A view of Panmunjom from the other side
Seoul — In the summer of 1973, 20 years after the armistice agreement, I visited the famous truce site of Panmunjom from the Pyongyang side. Just before my North Korean guide and I reached the demilitarized zone that separates North from South, we passed a large group of North Korean schoolgirls marching along the dirt road and singing an anti-American ditty.
The schoolgirls, like all the children living in ''the greatest socialist paradise on earth,'' stopped when they heard our car engine and saluted smartly as we passed. Only high-ranking officials ride in cars, particularly those made in Japan and West Germany, I was told by my guide, and the children are taught to revere their leaders.
At the edge of the DMZ, in front of the big white building where the Korean armistice was signed, I saw a stone plaque, the inscription on which read, ''The US imperialists, who unleashed a war of aggression in Korea on June 25, 1950, knelt down before the heroic Korean people and signed the armistice agreement at this place on July 27, 1953.''
Inside the building, a young North Korean Army major guided me through ''an exhibition of US and South Korean intrusions into the DMZ, complete with photos and identification cards of the dead intruders.''
As we left the building, I asked the young officer how he felt about the American soldiers in Panmunjom. ''I hate them. My father was killed by them,'' he answered bitterly.
Still accompanied by the young major, we drove quickly past the South Korean soldiers and into the main Panjunjom area. The demarcation line along the 38th parallel is identified by a small yellow tin sign on the crest of a hillock overlooking Panmunjom.
The area contains a jumbled assembly of quonset huts, white for the North Koreans and blue for the UN command. In the center of these is the small conference hut where the UN command - represented by US and South Korean military officers - and the North Koreans have confronted each other in endless replays of the cold war over more than a quarter century.
The left side of the hut is a minimuseum that depicts the history of what North Koreans claim was American aggression and atrocities.
As we emerged from the hut, a small group of US soldiers came up to find out about our activities. The US and North Korean soldiers confronted each other in total silence, with icy, threatening looks on both sides. And there I was standing in the middle of the North Korean group.
Had the North Korean officer not warned me not to talk to US and South Korean soldiers when I began my Panmunjom tour, I would have spoken to the Americans. But considering the tenseness of the situation, I remained silent. The atmosphere was forbidding and ugly. I could very well imagine how the mood sometimes explodes into fatal incidents.
Today the ambience at Panmunjom has not changed much since the truce was signed 30 years ago, and the hostility between North and South has not diminished appreciably.
The walls of the nurseries, schools, factories, and rural centers there are plastered with posters and slogans directed against the ''beastly warmongers in America and South Korea.'' The wars of liberation, past and present, appear to be the sole leitmotif of contemporary North Korean art, literature, music, dance , and drama.