The de-militarized zone between North and South Korea represents a small strip of land some 1,528 km2 in area and off limits to people since the end of the Korean War in 1953 (58). Farming communities once abundant there no longer till the soil. The result of abandonment has been striking, and in favor of ecological recovery (59). During the intervening years, remnant populations of wildlife have re-bounded into robust populations within that narrow region, including the Asiatic black bear, musk deer, and the red-crowned crane. An unexpected (and unwanted) example of “proof of concept”, vivax malaria has also retuned to the area next to the DMZ in South Korea, as the result of that country’s inability to carry out effective mosquito-control programs that would ordinarily include portions of the DMZ (60).
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Juan, a skinny 19–year–old whom I met there that year, told me that he was trying to get out of a local gang (the name of which he wouldn’t reveal). He had started working for the gang as a halcone (a lookout) when he was 15, he said. But now as the drug war raged in the city and the local gangs were pulled into the infighting between the big cartels, his friends in the gang were being asked to do much more than he wanted to do—to kill. Without any training, they were given assault weapons. Having no shooting skills, they just sprayed bullets in the vicinity of their assigned targets, hoping that at least some of the people they killed would be the ones they were supposed to kill, because if they didn’t succeed, they themselves might be murdered by those who had contracted them to do the job.
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“If this was our Faustian bargain, then it was not worth it,” he argued , referencing the German folklore of an astronomer who sold his soul to the devil. “If ultimately our principles were so malleable as to no longer be principles, then what was the point of political victories in the first place?”
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