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.

Thereafter, the Moonies grew fast in both numbers and respectability. When Bo Hi Pak set up the Korean Cultural Foundation for Freedom (one of innumerable Moonie front organisations), he was able to get ex-Presidents Truman and Eisenhower to accept its honorary presidency. Naturally, this opened doors for the Moonie fronts throughout the US, and they were soon sending out fund-raising appeals signed by numerous respectable citizens and Hollywood stars. Back in Korea, the Moonies set up the Seoul Freedom Centre to host the Asian Peoples’ Anti-Communist League (using money gathered from the American Right) and founded Radio Free Asia, whose programming was controlled by the KCIA’s psychological warfare section. Soon it became hard to know where the Moonies began and where the South Korean Government ended. Thus Bo Hi Pak continued to travel on a diplomatic passport long after he had ceased to hold an official post; the Moonies were given free use of the state-owned radio transmitters and the franchise to sell official commemorative coins in the US; Moon himself was treated by the Seoul authorities as of equal status with a visiting head of state, and Korean leaders from the Prime Minister down were to be seen as guests of honour at mass Moonie ceremonies. Mickey Kim, a leading KCIA executive and former counsellor at the Washington Embassy worked simultaneously as one of President Park’s bodyguards and director of the Moonies’ own internal law-and-order force. The Moonie children’s ballet group, the Little Angels (patron, Dwight D. Eisenhower), travelled the world as a quasi-diplomatic operation – dancing at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, for example, and at the celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of Turkey’s independence.

The money necessary to the Moonies’ growing political and cultural activities was generated, not only from the unpaid labour of thousands of brainwashed militants, but from a spreading ring of Moonie enterprises. Symbolically enough, the first such operation was a gun factory, and soon the Moonie Tong Il group gained a key role in the Korean defence industry. In 1966 Tong Il obtained the official American franchise to make M16 assault rifles in Korea, though on the strict condition that the weapons not be exported. Moon’s own cousin ran this enterprise and somehow by the mid-Seventies these Moonie-made M16s were being exported all over the world. Tong Il was soon making car and truck components, M60 machine-guns, M79 grenade-launchers, the Vulcan anti-aircraft gun, and much else besides. (Boyer records the claim of the British military attaché in Seoul in 1985 that he had a two-page list of Moonie companies working in the Korean defence industry.) But soon the Moonies had branched out into agricultural machinery, machine tools (by 1985 they had taken over two West German machine-tool manufacturers), the titanium industry, pharmaceuticals, fishing, the import-export business, printing, steel, agricultural products and banking. These interests are organised under a plethora of labels (including such typical Moonie appellations as One Up Inc., Uniworld and Happy World Inc.), and Boyer does a heroic job in trying to enumerate them – by 1985 there were 118 such companies in the US alone. There have been large and repeated tax scandals relating to many of these enterprises, for the Moonie leadership seems to feel that it is wrong that their operations should have to pay tax at all. In addition to the enormous volume of funds generated in this way, Moon is also able to rely on the formidable efforts of his Mobile Fund-Raising Teams. Moon long maintained that his mission was to rebuild the Kingdom of God in Korea: but the world opened up first by access to the moneybags of the American Far Right, and then by the growing weight of the Moonie commercial empire, led to a strategic re-siting of this divine intention. In 1970 Moon formally transferred his base to the US and henceforth the main fruits of his financial empire have been poured into Moonie activities there.

Moon immediately set out to win the hearts and minds of the Washington establishment. Friendly links were rapidly established with the various components of the Moral Majority – especially the Mormons: when Moon was jailed for tax evasion his most energetic defenders were Senator Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Congressman George Hansen (Idaho), both Mormons. Jerry Falwell, the Moral Majority leader, joined in the Moonie chorus that Moon’s imprisonment was a violation of religious liberty. Congressmen and Senators were bombarded with offers of free hospitality at the Washington Hilton. Moonies were soon to be found lobbying away and offering their services in the corridors of power: some of the Moonie ‘sisters’ even gained permanent jobs on Capitol Hill, notably Susan Bergman, who became an assistant to the House Speaker, Carl Albert. Before long various Moonie front organisations had won the willing patronage of numerous conservative Congressmen and Senators – including Robert Michel, the Republican Minority Leader, Barber Conable (now head of the World Bank) and Jesse Helms. The real high point came, however, when President Nixon, warmed by the Moonies’ unconditional support for him during Watergate, invited Moon to the White House, where the two men prayed together.

Nixon’s fall was a grievous blow to Moon, who immediately set out on a campaign of extreme right-wing agitation to reverse what he saw as the decline into leftism inaugurated by Watergate. The Moonie newspaper, Rising Tide, played a key role in these years in rallying the disparate elements of the American Right into the great crusade which was to culminate in Reagan’s election in 1980. Rising Tide was warmly greeted by Barry Goldwater and its columns featured articles by such luminaries of the conservative movement as Congressman Larry McDonald (head of the John Birch Society), Fred and Phyllis Schafly, Ray Cline (former deputy-director of the CIA), General Daniel Graham (now leader of the High Frontier – i.e. Star Wars – lobby) and Reed Irvine. Irvine brought a fresh raft of influential supporters into the Moonie milieu with his Accuracy in Media movement: among AIM’s patrons were William Simon, the former Treasury Secretary, Joseph Coors, the beer magnate and Reagan confidant, Claire Booth Luce, Jimmy Goldsmith and Richard Mellon-Scaife. Moon now felt confident enough to take on the hated New York Times by launching the New York News World and, in 1982, to take similar aim at the Washington Post by launching the Moonie Washington Times. The Washington Times alone loses $50 million a year and is the final destination of a large chunk of Moonie funds.

At this point disaster struck, in the shape of the Congressional Sub-Committee on Korean-American Relations, chaired by the liberal Minnesota Congressman, Donald Fraser. The Moonies have never fully recovered from the ‘Koreagate’ revelations that followed. Day after day the media regaled the public with the details of KCIA attempts to bribe Congressmen, intimidate Koreans living in the US, and use the Moonies cover for a wide range of interference in US political life. Two former KCIA directors were named as unindicted conspirators and the fall-out suddenly robbed Moon of much of the respectability he had so expensively achieved. The fact that the Moonies were able to help secure Fraser’s speedy exit from elective office was small compensation for the fact that even in Seoul the Moonies were now becoming something of an embarrassment. Suddenly the Little Angels could no longer get visas and large tax bills were presented to Moonie companies. Within the US, Moon’s own tax problems grew, culminating in a jail sentence for tax evasion. Meanwhile a great clamour grew from anguished parents who accused the Moonies of ‘stealing’ their children, brain-washing them and turning them against their families. Several Moonies defected and told blood-curdling tales of the sect’s inner life. Perhaps most important of all, the Moonies’ cover was well and truly broken: the full list of front organisations (Causa, CARP, the KCFF etc) was exposed. Henceforth anyone who collaborated with the Moonies would have to do so knowingly.

But the machine held. The vast majority of Moonie activists remained fanatically loyal to ‘the New Messiah’. Some parents mounted dramatic missions to recapture their children; more didn’t, or failed. The Seoul regime slapped Moon’s wrist – but no more. Moon’s commercial empire remained intact and continued to churn out huge profits. These in turn guaranteed that Moon was able to remain a valuable asset to those whom he had befriended. The result has been a remarkable comeback. The key was Reagan’s election in 1980. Moon threw his immense resources into an all-out effort behind Reagan – who appeared on election night proudly brandishing the Moonie News World headlining his victory. Moon was invited as a VIP to Reagan’s inauguration. At last he had what he wanted: no mere Nixon in the crippled death-throes of his Presidency, but a strong, new and grateful friend in the White House with eight years ahead of him.

The Washington Times, under Bo Hi Pak’s guiding hand, rapidly became the focus of this new and unparalleled Moonie influence. William Simon, who had been one of Reagan’s chief fund-raisers in 1980, Jim Watts, Reagan’s Interior Secretary, and the Presidential counsellor, Claire Booth Luce, all agreed to accept honorific positions with the Times, which rapidly became the preferred house magazine of the Reagan Administration. The President himself has frequently counselled campaign audiences to read the Moonie paper and on being re-elected in 1984 accorded the first exclusive interview of his second term to it. Bo Hi Pak has been entertained in the White House by the President and in 1984 was awarded honorific ‘Eagle’ status by the Republican Party for his large donations to its cause. The paper itself took the hardest of hard-line positions on every issue: it is anti-détente, anti-arms control, pro-Contra, pro-South Africa. At the end of 1984 Reagan recruited one of the paper’s chief editorialists, Pat Buchanan, to become his main speech-writer. Buchanan was responsible for such egregious Reagan dicta as the assertion that the SS men buried at Bitburg were as much victims of Nazism as the Jews. Soon Buchanan ranked second only to Don Regan among the White House staff: even Moon could hardly have dreamt that he would achieve so much so soon.

The announced ambition of Bo Hi Pak is to make the Washington Times one of the ten great newspapers of the world with editions in every major language. This ambition suffered a setback when the paper’s editor, James Whelan, parted on bitter terms, alleging that all power on the paper was still concentrated among a handful of ex-KCIA Moonies. His replacement as editor was Arnaud de Borchgrave, a journalist long known for his extreme right-wing views and his sympathetic relationship with several Western intelligence services. De Borchgrave (who claims to be 16th in line of descent to the Belgian throne) had been named by the New York Times as one of the group of Western journalists to have received large cash sums from the Shah of Iran, and had had to leave his job on Newsweek when it was discovered that he was keeping files on his fellow journalists. (Like his close associate, Robert Moss, a former Thatcher speech-writer, de Borchgrave is obsessed with the infiltration of the Western press by alleged Soviet moles and has personally briefed President Reagan on the subject.) As early as 1982 de Borchgrave and the French conservative journalist, Jean-François Revel, now an Encounter columnist, had been star invitees at Moonie media conferences. Even at the salary he demanded ($300,000 a year) de Borchgrave was a natural choice.

One of de Borchgrave’s major coups was to launch the Nicaragua Freedom Fund in 1985 when Congress turned down funding for the Contras. Accusing Congress of treason to America, the Washington Times launched a large-scale private funding operation for the Contras, with dramatic ads signed by Jeane Kirkpatrick, Midge Decter, Michael Novak, Charlton Heston (who raised funds in Europe for the cause) and the usual right-wing backers. Bo Hi Pak led off the campaign – backed by Reagan ‘with all my heart’ – with a $100,000 contribution. Such gestures win the Moonies hearts and minds in Washington, as well as in the Central American jungles: few sights could better symbolise the extent to which Koreagate had been glossed over than that of Bo Hi Pak, Moon’s faithful number two, dining at the table of honour with the White House Chief of Staff, Don Regan, or welcoming Ronald and Nancy Reagan as guests of honour at Moonie-sponsored pro-Contra receptions – at a time when Moon himself was still in jail for tax evasion. De Borchgrave, for his part, is a familiar of such key Reaganauts as Ed Meese and the former National Security Adviser, Robert McFarlane, while McFarlane’s predecessor-but-one, Richard Allen – another star invitee at Moonie conferences – took a $100,000 fee to prospect the possibilities of an Asian edition of the Washington Times Above all, de Borchgrave has privileged access to Reagan himself: he is, after all, the editor of the President’s favourite newspaper. Thus, immediately prior to his first summit with Gorbachev, it was de Borchgrave whom Reagan sought out for his advice on how best to confront the Soviets. His advice: ‘Don’t give an inch on SDI.’

Moon’s ambitions are not confined to America: ‘If we can manipulate at least seven nations, we’ll control the whole world ... In the camp of God, Korea, Japan, America, England, France, Germany and Italy are the nations on which I count in order to conquer the world.’ In fact, the bulk of the sect’s followers are in Korea, Japan and the US, but it is active in Africa and Europe, and especially in Latin America. To list the Moonies’ favoured contacts is to compile a sort of international Who’s Who of the Right. Bo Hi Pak has links with the Paraguayan dictator, General Stroessner (whom he has pronounced ‘a special man, elected by God to rule his country’ – which is just as well, for no one else has had the chance of electing him). The Moonies have strong links with the Bolivian military, too – indeed, Boyer cites material to suggest that the Moonies collaborated there with Klaus Barbie to organise the 1980 coup d’état. In Chile, the links are with Pinochet, accorded the signal honour of being compared with Moon himself as a ‘pillar of the struggle against international Communism’; in Argentina, with ultra-conservative Catholic bishops concerned to combat liberation theology and ‘the Marxist Alfonsin’ (the Moonies have bought up several Argentinian newspapers to further this cause); in Central America with a host of right-wing dictators, and the Contras. Boyer reports that Moonie insignia, tee-shirts and even converts are now a familiar sight in Contra and Miskito refugee camps.

Boyer is naturally fascinated with Moonie activities in France and details at length the long list of contacts with extreme French conservatives – the names of Jean-François Revel and Olivier Giscard d’Estaing (the ex-President’s brother) occur over and over again. But the Moonies’ closest and most intriguing links are with Le Pen’s Front National. Pierre Ceyrac, nephew of the former head of the French employers’ organisation and one of the most prominent Moonies in France, was accorded a leading place on the FN list in the 1986 elections. But, according to Boyer, the most striking example of a Moonie in politics is Gustave Pordéa, the ex-Rumanian diplomat who sits for the FN in the European Parliament. Boyer pours scorn on the Sunday Times allegations that Pordéa is a Rumanian Communist agent and suggests that, in effect, the Sunday Times reporter was an innocent taken for a ride by dissident elements within the FN. Certainly, Boyer is able to produce lengthy chapter and verse for Pordéa’s membership of the Moonies over a period of seven years. And there is no doubt that links between Le Pen and the Moonies go back a long way and that relations are close: in November 1986 Le Pen made a special trip to visit the Moonie leader in Japan.

Herman and Brodhead’s The Rise and Fall of the Bulgarian Connection has more to do with this strange and luxuriant world of right-wing extremism than one might at first suspect. It is at once the best and most careful analysis of the ‘Bulgarian plot to kill the Pope’ yet to appear and a quite stunning account of how this ludicrous fiction was dreamt up and then amplified throughout the world’s press. As Herman and Brodhead show, independent evidence that the Pope’s would-be assassin, Ali Agca, with his long career in the neo-fascist Turkish Grey Wolves, had anything to do with the Bulgarians was virtually nonexistent from the start. Ultimately, the case collapsed amidst a welter of embarrassment in the Italian courtroom where Agca, sole witness for the Bulgarian Connection, repeatedly denied and contradicted his own evidence, and continually asserted that he was Jesus Christ. The immense media ramp mounted around the case collapsed virtually overnight and the story that had garnered so many acres of newsprint for three years simply vanished from view – to the sound of a good deal of red-faced throat-clearing on editorial desks around the world.

The story originated with three writers: Claire Sterling, Paul Henze and Michael Ledeen. None could exactly be termed reliable sources. Sterling has long been known for her somewhat wild right-wing views and her heavy reliance on anonymous ‘intelligence sources’. Henze was a long-time CIA station chief in Turkey with a history of good connections with the Turkish Far Right. Ledeen, the ‘Italy expert’ in Reagan’s 1980-81 transition team, has a history of association with both the Italian and US Far Right and was a close collaborator of Francesco Pazienza, the Italian secret service agent sentenced in 1985 for a variety of crimes including corruption, involvement with the Mafia, the P-2 Lodge scandal and the Ambrosiano Bank affair. Nonetheless, the Sterling-Henze-Ledeen story was picked up and amplified first by such familiar names as Arnaud de Borchgrave and Robert Moss and then by a whole panoply of conservative columnists (William Safire, George Will, William Buckley etc), then by conservative ‘experts’ at Georgetown University and elsewhere. Ultimately this wild concatenation of non-facts was running regularly in Time, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Times and almost everywhere else one turned. It was, quite simply, one of the largest and most successful disinformation campaigns ever mounted. The curious thing is that journalists like Moss, Sterling and de Borchgrave advertise themselves as experts on Soviet disinformation as purveyed by the Western press. Soviet disinformation does, of course, exist. It is to be found in large, indigestible chunks in Tass statements to the effect that South Africa killed Samora Machel, or that Jewish dissidents in the USSR are virtually all CIA agents. It is not hard to recognise. And it is very foolish indeed not to recognise that, for all sorts of obvious reasons, the Western press is a far, far more fruitful field for disinformation stemming from the right than from the left.

How much does all of this matter? Moon is fairly clearly mad, after all; the number of his followers is stagnant; and journalists like de Borchgrave seem unlikely ever to gain the full – hearted respect of their profession. If there is a villain of the piece it is surely those Western conservatives who seem so determined on a ‘no enemies on the right’ policy that they are willing to provide access and lend legitimacy to all manner of freaks, charlatans and hot heads. This is not a matter of the Reagan Administration alone: Mrs Thatcher too has, notoriously, her ‘poisonous acolytes’, including not a few figures whose psychological balance is seriously in question. Nor is it just a matter of politicians. The records of Claire Sterling, Ledeen, Henze, Moss, de Borchgrave et al. are sufficiently known: what on earth are newspaper editors and proprietors thinking of to lend credence to them? Similarly, the record of Moon, Bo Hi Pak and the Moonies in general is familiar enough: what on earth was the Pope playing at when he ac corded an audience to Bo Hi Pak and other Moonie leaders (even being photographed with them) in December 1985? Our new rulers seem to have in common a penchant for being stroked by counsellors more extreme than themselves. Perhaps it is pleasant to be thus put ‘on side’, to be made to feel moderate for a change? One worries more that there is a deep insecurity at the heart of the New Right, explaining at once its visceral character and its willingness to give houseroom to those who would have been simply shunted aside by a Macmillan, a Taft, a de Gaulle or a Churchill. Why else should regimes that boast, above all, of being liberal (in a free-market sense) choose such illiberal associates? Why else should those who boast of a new democratic majority for the Right countenance such profoundly undemocratic friends?