Monday, February 24, 2014

36By24 #2: The Bridge of No Return

36By24 is a series featuring photos that, over time, have developed stories of their own. You can find more under the "36By24" tag in the menu bar above.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 50mm f/8, 1/640
The Bridge of No Return is a stone bridge that spans the Military Demarcation Line that divides North and South Korea. It is located within the Western boundary of the Joint Security Area (JSA) and, from the South Korean side, is surrounded on three sides by North Korea.

After the Korean War conflict (the two sides still technically remain at war), there were many prisoners that were still imprisoned by both sides. In a series of prisoner exchanges, over 100,000 soldiers were brought to this bridge to return home...if they chose to return in the first place.

When the 38th Parallel was established, it effectively sliced the country in half. Families were split and still remain divided today. The conflict ravaged both sides, and at the time it was unclear which direction the Koreas would go. There was no clear distinction like there is today. Before each exchange, many prisoners were given the choice of either returning home or staying with their captors. The conditions were that, once you've crossed that bridge, you cannot return to the other side. Ever.

The bridge as it is seen today is very easy to miss. There are no signs or memorials, as it is only accessible if you are in the military and very few Korean nationals have permission to go there. All tours there are not permitted to leave the bus, as just on the other side lies North Korea. There are no visible guards or defensive positions. No special lines or barriers. Just an old, abandoned bridge spanning one of the most heavily militarized borders in the world.

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