April 27, 2019 was a memorable anniversary. It had been one year since Kim Jong Un of North Korea and Moon Jae-in of South Korea joined hands and crossed the demarcation line to sign the Panmunjom Declaration, agreeing to work together to bring a formal end to the Korean War. Exactly one year after that 2018 declaration, 500,000 South Koreans and people from all over the world joined hands at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) to call for an end to the war.
The role of the United States in the Korean War
I participated in this action because I feel a moral responsibility as an American to correct our past wrongdoings and support the will of the Korean people for peace.
The US carries a certain burden of responsibility for the conflict between the Koreas: as Christine Ahn said at the March 12 Congressional briefing in Washington, DC, US bombs destroyed 80% of North Korean cities during the Korean War. The US is partially implicated in the fact that peace has not yet been reached on the Korean peninsula. Americans should not lead the charge to inflict even more damage on the peninsula, but rather should support Korea in diplomatic pathways toward peace.
Supporting the will of the people
9 in 10 South Koreans want peace. The leaders of both South Korea and North Korea have outrightly stated their desire for a peace agreement, with South Korean President Moon Jae-in stating, “The era of no war has started.” Above all, Koreans are determining their own destiny, and it is up to the US to support what the people of Korea want.
Koreans face the consequences of US policy decisions toward the peninsula and the broader region. Resorting to military provocations instead of pursuing true diplomacy could inflame a conventional war on the peninsula that would kill hundreds of thousands of people — and it could easily go nuclear. A peace agreement that formally ends the Korean War is the first and foremost step to guaranteeing security for both North Korea and South Korea and decreasing the likelihood of war.
For me, the hand-in-hand action at the DMZ solidified the importance of the intersectional fight for peace and social justice around the globe. Koreans are advocating for peace on the peninsula alongside activists who are leading the effort against climate change, alongside women around the world who are at the forefront of ending violent conflict in their countries, alongside American activists who want to end disastrous American involvement in Yemen, Iraq, and Afghanistan. We are all fighting different fights around the world, but we are unified in our quest for global peace.
Conclusion: The significance of holding hands
Why holding hands? The physical act of holding hands is significant; it’s personal and intimate, and it forces that person to connect with someone that they may not know or understand. That’s exactly why the 2018 Panmunjom Declaration and Kim and Moon’s shaking hands over the demarcation line is historically significant. That is what it will take to reach peace on the Korean peninsula: Two people making an unprecedented connection and realizing that there is something bigger than themselves.
Similarly, we sent a message to the world on April 27, 2019: despite our different backgrounds, we are all here at the DMZ to advocate for an end to the Korean War and peace on the Korean peninsula.
Colleen Moore is a peace activist from upstate New York currently living in Washington, DC. You can follow her on Twitter at cmoo11_.