signs of hope” were remotely as positive as some who should have known better made the less informed masses believe?

    How about mail service between the divided nation?

    How about just limited mail service between torn, aging families?

    How about phone service between the peoples? Or at least between divided families – especially the elderly ones?

    There are any number of minor, largely cosmetic things Pyongyang could have done at any time that would have been more of a possible sign of a change of heart that what we witnessed. —- Things that were cosmetic on the grand, geopolitical side but would have meant everything to those families divided by the DMZ.

    But the North didn’t do them. It specifically avoided them because it totally feared such changes would unleash civil unrest if even sizable but small numbers of its citizens began to learn about the real outside world.

    And that has always been known by people familiar with North Korea and how the regime has survived so long. Total control of its masses has always been a hallmark of the regime’s survival policy — which really made the fawning over non-moves the North made after the advent of the Sunshine Policy so galling.

    But people were simply willing to turn a blind eye — I guess because it made them feel better.


  2. Pre 1990 Germany

    I could be wrong, but my understanding is that even when Germany was divided, West Germans were able to make visits to their relatives in the East.

    There have been — and still are — divided countries, but few barred relatives from seeing each other. Until the last decade, China and Taiwan were much like the Koreas in terms of preventing divided families from seeing each other, though the scale of the problem (e.g., number of families) was probably significantly worse in the Koreas.

    The Irish might say theirs is a divided country, though families are not divided. Before the end of the Cold War, indigenous families in the Bering Strait (e.g., the Diomede Island were divided much like Korea. Cyprus is still a divided nation, though I don’t know if families lack freedom to see each other.

    Korea as “the last divided country in the world” makes for dramatic copy (by Korean and Western media both) but it’s not exactly true. But the existence of a divided Cyprus, “China,” or even Ireland does not lessen Koreans’ political and social difficulties and the suffering of Korean families one iota.


  3. Kushibo,

    _all_ West Germans could travel to the East (i did, even though i don t have family there) and even many East Germans could visit relatives in the West (of course restrictions applied, like age above 65).

    anyway, as Joshua pointed out, this is the past and i want to add that the often cited comparison between Korean and German division is not very helpful.
    even though the inter German border was the front line of the cold war and both US and Soviets had vital interests to defend ‘their’ part, Germans never felt the amount of distrust and fear of each other like what we see / have seen in Korea (traveling along the DMZ has been the ‘coldest’ experience in my life).

    imo, this ‘internal division’ poses one of the greatest challenges for a unified Korea. it s not discussed much in the media, though.



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