The janitor who tries to support his wife and six children on $60 a month wasn't much interested in talking about Tongsun Park one recent Sunday afternoon in the house on the outskirts of this busy city of 7.5 million.
He said he was too busy worrying about moving his famliy for the third time in a year in the face of a city government slum-clearance program. He did have some thoughts, though, about the money being used for wrecking squatters' homes. It should be put to better use, he said, preparing for the war with the North.
It's like that in a lot of places in South Korea. The government of President park Chung Hee does not let its people forget the threat from the Communist regime just 30 miles from Seuol.
It hits the visitor, too. This reporter, after several months of covering the South Korean influence-buying investigations from a Washington perspective, traveled to Seoul a few weeks ago for a first look at the country whose long-term alliance with the United States has been shaken the scandal.
The South Korean's near-obsession with the threat from the north is apparent as soon as the plane lands. Anti-aircraft guns protrude from bunkers along the runway. A monthly air raid drill kept people locked for some time inside the airport terminal.
The reminder is there, too in Seoul's midnight curfew, and in the film the mayor shows for guests. Old newsclips show refugees fleeing the burning city during the Korean War. And the movie ends with a subtle message that Seoul will one day be the capital of a reunited Korea.
The subject is raised even in discussing Tongsun park and the influence-buying campaign in the U.S. Congress. "You have to understand the context," said one government official. "The United States was with-drawing troops from both Vietnam and Korea. The threat from the North was and is real. It's logical we'd be concerned about doing something to ensure continued American military support."
The threat fron the North also has become the all-purpose explanation for such political controls as "Emergency Decree Number 9" a sweeping measure that has been used by President Park and his secret police to stifle dissent.
Time and time again persons interviewed here referred to these laws as Park's tool for maintaining presidential power.
AMerican diplomats, who many dissidents say are apologists for Park's strong-man rule, admit that South Korea today is a "mixed bag."
They acknowledge that political opponents are jailed. But they would rather point to the country's booming economy and the parallel rise in the living standard of the "average man" and predict that full political freedoms will evolve.
The re is no sign on the streets of Seoul of the armed troops that mark some authoritarian governments. The people walking the crowded avenues appear busy and prosperous and contented. School kids in their dark uniforms walk arm in arm through downtown parks and take pictures of each other.
IN fact, one gets the feeling that life is steadlity improving for those who flow along in the mainstream, working diligently to build this new economic miracle in North Asia without expressing too many opinions about government policies.
"Ninety-nine per cent of the people don't even know what 'Emergency Decree Number 9' is," one leading academician said.
But for those who question the wisdom of Park's mandates, life can be an adventure of staying one step ahead of the KCIA.
Some people do look over their shoulders to see if they're followed. Some do turn up the TV at home to provide background noise "just in cease they bug the room as well as the phone," as one leading dissident out it.
Two weeks ago, when Benjamin R. Civiletti, head of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, was in Seoul for talks about arranging to get testimony from accused Korean agent Tongsun Park, the local papers were filled with progress reports on the negotiations.
Front -page coverage was given as well to the hearings in Washington that implicated the Korean government in the influence-buying campaign in Congress, though the names of key Korean government officials, including President park, were deleted from all the articles.
There were only six lines in the paper the week before, though, when Seoul National University, the most prestigious in the country, was closed because of a student demonstration. The students were upset because university officials had rejected their ideas about loosening controls on student activites.
There was nothing in the papers at all about the continuing trial of Yang Sung Woo, a poet who was arrested for having published a poem in Japan that was judged to be in violation of "Emergency Decree Number 9."
There was nothing in the local press either about the sit-in at the "laborers classroom" in the Pyung Wha market district, which ended in a clash with police and arrests.
Those demonstrators, workers in the small, crowded clothing shops of the district, were protesting the arrest of Lee So Sun, a leader of the labor movement. Lee, whom the workers all call "Mother," had a son who killed himself in a protest against working conditions at the market in 1970. since then she has been pushing for better hours and pay.
According to one of the workers involved in the recent demonstration, they used to work 14 to 16 hours a day with every other Sunday off. Now they work a 12-hour shift with every Sunday off. With an hour free for lunch, this amounts to a 66-hour work week at a little 50 cents an hour.
Many of the dissident leaders are concerned that the American press' great interest in the Tongsun Park case is drawing attention away from their struggle for basic democratic freedoms.
They are also suspicious of the handling of the American investigations of the Seoul-directed lobbying campaign. Why did the Justice Department let Tongsun Park flee from London to Seoul shortly before he was indicted? Are the American investigators sincere in their claim of wanting to find out the truth about the scandal?
Korean government officials are also suspicious about the focus of American interest in the lobbying story. Some feel Korea is being picked on because of some mysterious U.S. foreign policy objective. And what about the guilty members of Congress, they ask? When will they be prosecuted?
Lee Burn Joon, an American-educated, pro-government member of the National Assembly, said in an interview at the impressive new assembly building, "I regret that American has gone too far on this park Tongsun business. I hope the United States would act more dignified and not kick around a small country like Korea." She said that when the lobbying story first broke in the American press, she blamed park "for being so clumsy.Then I thought, Why pick on Park Tongsun? There are many like him in every country.'
She, liked almost everyone else interviewed, was vehement in denouncing Kim Hyung Wook and Kim Sang Keun, the former Korean Central Intelligence Agency officials who are cooperating with U.S. authorities. She said Koreans use a phrase meaning "spitting while lying down" to describe their "disloyalty" to their homeland.
The whole affair has left Koreans confused about how to deal with visiting Americans. While custom would dictate presenting them some kind of gift, Lee said, "We now have a very hard time figuring out what is proper."
A senior Blue House aide to President Park also expressed concern about the American investigations and the strain they are putting on relations between the two countries.