the Nation on KAL 007
September 5, 1983
My fellow Americans:
I'm coming before you tonight about the Korean airline
massacre, the attack by the Soviet Union against 269 innocent
men, women, and children aboard an unarmed Korean passenger
plane. This crime against humanity must never be forgotten,
here or throughout the world.
Our prayers tonight
are with the victims and their families in their time
of terrible grief. Our hearts go out to them — to
brave people like Kathryn McDonald, the wife of a Congressman
whose composure and eloquence on the day of her husband's
death moved us all. He will be sorely missed by all of
us here in government.
The parents of one slain
couple wired me: "Our daughter...and
her husband...died on Korean Airline Flight 007. Their
deaths were the result of the Soviet Union violating every
concept of human rights." The emotions of these parents — grief,
shock, anger — are shared by civilized people everywhere.
From around the world press accounts reflect an explosion
of condemnation by people everywhere.
Let me state as plainly
as I can: There was absolutely no justification, either
legal or moral, for what the Soviets did. One newspaper
in India said, "If every passenger
plane...is fair game for home air forces...it will be the
end to civil aviation as we know it."
This is not the first time the Soviet Union has shot at
and hit a civilian airliner when it over flew its territory.
In another tragic incident in 1978, the Soviets also shot
down an unarmed civilian airliner after having positively
identified it as such. In that instance, the Soviet interceptor
pilot clearly identified the civilian markings on the side
of the aircraft, repeatedly questioned the order to fire
on a civilian airliner, and was ordered to shoot it down
anyway. The aircraft was hit with a missile and made a
crash landing. Several innocent people lost their lives
in this attack, killed by shrapnel from the blast of a
Is this a practice of other countries in the world? The
answer is no. Commercial aircraft from the Soviet Union
and Cuba on a number of occasions have over flown sensitive
United States military facilities. They weren't shot down.
We and other civilized countries believe in the tradition
of offering help to mariners and pilots who are lost or
in distress on the sea or in the air. We believe in following
procedures to prevent a tragedy, not to provoke one.
But despite the savagery of their crime, the universal
reaction against it, and the evidence of their complicity,
the Soviets still refuse to tell the truth. They have persistently
refused to admit that their pilot fired on the Korean aircraft.
Indeed, they've not even told their own people that a plane
was shot down.
They have spun a confused tale of tracking the plane by
radar until it just mysteriously disappeared from their
radar screens, but no one fired a shot of any kind. But
then they coupled this with charges that it was a spy plane
sent by us and that their planes fired tracer bullets past
the plane as a warning that it was in Soviet airspace.
Let me recap for a moment and present the incontrovertible
evidence that we have. The Korean airliner, a Boeing 747,
left Anchorage, Alaska, bound for Seoul, Korea, on a course
south and west which would take it across Japan. Out over
the Pacific, in international waters, it was for a brief
time in the vicinity of one of our reconnaissance planes,
an RC-135, on a routine mission. At no time was the RC-135
in Soviet airspace. The Korean airliner flew on, and the
two planes were soon widely separated.
The 747 is equipped
with the most modern computerized navigation facilities,
but a computer must respond to input provided by human
hands. No one will ever know whether a mistake was made
in giving the computer the course or whether there was
a malfunction. Whichever, the 747 was flying a course
further to the west than it was supposed to fly — a
course which took it into Soviet airspace.
The Soviets tracked this plane for 2 1/2 hours while it
flew a straight-line course at 30 to 35,000 feet. Only
civilian airliners fly in such a manner. At one point,
the Korean pilot gave Japanese air control his position
as east of Hokkaido, Japan, showing that he was unaware
they were off course by as much or more than a hundred
The Soviets scrambled
jet interceptors from a base in Sakhalin Island. Japanese
ground sites recorded the interceptor planes' radio transmissions — their
conversations with their own ground control. We only
have the voices from the pilots; the Soviet ground-to-air
transmissions were not recorded. It's plain, however,
from the pilot's words that he's responding to orders
and queries from his own ground control.
Here is a brief segment of the tape which we're going
to play in its entirely for the United Nations Security
[At this point, the tape was played.]
Those were the voices
of the Soviet pilots. In this tape, the pilot who fired
the missile describes his search for what he calls the
target. He reports he has it in sight; indeed, he pulls
up to within about a mile of the Korean plane, mentions
its flashing strobe light and that its navigation lights
are on. He then reports he's reducing speed to get behind
the airliner, gives his distance from the plane at various
points in this maneuver, and finally announces what can
only be called the "Korean Airline
Massacre." He says he has locked on the radar, which
aims his missiles, has launched those missiles, the target
has been destroyed, and he is breaking off the attack.
Let me point out something here having to do with his
close up view of the airliner on what we know was a clear
night with a half moon. The 747 has a unique and distinctive
silhouette, unlike any other plane in the world. There
is no way a pilot could mistake this for anything other
than a civilian airliner. And if that isn't enough, let
me point out our RC-135 that I mentioned earlier had been
back at its base in Alaska, on the ground for an hour,
when the murderous attack took place over the Sea of Japan.
And make no mistake about it, this attack was not just
against ourselves or the Republic of Korea. This was the
Soviet Union against the world and the moral precepts which
guide human relations among people everywhere. It was an
act of barbarism, born of a society which wantonly disregards
individual rights and the value of human life and seeks
constantly to expand and dominate other nations.
They deny the deed,
but in their conflicting and misleading protestations,
the Soviets reveal that, yes, shooting down a plane — even one with hundreds of innocent men,
women, children, and babies — is a part of their
normal procedure if that plane is in what they claim as
They owe the world an apology and an offer to join the
rest of the world in working out a system to protect against
this ever happening again. Among the rest of us there is
one protective measure: an international radio wave length
on which pilots can communicate with planes of other nations
if they are in trouble or lost. Soviet military planes
are not so equipped, because that would make it easier
for pilots who might want to defect.
Our request to send vessels into Soviet waters to search
for wreckage and bodies has received no satisfactory answer.
Bereaved families of the Japanese victims were harassed
by Soviet patrol boats when they tried to get near where
the plane is believed to have gone down in order to hold
a ceremony for their dead. But we shouldn't be surprised
by such inhuman brutality. Memories come back of Czechoslovakia,
Hungary, Poland, the gassing of villages in Afghanistan.
If the massacre and their subsequent conduct is intended
to intimidate, they have failed in their purpose. From
every corner of the globe the word is defiance in the face
of this unspeakable act and defiance of the system which
excuses it and tries to cover it up. With our horror and
our sorrow, there is a righteous and terrible anger. It
would be easy to think in terms of vengeance, but that
is not a proper answer. We want justice and action to see
that this never happens again.
Our immediate challenge to this atrocity is to ensure
that we make the skies safer and that we seek just compensation
for the families of those who were killed.
Since my return to Washington, we've held long meetings,
the most recent yesterday with the congressional leadership.
There was a feeling of unity in the room, and I received
a number of constructive suggestions. We will continue
to work with the Congress regarding our response to this
As you know, we immediately made known to the world the
shocking facts as honestly and completely as they came
We have notified the Soviets that we will not renew our
bilateral agreement for cooperation in the field of transportation
so long as they threaten the security of civil aviation.
Since 1981 the Soviet airline Aeroflot has been denied
the right to fly to the United States. We have reaffirmed
that order and are examining additional steps we can take
with regard to Aeroflot facilities in this country. We're
cooperating with other countries to find better means to
ensure the safety of civil aviation and to join us in not
accepting Aeroflot as a normal member of the international
civil air community unless and until the Soviets satisfy
the cries of humanity for justice. I am pleased to report
that Canada today suspended Aeroflot's landing and refueling
privileges for 60 days.
We have joined with other countries to press the International
Civil Aviation Organization to investigate this crime at
an urgent special session of the Council. At the same time,
we're listening most carefully to private groups, both
American and international, airline pilots, passenger associations,
and others, who have a special interest in civil air safety.
I am asking the Congress to pass a joint resolution of
condemnation of this Soviet crime.
We have informed the Soviets that we're suspending negotiations
on several bilateral arrangements we had under consideration.
Along with Korea and Japan, we called an emergency meeting
of the U.N. Security Council which began on Friday. On
that first day, Korea, Japan, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands,
Pakistan, France, China, the United Kingdom, Zaire, New
Zealand, and West Germany all joined us in denouncing the
Soviet action and expressing our horror. We accept to hear
from additional countries as debate resumes tomorrow.
We intend to work with the 13 countries who had citizens
aboard the Korean airliner to seek reparations for the
families of all those who were killed. The United States
will be making a claim against the Soviet Union within
the next week to obtain compensation for the benefit of
the victims' survivors. Such compensation is an absolute
moral duty which the Soviets must assume.
In the economic area in general, we're redoubling our
efforts with our allies to end the flow of military and
strategic items to the Soviet Union.
Secretary Shultz is going to Madrid to meet with representatives
of 35 countries who, for 3 years, have been negotiating
an agreement having to do with, among other things, human
rights. Foreign Minister Gromyko of the Soviet Union is
scheduled to attend that meeting. If he does come to the
meeting, Secretary Shultz is going to present him with
our demands for disclosure of the facts, corrective action,
and concrete assurances that such a thing will not happen
again and that restitution be made.
As we work with other
countries to see that justice is done, the real test
of our resolve is whether we have the will to remain
strong, steady, and united. I believe more than ever — as evidenced by your thousands and thousands
of wires and phone calls in these last few days — that
I have outlined some
of the steps we're taking in response to the tragic massacre.
There is something I've always believed in, but which
now seems more important than ever. The Congress will
be facing key national security issues when it returns
from recess. There has been legitimate difference of
opinion on this subject, I know, that I urge the Members
of that distinguished body to ponder long and hard the
Soviets' aggression as they consider the security and
safety of our people — indeed, all people who
believe in freedom.
Senator Henry Jackson,
a wise and revered statesman and one who probably understood
the Soviets as well as any American in history, warned
us, "the greatest threat
the United States now faces is posed by the Soviet Union." But
Senator Jackson said, "If America maintains a strong
deterrent — and only if it does — this nation
will continue to be a leader in the crucial quest for enduring
peace among nations."
The late Senator made those statements in July on the
Senate floor, speaking in behalf of the MX missile program
he considered vital to restore America's strategic parity
with the Soviets.
When John F. Kennedy was President, defense spending as
a share of the Federal budget was 70 percent greater than
it is today. Since then, the Soviet Union has carried on
the most massive military buildup the world has ever seen.
Until they are willing to join the rest of the world community,
we must maintain the strength to deter their aggression.
But while we do so, we must not give up our effort to
bring them into the world community of nations. Peace through
strength as long as necessary, but never giving up our
effort to bring peace closer through mutual, verifiable
reduction in the weapons of war.
I've told you negotiations we've suspended as a result
of the Korean airline massacre, but we cannot, we must
not give up our effort to reduce the arsenals of destructive
weapons threatening the world. Ambassador Nitze has returned
to Geneva to resume the negotiations on intermediate-range
nuclear weapons in Europe. Equally, we will continue to
press for arms reductions in the START talks that resume
in October. We are more determined than ever to reduce
and, it possible, eliminate the threat hanging over mankind.
We know it will be heard to make a nation that rules its
own people through force to cease using force against the
rest of the world. But we must try.
This is not a role we sought. We preach no manifest destiny.
But like Americans who began this country and brought forth
this last, best hope of mankind, history has asked much
of the Americans of our own time. Much we have already
given; much more we must be prepared to give.
Let us have faith, in
Abraham Lincoln's words, "that
right makes might, and in that faith let us, to the end
dare to do our duty as we understand it." If we do,
if we stand together and move forward with courage, then
history will record that some good did come from this monstrous
wrong that we will carry with us and remember for the rest
of our lives.
Thank you. God bless you, and good night.