Most Ridiculous Borders and Walls Series : the Korean DMZ

Put one foot wrong in this conference room and you’re in a totalitarian regime

Third of our most ridiculous borders is The Korean DMZ. A strip of land about 160 miles (258 kilomters) long and 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) wide, it divides North and South Korea. Welcome to the most heavily militarized demilitarized zone in the world.

Officially, the DMZ isn’t a border. It surrounds a “Military Demarcation Line”, or MDL. You can’t have a border when two nations are technically still at war!

Roughly 23,000 days into the ceasefire, there has never been an actual peace treaty.

The DMZ is filled with fencing, mines, and troops on both sides with itchy trigger fingers.

Tourists visiting from the south are given a briefing during which they must sign a document which includes :

“The visit to the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom will entail entry into a hostile area and possibility of injury or death as a direct result of enemy action.”

And yes, there are thousands of visitors a year to the DMZ. Casual visits aren’t welcome; travellers must sign onto a tour.

Bizarrely, the area directly around the DMZ is completely geared towards tourism and commercialism. Hats, key chains, shirts, coins – if you can slap a “DMZ” label on, they sell a version of it.

Bob, the North Korean Guard


Located in the so-called peace village of Panmunjon, the JSA (Joint Security Area) is the only place in the DMZ where North and South Korean forces come face to face.

The U.S. soldiers call that North Korean soldier on the left side of the doors “Bob.” The actual guy changes all the time, but whichever guard stands there is always “Bob” to them.

Each side regularly complains about the behaviour of the other from “aiming lights” to unspecified “disgusting” facial expressions.

Most Ridiculous Borders: The Door to North Korea


The South Korean guard above is standing in what is technically North Korea.

The conference rooms are infamous – they’re synonymous with the DMZ in pop culture of not only South Korea but globally. They straddle the line : half in North Korea, half in South Korea.

This is where soldiers of the North and South stand mere feet from each other in a more than 60-year staring contest.

These rooms do have a proper purpose, though, providing a relatively neutral, peaceful platform for face-to-face political negotiations between both Koreas. Prisoner exchanges have been known to occur here.

There have been accounts that if they need to open the “door” into the North, South Korean soldiers hold hands to make sure they’re not pulled in.

Most Ridiculous Borders : Operation Paul Bunyan

The Axe Murder Incident was the killing of two The U.S. Army officers in 1976.

North Korean soldiers repeatedly attempted to kidnap UN officials from Command Post #3, so soldiers needed to keep a close eye on the post at all times. Only problem: the view from Commands Post #3 was directly blocked by one troublesome poplar tree.

Under UN orders, the South Korean military sent five soldiers, escorted by a dozen US troops, into the DMZ to chop down the tree. Just as troops began trimming, a delegation of North Korean soldiers led by “Lt. Bulldog” arrived and demanded that the South Koreans drop their axes. The tree could not be touched :

“because Kim Il Sung personally planted it and nourished it and it’s growing under his supervision.”

Despite repeated warnings from the North Koreans, the squadron from the South continued to chop… prompting the commanding officer of the North Korean detachment nicknamed “to order, “Kill them!”

The South Korean troops immediately dropped their axes and attempted to flee. The North Koreans then picked up the axes and attacked the American escorts, killing the commanding officer, Capt. Arthur Bonifas, and fatally wounding Lt. Mark Barret, and injuring most of the South Koreans.

Three days later, American and South Korean forces launched Operation Paul Bunyan, an operation to chop down the tree with extreme prejudice.

The tree-chopping operation included :

      813 men to chop down the tree


      27 helicopters


      Carrier battle group offshore


    US and South Korean fighters overhead

The tree was felled in 42 minutes, avoiding a violent confrontation. Also removed were two road barriers installed by the North Koreans, while the South Korean troops vandalized two North Korean guard posts. The tree stump, around 6 m (20 ft) tall, was deliberately left standing.

Most Ridiculous Borders : This border accidentally created a nature preserve

The ribbon of untouched land along the 38th parallel is so green that it can be seen from space. Hostile to humans, it’s become an important refuge for some of the world’s most endangered species including Asian black bears, Chinese gorhals and egrets.

There may even be Korean tigers in the DMZ – a sub-species of the Siberian tiger, one of the rarest tigers on the planet.

For yet more ridiculous borders, check out Derby Line, where if you leave the library the wrong way, you’ll get arrested. Or Baarle-Hertog , the Belgian town inside a Dutch town.

Feel free to visit the demilitarized comment zone below if you have any favorite ridiculous border you’d like to see covered.

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