DEMILITARIZED ZONE, Korea — Call it “The Posedown on the Peninsula.”
U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. James Thurman stood just a few feet away from the Military Demarcation Line on Friday, posing for pictures with assorted dignitaries, as North Korean soldiers a few yards away took photos of South Korean and U.S. soldiers from their side of the divide between the two Koreas.
Thurman was at the DMZ for a ceremony marking the 59th anniversary of the July 27, 1953, armistice that effectively ended the Korean War.
The pact provided for the transfer of prisoners of war, the creation of the DMZ and the end of open hostilities. However, a peace treaty was never signed.
While not unprecedented, Friday’s mix of bravado and gamesmanship was unusual even by the standards of the Joint Security Area of the Demilitarized Zone, where tourists regularly stream in and out as soldiers from countries still technically at war strike aggressive stances and glare at one another from opposite sides of the line.
The battle of the snapshots ended after about 10 minutes. A line of close to a dozen U.S. and South Korean soldiers stood with behind Thurman, with their backs to him, facing their camera-aiming counterparts on the other side of the 18-inch-wide slab of concrete on the ground that marks the Military Demarcation Line.
Asked after the war of the poses whether he was encouraged or discouraged by the actions of the North Korean regime since Kim Jong Un took over in December following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, Thurman said, “I’m encouraged, but I think it’s too early to tell.
“I would hope that we could have lasting peace on this peninsula,” he said. “I’ll be the first to tell you, having been in war, that is not what we want to do.
“I would hope at some point we could resume discussions again, so we can resolve the situation and eventually get to where we don’t have a Demilitarized Zone here,” Thurman said. “It’s about peace and prosperity of people.”
During the ceremony inside one of the conference rooms that sits on the demarcation line, Thurman focused most of his comments to the 50 dignitaries in attendance on how South Korea has taken advantage of the peace brought by the armistice.
“The success maintaining the armistice has enabled the people of the Republic of Korea to build their nation into a global leader,” the USFK commander said.
“The Republic of Korea has transformed from a nation devastated by war to a global economic and cultural power,” he said. “Today it is a free and open democracy, and the world’s 13th-largest economy.”
South Korea Maj. Gen. Lee Yang-koo of the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission directed several of his comments to one of the armistice-signers not represented at the ceremony – North Korea.
Citing what he called the instability of the budding Kim Jong Un regime, Lee said through a translator, “We should always keep in mind that North Korea can perpetrate military provocations any time down the road.
“Over the past 59 years, peace has been unstable on the Korean peninsula, but it has been maintained well under the armistice,” he continued. “However, we cannot guarantee that North Korea won’t wage another war in the future.
“I once again call on North Korea to stop provocations … come back to the armistice framework and comply with the agreement in a sincere manner,” Lee said.