On October 30, 2018, the School of History, Philosophy and Religion hosted the Biodiversity and The History of Scientific Environments workshop as part of the Oregon State University Horning Endowment Series lectures. The workshop included five scholars from Universities from around the country and from Oregon State. The scholars were from different disciplines and presented lectures about a variety of subjects related to biodiversity, environmental history and sciences. The lectures keynote speaker, Dr. Lisa Brady, closed the series of lectures with a presentation called “Bridging the Divide – Nature, Science and Politics on the Korean Peninsula.” Dr. Brady is a professor of Environment and US History at Boise State University in Boise, Idaho, and author of the book War Upon the Land. Dr. Brady is also the outgoing editor-in-chief of the academic journal Environmental History, a position she has held since 2014. Her research interests encompass war, environment and the combination of both.
“Bridging the Divide” focused on the nearly untouched strip of land that roughly follows the 38th parallel and separates North and South Korea. Four to sixteen kilometers wide and nearly intact since the end of the Korean War, the demilitarized zone (DMZ) is an example of a militarized landscape isolated by fences heavily guarded on both sides. This isolation allowed the DMZ to be one of the last wild, untouched environments in the whole Korean Peninsula. It became an unintended wildlife and ecological reserve, where a host of native Peninsula animals and plants live and prosper with little or no interference from humans. The knowledge of this militarized landscape and its ecosystem is limited to what can be observed from the southern side of the border, where access to the fences is heavily controlled. No knowledge currently exists from the North. Access to the area in-between the fences is unauthorized therefore it does not happen. But even if entry into the actual DMZ was authorized, the area has been heavily mined by both sides thus offering unreasonable risks. According to Dr. Brady, despite the current isolation, the DMZ has a high risk of disappearing if the two Koreas unite, so scientists and environmentalists in South Korea, started a DMZ forum that has as one of its goals, the protection of the DMZ from destruction caused by exploitation and greed in case the Koreas reunite. The hope of these activists is that the DMZ would become a transnational park and eventually be protected as a UNESCO heritage site. As it stands, some of the species that are known to live in the DMZ are already protected by South Korea and the United Nations. However, there is a fear that if the Koreas are united, the conservation of plants and animals will take a second seat to much more pressing humanitarian needs, thus placing then in great risk.
Dr. Brady lecturing at the
Biodiversity and The History of Scientific Environments Workshop
Yet, the most compelling aspect of the DMZ in the context of Dr. Brady’s lecture, is what it means to the populations of the North and South Koreas. Dr. Brady emphasized how the DMZ currently serves as a shared emotional and physical reminder of the trauma experienced by the Korean people during a war that not only killed many but also separated families and fractured the country. However, Dr. Brady argues that this unintentional natural preserve has the potential to serve not only as an ecological-, but also as a social and economic bridge between the two sister countries. She closed the lecture by situating the DMZ amongst militarized landscapes that greatly benefited or prospered from isolation due to military conflict or activities.
I enjoyed this lecture not only because of my interest in military and political issues and the environment, but also because it shed light on a subject that I knew little about: militarized landscapes. I did not know that the DMZ, due to its isolation, was considered a militarized landscape with its own ecosystem, and with native species that only lived between the fences and therefore, were well protected from human interference. In my opinion, the lecture was informative and entertaining.