We forget in the heat of the rhetorical battles of the so-called War on Christmas that Christmas is sometimes used in places where real guns and bullets matter. This week a 43-year old symbol of Christmas and war was removed: South Korean marines have dismantled a 43-year-old Christmas tower on the border with North Korea that the North had threatened at one time to attack with artillery.
North Korea, you see, hates Christmas, religion, and, yes, South Korea.
This wasn’t your usual jolly Christmas tree. Erected on a front-line hilltop northwest of Seoul in 1971, the 59-foot steel tower, tipped with a cross, used to be illuminated with cascades of light bulbs around Christmas during the Cold War years.
Batteries of loudspeakers sent Christmas carols drifting across the snow-capped border into the North, where the totalitarian regime repressed religious freedom.
It was part of a psychological warfare the two Koreas had continued to wage along the 155-mile border even after their three-year Korean War ended with a truce in 1953. Both sides carved their border hills with large slogans exhorting troops from the other side to defect to the capitalist South “for freedom” and to the “people’s paradise” of the communist North. They also sent radio broadcasts and balloons carrying propaganda leaflets into each other’s sky.
North Korea has repeatedly demanded the destruction of the high steel tower on top of a military-controlled hill just three kilometers from the heavily-fortified border.
In the past, it has even threatened to shell the tower which the South has allowed civilian groups to decorate with lights — including a giant illuminated cross at the top — over the Christmas season.
The defence ministry said it was dismantled for the sole reason that the 43-year-old structure had become unsafe.
“The decision was unrelated to inter-Korean relations. Safety was the main reason,” a ministry spokesman told AFP, adding that work to remove the tower had begun back in August.
“There is no plan to replace it with a new one,” he said.
The South switched off the tree under a 2004 deal to halt official-level cross-border propaganda. It also suspended loudspeaker broadcasts and a propaganda leaflet campaign using large helium balloons.
The deal was scrapped in 2010 following the sinking of a South Korean warship which Seoul blamed on a North Korean submarine.
In 2011 the tower was not illuminated in the wake of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il’s death and it stayed dark over Christmas 2013 when military tensions were running high.
The North has always condemned the Christmas lights show as a provocative display of psychological warfare.