Kim Il Sung

If a Tree Falls in the Demilitarized Zone: Operation Paul Bunyan Pits a Poplar against Pyongyang

The “Bridge of No Return” doesn’t look like much today: four waist-high blue bollards at the eastern end stand guard over grass growing through the cracked roadway. A weathered sign reads, “Military Demarcation Line” in English and Korean. The bridge’s railings are surely inadequate to prevent some desperate soul from leaping into the shallow river below. At the western end a low concrete wall hints that the last pedestrian or vehicle passed over the span long ago.

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As often happens in real estate, location is everything. This bridge spans the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) in Panmunjom, the United Nations Joint Security Area between North and South Korea, in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The DMZ is a heavily fortified and closely monitored strip of land 151 miles long and 2.5 miles wide that approximates the 38th parallel of latitude. The MDL represents the cease-fire line of a war that has been unresolved since 1953. Those who were repatriated across this bridge acknowledged that they could never go back whence they came; theirs was a one-way trip.

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In 1993, protected by a heavily armed Secret Service escort, President Bill Clinton walked over this bridge to within about ten feet of the MDL, scrutinized all the while by North Korean soldiers armed with AK-47s. Obviously President Clinton lived to record this excursion in his memoirs, but on August 18, 1976, two American servicemen supervising a landscaping detail nearby were not so fortunate.

If a Tree Falls in the Demilitarized Zone: Operation Paul Bunyan Pits a Poplar against Pyongyang

Han Sorya: North Korea’s Literary Lion

North_Korea-Pyongyang-Grand_People's_Study_House-Books-01 sm.jpgIf you could choose a single novelist to represent the legacy and aspirations of twentieth century America, who would it be? F. Scott Fitzgerald? William Faulkner? Toni Morrison? John Steinbeck? Admittedly, the choice is artificial; there are no wrong answers here, only degrees of emphasis.

For a North Korean confronting a similar question, one name would readily spring to mind: Han Sorya (1900-1976). And further, there is one particular work, a short story, with which Han is especially identified: Sungynangi [Jackals] (1951), one of the few North Korean works of literature available in English translation.

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Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995, includes two reports of literary criticism of Han Sorya’s work: Modern Korean Literature and Han Sor-ya (JPRS 5745); and Han Sol-ya and his Literature (JPRS 5874). Translated directly from original North Korean sources, they convey a sense of how Han’s work is viewed in his native cultural context.

Han occupied a prominent place in Korean cultural and political life. He was born in the north of Korea during the period of Japanese occupation, and he studied sociology in Tokyo before returning to Korea in the 1920s. In 1925 he joined the Korean Artists Proletarian Federation and integrated themes of socialist class consciousness into his writing.

Han Sorya: North Korea’s Literary Lion

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