DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
July 19, 1994

WAR IN KOREA? JUST THE FACTS, PLEASE

When I left the majestic mountains of Montana five weeks ago for South Korea. U.S. newspaper headlines read: "Perry cautions North Korea." "South Korea steps up surveillance of the North," and "U.S. moving to ready public for Korean tensions."

As I disembarked at South Korea's Seoul International Airport, I expected to low crawl to a terminal bunker, ducking incoming fire all the way. Like most Americans, I believed what passed for news on the tube and in print -- the conflict between North and South Korea was on a final countdown.

Because the U.S. media had no other drum to beat before the "Saga of Simpson, "Korea became the story, puffed up big time. CIA boss R. James Woolsey told Larry King and the world that "North Korea has the bomb." His counterpart at the Pentagon, William Perry, told the National Press Club that North Korea was a threat to "the entire world."

The U.S. press, feeding on one another. breathlessly and tirelessly reported all the propaganda, which escalated with each story. Few reporters dug for the facts or searched through the feeding frenzy for shreds of truth, choosing instead to recycle one another's tired copy. Between the garbage in and garbage out, the average citizen needed a spade to shovel through all the disinformation.

Once on the ground, I discovered there hadn't been any unusual military activity for a good while on the part of either North or South Korea In this last campaign of the Cold War. Contrary to U.S. media cover- age, there was no crisis and no war jitters, and to the average Kim on the streets of Seoul. the U.S. media spin on tension with Pyongyang about the bomb was a Grand Canyon yawn. Their main interest was World Cup soccer

Just as you and I expect to pay taxes, the South Koreans accept the fact that there's a dangerous neigh-or to the north who hasn't gotten the word the Cold War is over. They also realize that, ultimately, the Bamboo Curtain will fall, and the two Koreas will unite without a shot being fired.

After spending almost one month talking to generals, officials, grunts and people all over the land, I concluded all was quiet on the Korean front, in spite of the media-promoted hysteria.

Sure, there's danger along the Demilitarized Zone, a mine-sown, gun-choked 150-mile-long no man's land dividing the two Koreas. On both sides -- where dedicated soldiers have sat behind the world's most fortified potential killing field since 1953, waiting for someone to slap leather and start the shooting phase of the Korean War all over again -- two awesome armies are still squared off, fingers on triggers and rounds in chambers. The situation is identical to what the world lived through until the high cost of the Cold War made the Soviet bear cry uncle and stop the war games.

An old warrior, Fred Ramm, said, "The big joke during the Korean War was: "What are the last words a soldier wants to hear? Answer: Fix bayonets." Today, our soldiers in South Korea say it's: "Good evening, this is Dan Rather, reporting from the DMZ."

Media spectacles such as "Joey and Amy," "The Shootout at Waco," "Tonya Harding and her Three Thugs" and now "The Juice in the Caboose" are sure winners for those high TV ratings that bring in the heavy advertising bucks.

Wars are, too. Too many enjoyed "The Blood in the Balkans," "Death on the Streets of Mogadishu" and "The Desert Storm Laser Show," all successful series with logos and theme songs. The networks and much of the print media cashed in, converting these real life-and-death events to mainstream entertainment for blood-lusting spectators in modern-day couch potato coliseums.

Will Rogers used to say, "All I know is what I read in the newspapers." As a reporter, all I know is what I see, smell, touch and hear firsthand.

Since wars and the rumors of wars are too dangerous to be treated as show business, I need to tell you folks: There's no crisis in the two Koreas except that promoted by an irresponsible American media that needs to shape up and put in the time needed to report just the facts.