Ronald Reagan’s address on the Korean air disaster (1983)


On September 5th 1983, Ronald Reagan addressed the American people on the Korean air disaster – the shooting down of a civilian airliner by a Soviet jet:


 

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… 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 overflew 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 overflown 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…

 

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 their airspace. 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…

 

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…

 

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… 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 expect to hear from additional countries as debate resumes tomorrow…

 

We know it will be hard 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…

 

Thank you. God bless you, and good night.