We've been seeing short clips from President Reagan's address to the nation a few days after Korean Air Lines fight 007 was shot down by the Soviet Union. But it's worth reading the whole text to remember what an eloquent, serious, tough, and thoughtful American president says--and does--in such a moment.
ADDRESS TO THE NATION ON THE SOVIET ATTACK ON A KOREAN CIVILIAN AIRLINER
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 Soviet missile.
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 two and a half 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 miles.