In late October, the South Korean Defense Ministry confirmed that its marines had scrapped a 43-year old giant steel “Christmas tower” in Gimpo, South Korea, near the North Korean border. The Christmas tower had long been seen as a tool of South Korean psychological warfare by the North Korean regime which accused South Korea of using the steel Christmas tower (which resembled a Christmas tree) as a tool of religious propaganda.
As a result of its skepticism toward the tower, North Korea over the years repeatedly threatened to destroy the tower with an artillery strike. This week, the South Korean Defense Ministry confirmed that it would allow a Christian group, the Christian Council of Korea, to build a similar 30-foot tower shaped like a Christmas tree to replace the old one that was scrapped in October. This new tower will be temporary and will be lit from December 23, 2014 to January 6, 2015.
“We accepted the request to protect religious activities and to honor the group’s wish to illuminate the tower in hopes of peace on the Korean Peninsula,” said Kim Min-seok, a spokesman for the South Korean defense ministry. The ministry’s decision this week lends credence to the official reasoning for scrapping the tree in October. Back then, South Korean officials cited the poor structural integrity of the tower as the reason it was dismantled. The government was nonetheless criticized by South Korean Christian groups for interfering in the activities of civic groups.
By allowing another tower to be built, the South Korean government is able to deflect some of this criticism. Despite the threat of North Korean retaliation for the Christmas tower, the South Korean government never took formal action to ask civic groups to cease their activities — similar to the government’s reaction to other South Korean Christian groups that, for example, send leaflet-carrying balloons over the border.
The old Christmas tower was in part condoned by the government. The tower was maintained by South Korean marines but was decorated by civilians. Every year in December, the tower would be lit by South Korean marines. The new tower, which will be just over half the height of the old 59-foot tower, will likely placate critics of the South Korean government who had compared the dismantling of the tower as a surrender to North Korean wishes. North Korea will likely react negatively to the new Christmas tower.