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Photograph by llee_wu

Mr. President,

Given your trip to Asia, it seems relevant to talk about Korea.  Alan Weisman (author of The World Without Us), in his introduction to Thich Nat Hanh’s book, The World We Have, tells the reader of an event he experienced while doing research for his book:

One bright, cold afternoon in November 2003, I stood with five admirably engaged and dedicated fellow humans at the edge of a deep valley.  We were north of Ch’orwon in South Korea’s Kangwon-do Province, staring at one of the most beautiful and terrifying places on Earth.  Below us was the Demilitarized Zone: a buffer four kilometers wide that bisects the entire Korean peninsula.  For fifty years it had kept two of the world’s largest and most hostile armies from murdering each other.

Even so, each could still clearly see the other’s hillside bunkers, bristling with weapons that neither would hesitate to fire if provoked.  Compounding this tragedy was the sad irony that these mortal enemies shared the same history, language, and blood.

But they also shared a miracle.  After a half-century, the abandoned no-man’s-land between them had reverted from rice paddies and villages to wilderness.  Inadvertently, it had become one of the most important nature refuges in Asia.  Among the imperiled species that depend on it was one revered throughout the Orient:  the red-crowned crane.  The second-rarest crane on Earth after the whooping crane, it is repeatedly depicted in paintings and silks as a symbol of longevity, and as a manifestation of the noble virtues of Confucian scholars and Buddhist monks.  Many, if not most, of these fabulous birds now winter in the DMZ.

My hosts were scientists and staff from the Korean Federation of Environmental Movement.  Together, we watched as eleven red-crowned cranes – cherry caps, black extremities, but otherwise as pure and white as innocence itself – silently glided between the seething North and South Korean forces.  Placidly, they settled in the bulrushes to feed.

…only 1,500 of these creatures remain … Privileged as we were to witness this, it was impossible to forget – and even harder to reconcile – that this auspicious setting owed its existence to an unresolved war.  If peace were ever restored, developers of suburbs to the south and industrial parks to the north had plans for this place that didn’t include wildlife.  The reunification of Korea could mean a habitat loss that might shrink the red-crowned cranes’ gene pool critically enough to doom the entire species.

 Unless, that is, Korean leaders realized that amid the sorrow of this divided land lay a great opportunity.  A growing alliance of world scientists … have proposed that the DMZ be declared an international peace park.  It would be a gift of life to our Earth, protecting this haven for scores of precious creatures.  By preserving the common ground between them, the two Koreas would not only save many irreplaceable species, but also earn immense international good will.

Mr. Weisman ends his introduction with:  “The environment unites every human, of every nation and creed.  If we fail to save it, we all perish.  If we rise to meet the need, we and all to which ecology binds us other humans, other species, other everything survive together.  And that will be peace.”

There are many obvious lessons in this brief letter.  I urge you to think about this event, Mr. President, while you consider the rhetoric you use toward other world leaders and the policies you encourage to develop this country’s national parks and wildlife refuges.  I urge you to think beyond yourself, and consider the wellbeing of all life on this planet in your words, behavior, and policy proposals.  I urge you to “rise to meet the need” of all life on this planet.  You could save us all.  Will you?



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