The spirit of Bull Connor is alive and well in Korea. Seoul is not Birmingham. Chun Doo Hwan isn't the George Wallace of the '60's. The snarling police dogs and firehoses shooting people down the streets have been supplanted here by blue-suited thugs trained to run, heads down, with their bodies packed together like spoons in a drawer. Their official unit used to be headed by Chun -- the National Security Guard. They're known as the "human wall."
And that human wall, running full tilt, is what assaulted Kim Dae Jung, his wife and a handful of American citizens trapped in a jetway corridor as they deplaned at Kimpo airport last Friday. It was quite a welcome. Obviously designed to cause bodily harm and physically wrest Kim from freedom, it achieved those two objectives.
Rep. Edward Feighan (D-Ohio), Pharis Harvey of Washington, and I were in front of the Kims and took the first hit. No direction, no word of warning was given. They swarmed around us, silently, and began to shove. We dug our heels in trying to maintain balance. Carrying two heavy suitcases and a purse, I was shoved against the wall and four men, in turn, threw their bodies against mine. None touched our faces -- they battered us from shoulders to legs -- although one of my hands, clutching a suitcase, was smashed against the wall by a well-aimed knee.
Immediately behind us, the Kims, Song Sun Keun, of San Francisco, Rep. Thomas M. Foglietta (D-Pa.) and former Ambassador to El Salvador Robert E. White were getting similar treatment. We were gang-rushed out of the chute and into a large empty corridor toward a waiting elevator.
The human wall regrouped, using a building wall, the elevator and their bodies to complete a closed circle. Three to six deep, arms linked, like a ball of ants in a flood, the well rehearsed and impassive men surrounded Foglietta, who was pressed against Kim's back with a protective arm around Kim's chest. Ambassador white had his arm linked with Kim's. Song was also at Kim's back. They were confronted by a man in a brown suit -- a representative, I was later told, of the Korean CIA. Mrs. Kim who is tiny and physically frail was not visible.
Feighan, Harvey and I were outside the circle. (Two men had tried to shove again, then caught sight of a U.S. Embassy official standing, watching from the bottom of the steps, and backed off.) I joined Feighan and Harvey to see what was going on.
The KCIA man shouted at Kim and suddenly gave him a shove. Kim put his arm forward to hold him back. A hand signal was given, and White was thrown to the floor, while Foglietta was knocked over backwards, lifted by all four extremities and passed out of the circle. Song was knocked to the ground. Kim was struck in the face and abdomen. Song, like Mrs. Kim, was lost from view.
The goon squad, numbering between 80 and 100, surged toward the elevator. So many crowded in that the door wouldn't close until some got off. The doors closed and the Kims were gone.
As suddenly as they had appeared, the security men melted away. The two congressmen, White, Harvey, a Western reporter, an unidentified Western observer and I were left standing alone. The journalist remained. We rode down the escalator to the waiting Foreign Service officer, who had not been allowed to come closer.
That is part of the arrival scenario. The rest of our delegation of Americans -- some 19 in all -- had its own misadventures in that place.
What happened wasn't the result of an overzealous cop taking unilateral action. Forget the blue business suits. It was obviously a military operation, carefully planned and fully excuted.
When, at day's end, Ambassador Richard L. Walker appeared before us, he was miffed by the fact that the elaborate "agreements" for the arrival between the U.S. and Korean governments had been broken. And he'd sent the Koreans a note to say so. But before he'd spoken a word to any of us, he had also assured the world that nothing untoward had taken place.
Now here we all were, and he began to give us a dazzled-by-the-wonders-of-it-all chamber of commerce spiel about Korea. The congressmen interrupted to say that a discussion of the physical assault would be more pertinent. Walker struck a casual pose, smirked and appeared to be unbelieving.
It was clear to me anyway that the U.S. Embassy's position was going to parallel that of the Korean government. We would be portrayed in the United States as nervous Nellies and in Korea as "bean curds." Unfortunately for both, they didn't take account of the impact of the television footage and press reports.
Next day the story led the news, not here, of course, but elsewhere in the world. The Reagan administration and Chun's dictatorship went their separate ways. The State Department issued a more realistic statement (while some of its officials were backgrounding, I am told by journalists, that the delegation was trying to overthrow Chun in the same cruel way the shah of Iran had been deposed.)
Ambassador Walker sent a warm letter to one of the congressmen deploring the physical attack, coldly castigating the Korean betrayal of a promised uneventful entry and assuring us that the Koreans had now promised that nothing else would happen.
The Korean government had a press conference to announce that nothing had happened, nobody had been hit by the "police." The spokesman maintained that the KCIA man had been punched by Kim, an amusing notion under the circumstances.
By and large, few fists were used: a strong body hurled at an undefended body held against a wall packs a more powerful wallop than a closed hand. And it doesn't leave a black eye.
What made the Chun government abandon its campaign to pass itself off as a democracy, renege on a deal with its U.S. protectors and assault a small group of Americans, in plain view of the world press? It's certainly no ad for the Olympic games. They certainly didn't do it to enhance dictator Chun's visit to democrat Reagan.
Fear, so far as I can see, is what made Chun do it. Fear of Kim Dae Jung and his ideas of democracy are at the root of it all. Chun is unpopular, his government is unstable and he wants Kim out of the picture. And he also wants to be reannointed as a legitimate leader by Ronald Reagan.
Americans must wonder what our government is doing here. Our problem when we lay on our soldiers, run foreign armies and stuff money in foreign treasuries, is that we think we own them. But, as Benigno Aquino's murder in Manila and Kim's arrival in Seoul demonstrate, they think they own us. And we give them no reason to think otherwise.