Winning: The Koreas Trash Each Other


June 17, 2024: At the end of May North Korea began sending about 600 balloons south. The balloons carried clear plastic bags full of trash. The bags contained harmless material like small plastic items, cigarette butts, scraps of cloth, and wastepaper. North Korea justified this as retaliation for South Korea civilians, many of them North Koreans who had managed to reach South Korea, using balloons containing bags with pro-unification leaflets, food, medicine, dollar bills and USB sticks loaded with K-pop music videos and TV shows. In North Korea it is illegal to possess South Korean made items. Despite the possibility of getting caught and spending years in a labor camp, North Koreans are not discouraged from collecting and enjoying and/or selling items sent across the DMZ by South Koreans using balloons.

Since 1953 the 250 kilometer DMZ (four kilometers wide demilitarized zone), has been the border between North and South Korea. The DMZ is guarded on both sides and initially landmines were planted. Most of the mines are now inoperable while others were set off by large animals, like Asian tigers, that live in the DMZ. Between 1953 and 1999 more than 500 South Korean soldiers, 250 North Korean soldiers and fifty Americans soldiers were killed in or near the DMZ. Over half a century of isolation from humans has turned the DMZ into a wildlife refuge.

North Korea tried to keep news of defectors and South Korean news from its people but that proved impossible, especially for North Koreans living within twenty kilometers of the DMZ. Most of the North Korea army is stationed along the DMZ and they, along with North Korea civilians listen for the news that is now broadcast to them from South Korea via loudspeakers. In August 2015 South Korea resumed news broadcasts from large speakers on their side of the DMZ. North Korea tried to shut this down and failed. It all began with a 2004 agreement in which sides agreed to halt the use of loudspeakers on the DMZ as well as attacks on each other. These attacks are almost all North Korean operations but the north was willing to make this deal in return for some desperately needed economic aid. According to the south the north officially broke this deal in 2010 with two very public military attacks on the south. As a result eleven new loudspeaker systems were installed on the DMZ but were not turned on until 2015. A week later the north resumed using loudspeakers on their side of the border, but these were mainly to try and cancel out the uncensored news, South Korean pop music and such coming from the south. The northern broadcasts featured praise for North Korean leaders and the superior lifestyle of the north. The South Korean speakers are more powerful and have longer range because of superior South Korean technology. Soon it was revealed that loudspeaker activity was having quite an impact on North Korean soldiers. This led to more attempts by North Korean soldiers to reach South Korea via the DMZ. South Koreans soldiers along the DMZ noted that any visible North Koreans tend to perk up when the South Korea loudspeaker newscasts begin. DMZ loudspeakers and other modern technology allowed accurate news to reach North Korea and nothing seemed capable of stopping the signal. Peace negotiations in 2018 between the two Koreas resulted in an agreement that included South Korea removing loudspeakers installed on the DMZ. These loudspeakers were installed in 2011 and became operational in 2015 as North Korea continued to be hostile to South Korea but without trying to kill South Korea soldiers guarding the DMZ.




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