I believe in reciprocity. I believe that all human beings are created equal. Despite what social, historical or national situation they are born into. I have a duty as a human being to promote humanitarian causes in all of their complexity. I grew up in a military family and moved around the world multiple times leading me to the conclusion of the arbitrariness of superficial borders and boundries. Everywhere I go I see human beings. They may be in different natural and architectural landscapes, yet their humanity is self evident. I moved to Seoul, South Korea in 1995 when I was 12 years old. My family and I went on a tourist trip to the 38th parallel, the latitudinal demarkation between North and South Korea. It is also called the demilitarized zone, an oxymoron if I have ever heard of one. I wore my nicest outfit so I could leave a good impression. Approaching the DMZ I saw that there were signs on the other side saying “Go Home Yankees”, as well as propaganda blarring from loud speakers. Within the compound there is a small museum. One story it tells is of the time American soldiers went to chop down an obtrusive poplar tree on the North Korean side and then North Korean soldiers swiftly arrived and killed two American soldiers with their own chain saw. They had photos of the horrific incident on the wall. I also went into one of the tunnels that the Norh Koreans had constructed to infiltrate the South. The tunnel is electrified and large enough so that a battalion may pass within the time span of one hour. Then I went to Panmunjeom, the Joint Security Area, where the actual line between North and South Korea resides. The American military guide debriefed us as to how we must conduct ourselves within this tense atmosphere. I can enter this conference building, in which trans-Korean negotations take place, and walk around this table and be physically in North Korea. The primary rule given is that I am not to look the North Korean soldiers in the eye. The North Korean soldiers stood outside, on their side, gazing in on the Western visiters. They wore ornate and pristine military uniforms and gazed into the room with the curiousity of zoo visiters. I thought to myself, “This is it?” It was a stale and nondescript white-walled room with large windows on all sides, of which only military atmospheres know how to create. I looked around the room with the wide eyes of an adolescent and stopped upon one soldier and gave him a half smile. The soldier looked at me and reciprocated. I quickly turned away hoping I had not created an international incident. I left North Korea that day wondering if a simple acknowledment of our joint humanity could be a spring board to a time when there is no negation of the value of every human life. I believe in the value of every human life.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.