Hey, not quite so fast, if you don't mind. Some of us out here are slow, and need to get loose ends tied up before we can follow the rest of the argument.
President Reagan, speaking of the horrible loss of life when the Korean passenger plane was shot down by the Russians, said the Russians did this knowing it was a passenger plane.
His spokesmen later said he had irrefutable evidence on this point.
A couple of days later his ambassador to United Nations, Jeane Kirkpatrick, pulled a switch on this and suggested the shooting of the plane might have been a mistake. Or (she said) it might have been an effort to inspire hesitation and terror in the world at large.
Meanwhile, the Russians keep hollering that the passenger plane was on a spy mission for the United States. The White House said this is a lie or "half-truths."
A couple of days after the president's original announcement, in which there was no mention of an American reconnaissance plane, it turned out such a plane was flying for a time "near" the passenger craft, but was back in Alaska by the time the Korean plane was shot down.
The president said we will never know whether an error was made in the computer program for the Korean plane (which might have caused it to stray several hundred miles off course).
Fine, so far, but there are some loose ends:
What is the irrefutable evidence showing the Russians knowingly shot down an innocent passenger plane? We know there are Japanese tapes of the actual firing of guns. Are there perhaps American tapes that tell more?
Can it be said--and if so, why not say it--that there is no connection whatever between the Korean airline and American intelligence agencies?
Why is it true that we can never know (as the president says) about the computer program that may have been in error? Cannot the president demand information on this particular point? Is there not evidence on the matter that could be retrieved even without access to the downed plane?
The president said the Russians charge the Korean plane was "a spy plane sent by us." The obvious next sentence should have been, "But there is no truth whatever in this insolent charge." Instead, nowhere in the speech does the president flatly deny the Soviet charge.
His spokesmen have called the charge "preposterous." His spokesmen have said the charge is full of "lies and half-truths." What, exactly, are the half-truths?
Why, if the president himself can say the Russians shot down a plane they knew was innocent, does the president's ambassador go out of her way to suggest it may have been a mistake?
This is not the first confrontation between the two superpowers on overflights to gain intelligence for America. It is not entirely a moral or a sentimental regard for the lives thus lost that makes slow Americans nervous, but the possibility of nuclear results that nobody on either side wants. If anybody has forgotten, he can refresh memory (and read much he never dreamed of) in "The Puzzle Palace" by James Bamford.
In September 1958, an American reconnaissance plane was shot down by the Russians in Soviet Armenia. The American government had tapes of Russian fighter pilots, "I see the target . . . Open fire . . . the target is burning" and so on, and these words were not only recorded but heard live by American agents.
The Air Force, however, first said the plane was "missing." They said the plane was part of a worldwide project to study radio wave propagation. The Russians said nothing at first. Ten days later they said the plane had crashed. Eventually Eisenhower appealed to Khrushchev for news of what happened to the crew, but its fate was not disclosed by either nation. This incident was made public, though most were not. The American government put out the story that the plane had been forced into Soviet territory by Soviet fighter planes and then had been brutally shot down. This was a lie, and nobody had forced the plane over Russian territory.
In May 1960, another American spy plane was shot down 2,000 kilometers inside the Russian border. At first the Russians said it had crashed. Then the Americans said it was simply a weather plane. Its oxygen supply faltered, the American government said, and the pilot must have been groggy and drifted on automatic pilot into Russian airspace.
The Soviets then said they had the pilot alive, and the wreckage of the plane as well. They invited the press (American reporters attended) to come to Moscow to see for themselves.
The American State Department had said it was "monstrous" to believe the Russian charges of a spy plane, but when the Eisenhower administration was caught in the spectacular lie, the drifting-pilot story was dropped, and the president addressed the nation a few days after having grossly deceived it to say spying is distasteful but vital.
Some Americans were angry. If a president as trustworthy as Eisenhower could preside over public lies so elaborate, then what president could you ever trust? Sen. Mike Mansfield said the incident, or any incident similar to it, might have accidentally started a nuclear war. Sen. Hubert Humphrey said Khrushchev really had us on this one and he (Humphrey) could tell us why: "It's because we haven't been telling the truth."
In the 20 years since these incidents, we have gathered that violations of Soviet airspace have become less necessary since satellites do the spying for us safely. We think that but we do not know that.
Do the Soviets have a right to shoot down a plane they say they cannot identify, one that they say does not respond to warnings when it is over Soviet territory? Some say no. I say the Soviets or anybody else would be astoundingly foolish to send a plane over American territory, that for a couple of hours has seemed to be heading straight for Norfolk.
Because of this past history of Soviet-American confrontations about Soviet airspace, it is neither vicious nor unreasonable to insist an American president be precise in his denials, when the Russians once more charge American intrusions.
Slow Americans like me do not relish bringing up incidents as embarrassing as the and the U2 at a time the nation generally is rejoicing over a new president's masterly handling of the latest Soviet charge. To raise the question is not to question the current president's honesty or ability (though how he came to be called the great communicator is beyond me) but simply to point out that we do not need any international messes like U2.
It's rough to be slow like me when so many bright guys are fast. They have great smiles and a heart for any fate. But you can't help it if you're born slow. The fast lads have the lead and even if they are ever proved wrong at the last, it's no big deal, they're like electric terriers bouncing off to the next disaster. And the worst thing is, if you're slow, you're not really much fun to be with. The slow citizen has trouble leaping like a wallaby when the horn goes off. You have to explain it step by step and it's tiresome for naturally fast people to do this. All the same, it may be worth doing.