Rising Moon

R.W. Johnson

  • L’Empire Moon by Jean-Francois Boyer
    La Découverte, 419 pp, August 1986, ISBN 2 7071 1604 1
  • The Rise and Fall of the Bulgarian Connection by Edward Herman and Frank Brodhead
    Sheridan Square, 255 pp, $19.95, May 1986, ISBN 0 940380 07 2

Jean-François Boyer’s book on the Moonies is one of the most striking pieces of investigative writing that I have read for a long time. It tells the story of how Sun Myung Moon (his American name – real name, Young Myung Mun), from his origins as a North Korean peasant, has built a politico-religious empire with an annual revenue of over half a billion dollars (making it one of the world’s largest 50 private corporations). The young Moon seems to have been an ordinary enough peasant child until, at least, the age of 14, when his father, shaken by a series of family disasters which saw several of his children fall mentally ill, had the family converted to Christianity. But this domestic crisis was overshadowed by the terrible national disaster of Japanese occupation and annexation. The context was ripe for messianism. The Buddhists, among whom Moon had grown up, hoped desperately for a new Buddha to lead them, Moses-like, out of their cruel new subjugation, while Korean Christians believed Armageddon was nigh and looked likewise for a Redeemer. Sure enough, Jesus appeared to the 16-year-old Moon and informed him that he was the chosen man, thus making him one of the hundred-plus messiahs Korea had spawned in only a century.

According to Moon’s official biography, he then gained a degree as an electrical engineer at Waseda University in Japan (though the university has no record that he was ever a student). What is certain is that he had become a strong Korean nationalist. In 1944 he was arrested by the Japanese Police and imprisoned and tortured for anti-Japanese activities, but the outbreak of peace allowed him to return to Pyongyang, marry and, for the first time, proclaim himself the new messiah. According to his official biography, it was his initial success in gathering followers that led jealous Christian rivals to denounce him to the new Communist authorities, leading to further imprisonment and torture in a ‘re-education’ camp. Moon was certainly interned for a year but Korean Christian researchers claim to have established that actually he had contracted a bigamous marriage, asserting that God had authorised him to do so. History, once again, violently intervened: the Korean War broke out, the camp was overrun by the US Army, and Moon ended up a free man in Seoul, his aggrieved nationalism now directed against the Communists, whom he held responsible for the division of Korea. In May 1954 Moon finally founded his Unification Church.

Moon has always made extreme demands on his followers: they are enjoined to give up everything on becoming members of his flock, and have to work long hours for no pay – engaging in a plethora of activities to raise funds for the Church. They are celibate, eat little and take part in long monotonous hours of praying, chanting and singing. Inevitably, this quickly led to accusations that Moon was applying the same brain-washing techniques to which he had been subjected in his North Korean re-education camp. In 1955 the Syngman Rhee regime arrested several Moonie leaders (including Moon, as a draft-dodger), alleging ‘the illegal detention of persons’. Somewhat mysteriously – for there was no doubt about the draft-dodging – Moon was released all smiles and uncharged. The case was a turning-point all the same: Moon seems to have concluded that he needed to make powerful friends and now began to direct his attentions towards the real power in South Korea, the military.

Moon’s recruits among the young Turks of the South Korean Army were to play a decisive role. Most notable of all was a young major, Bo Hi Pak, who has almost become Moon’s co-equal in the movement. Pak, with several other young officers, was the intermediary between the Moonies and Kim Jong Pil, the architect of the 1961 coup d’état which replaced Syngman Rhee with President Park Chung Hee – and made Kim Jong Pil prime minister. Straight after the coup Kim Jong Pil, with the help of the CIA, set up the KCIA, which, from that day to this, has remained the real power centre of the Korean regime. One key Moonie sympathiser, Steve Kim, left the Army immediately to join the KCIA and became Kim Jong Pil’s indispensable aide, acting as the intermediary between the KCIA and CIA. Another young Moonie officer, Aka Bud Han, also became an assistant to the premier/KCIA chief, acting, for example, as his interpreter with President Kennedy, before launching on a successful ambassadorial career. A third important KCIA Moonie was Sang Kil Han, who became military attaché at the Washington Embassy.

All these young officers were fluent Anglophones, and major links in the tight CIA-KCIA nexus. All four are today to be found at the very summit of the Moonie movement. Bo Hi Pak heads the movement’s American press operation, News World Communication Inc., where he is seconded by Steve Kim. Bud Han helps run the Moonies’ most important newspaper, the Washington Times, while Sang Kil Han is Moon’s private secretary, supervises the education of his children, and helps organise the mass wedding ceremonies (where Moon marries up to six thousand couples at once) for which the Moonies are famous. (One of the biggest of these took place in 1982 in Madison Square Garden.) In effect, Moon’s strategy was to attempt to make himself indispensable to the Seoul regime, the KCIA, the CIA and the American Right, apparently on the assumption that with patrons as powerful as these he would be safe from further harassment. Certainly, the fanatical anti-Communism of the Moonies (‘some say Communism is soluble in Coca-Cola, but it is only soluble in napalm’) dates from this dramatic move into the world of politics and the intelligence services.

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