Yes, with my own eyes.
Don't get me wrong, I didn't walk into North Korea. My feet were planted firmly on Ganghwa Island, fully within South Korea. But Ganghwa is just across a river from North Korea, Kaesong and a bunch of North Korean farmland and mountains. From Ganghwa, the view is direct, and frankly beautiful.
Yes, beautiful. Never forget, no matter what you read in the media, this is a beautiful land. The mountains rise up like the Rockies, but gentled by the weathering of the years. There are vast fields for planting. There is waterfront, beach even. And that's just from what I saw.
But most striking was this:
On the road, on the South Korean side, as we drove to the overlook, we saw farmers, painstakingly tending the rice fields. They were wearing hats to protect themselves from the sun, boots to protect themselves from the flooded fields (rice needs that to grow), and they were bent over in planting, walking between the rows, scratching out a living the way Korean farmers have for hundreds of years.
From the observatory, across the river, through those funky coin operated binoculars, in North Korea we saw... the same thing.
This is one people, separaed by far too much barbed wire and political intrigue. The peace observatory (which yes, does rest behind (and well above) a high fence topped with barbed wire, dotted with checkpoints, and surrounded all about by South Korean soldiers) was built for South Koreans who were separated from family in the North to have a way to look towards loved ones, lost homes, and ancestral lands.
There is a room to "wish for reunification" with a striking tree on which the leaves are people's notes and prayers that Korea may again be one.