Pharis Harvey, "DJ was a leader who never compromised on his responsibility for the people."
Following is the email interview with pastor Pharis Harvey on the occasion of the 7th anniversary of the former President Kim Dae-jung’s death which was published by a Sisa Oneul Magazine. Pastor Pharis Harvey is a human rights activist and one of major supporters of the Korea’s democratization movement back in the 1970s and 1980s. In June this year, he was invited by KDF to “International Democracy Solidarity Seminar” and also to the official ceremony commemorating the 29th anniversary of the June 10th Revolution for Democracy. The reporter decided to interview Pharis Harvey after meeting him at those occasions.
□ So, you are renowned as a human right activist in U.S. What motivated you to work for the human right issue?
I grew up in an all white farming community in Western Oklahoma, and did not experience the racism in my own country until my high school years, when I discovered that the all-whiteness of my town was not accidental, but the product of deliberate efforts to prevent minority people from moving there. This fact horrified me, and led to a lifelong commitment to racial justice. As I was undergoing a religious awakening, it became a central part of my understanding of the Christian faith to seek justice and respect for all God's creatures, and to combat both individual and systemic injustice. Later, as I entered the ordained ministry, work for social justice emerged as the central focus of my effort to follow Jesus. From the start of my ministry, I have worked in social justice organizations rather than local churches.
□ As far as I know, you worked for the North American Coalition for Human Rights in Korea. What made you have interest in Korea?
I addressed this question at some length in the essay I presented to the Korea Democracy Foundation last month. I will include a copy of that essay with this response.
□ So, you worked with DJ, the former president Kim Dae-jung of Korea. Could you introduce when you first met him?
Kim Dae Jung's wife Lee Hee Ho was a classmate of my wife in the late 1950s at Scarritt College in Nashville Tennessee, before either the Kims or the Harveys were married. I began traveling to Korea in connection with my work as a staff member of the United Methodist Church responsible for student ministries in 1970. At that time Kim Dae Jung was not in Korea, I believe, but in Japan. I did meet with his wife every time I traveled to Seoul, but often he was either in prison or under house arrest. Later, it became important for the work I was doing in support of the Korean human rights movement not to bring attention to myself by visiting the Kims at their home, which was always under surveillance. As a result of all these factors, I did not meet Mr. Kim personally until Christmas Eve 1982, when we met his plane arriving in Washington, DC. When he was sent into exile. We had corresponded often, through letters carried by friends, but we had not met physically until then.
□ Did you know DJ was deported to U.S by the dictatorship back in 1982?
Yes, see above.
□ Could you share some episodes when you worked with DJ at the Korean Institute for Human Rights in U.S?
I worked with Dr. Kim throughout his stay in the United States, often traveling with him for speaking engagements or to meet American political leaders, including former President Jimmy Carter and a number of US senators. I was often asked by him to help prepare speeches in English, or to advise him about various political matters in the US, and worked to prepare his return to Korea by organizing, together with others, a delegation to accompany the Kim family on their flight back to Korea. The Korean Institute for Human Rights, organized by Kim Dae Jung was a close partner of the North American Coalition for Human Rights in Korea.
□ I wonder how much the Korean politics and human rights issues including DJ had the public attention in U.S back then.
It is a little difficult for me to assess broad public awareness at that time because I was so deeply involved with Korea. However, the 1980s was a time of general concern about human rights, partly as a result of all the issues that arose during the Vietnam war and the conflicts in Central America during that decade. In Congress, we were able to elicit considerable concern for various human rights atrocities in Korea, and a number of initiatives were taken to express that concern. That decade was, however, a time of quite extreme conservatism in the Reagan administration, which was very reluctant to assume a pro-human rights stance toward Korea. It considered the security interests of the United States required us to ignore the rights violations of our ally President Pak Chung Hee. It also led to our government ignoring the military movement of Chun Doo Whan's paratroopers to Kwangju, and possibly to complicity in that bloody suppression of the popular uprising.
□ As far as I know, you were one of them, who accompanied DJ on the airplane back toKorea in 1985. Could you explain the situation with details?
I was one of the organizers of that delegation and participated in the trip. About one month before we were to leave, Philippine leader Benigno Aquino visited Kim Dae Jung in Washington. I participated in this visit, which happened just before Aquino left for Manila, where he was assassinated on arrival at Manila Airport. This gave us great alarm for the Kims' safety on their pending return to Seoul. So we hastily organized a delegation of prominent American political and social leaders to accompany the Kims home. There were also a number of Kim Dae Jung's Korean friends and followers aboard the plane. When we arrived in Seoul, I led the delegation offi the plane. Our departure from the plane was, however, suddenly interrupted by a contingent of KCIA thugs who entered the jetway from a side stairway and pushed the group apart so the Kims could be isolated from us and taken away separately. Fortunately, they were returned to their home. All along the road from Kimpo to their home, thousands of people were gathered to try to welcome them home, but they had been secreted away by the security officials to prevent them from seeing their wellwishers.
□ How was the human rights and democracy that you experienced in Korea? You told me the story of your friend, tortured in the dictatorship in Korea.
During the 1970s and 80s, as President Pak took steps to become president for life, and to promulgate the Yushin Constitution, the situation of freedom of speech and action grew progressively worse, with thousands arrested, tortured or abused, workers' rights suppressed, students and intellectuals treated as agents of North Korea, and the general public controlled by massive KCIA surveillance and pressure. In spite of this, thousands persisted in demonstrating for democracy, challenging the government and police authorities and insisting on asserting their rights. In the churches, a serious deepening of theological understanding emerged, which portrayed God as suffering with the people to bring about freedom and a just society. This theological understanding was a minority view, but it undergirded secular efforts to build and strengthen democracy. As 1987 began, this movement achieved a critical mass as millions participated in protests against the attempt to install Gen. Roh Tae Woo undemocratically, and as worker revolts followed, the government was forced to back down and take the first tentative steps toward genuine democracy.
□ So, you also participated in the visit of Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights to Korea in 1989, and most of the Korean press criticized it.
The Korean mainline press was not exactly free in 1989, and government pressure led to a number of efforts in the press to downplay or criticize the visit by the RFK Center to honor Mr. and Mrs. Kim Kun Tae for their leadership in the human rights movement. Behind this, and particularly involving myself as a member of this delegation, the government of Pres. Roh Tae Woo was angry that at a visit by Pres. Roh to the U.S. Congress a couple months before, very few members of Congress had attended a speech he had given in a Joint Session of the Congress. It had been discovered that the reason for this was a letter I had sent to every member of Congress urging them not to attend as a sign of protest against the Korean president for arresting and imprisoning members of the Korean National Assembly at the same time he was addressing the U.S. Congress as a democratically. So, when I arrived in Seoul as a member of the RFK delegation, I was greeted by huge signs in City Hall Plaza and groups of “veterans” protesting my presence. It was, I'm sorry to say, n unfortunate distraction from the visit's purpose, to the Mr. and Mrs. Kim Keun Tae.
□ As you know, the commemoration day of DJ is coming in August 18th. What do you define 'the DJ spirit' and his achievements?
I believe there is no doubt that Kim Dae Jung will be remembered in Korean history as a great leader, who never wavered in his determination to achieve a democratic and unified Korea. The 'DJ spirit' is a spirit of unyielding determination to respect all people apart from their social class, their regional loyalties or their ideological understanding, and to build a political culture that systematized that respect. He could be sharply critical of politicians who corrupted their responsibility to people, and he lived in a manner that demonstrated his conviction on this. He was self-taught, deeply inspired by Gandhi and Jefferson, and rigorously committed to advance equality between the sexes by the way he shared his life with Lee Hee Ho. His greatest achievement was his bold travel to Pyongyang to meet with Kim Jung Pil to try to inaugurate a movement toward unification of the Korean peninsula. Such an innovation would not have been possible had he not established himself as a genuinely democratic president of the ROK.
□ What is your last comment for Korean democracy and human rights?
I am optimistic about the prospects for lasting democracy in Korea, despite recent efforts to erase some of the gains of the last few decades. Democracy is never a finished product, but requires constant vigilance and struggle. I see that vigilance in the countless demonstrations on countless issues that prevail in South Korea today. That may seem messy, but it is an essential part of preserving the gains brought about by the blood, sweat and tears of generations of Korean citizen over the last century. I am deeply grateful to been allowed to have a small part in this struggle.
Thank you for your participation in the interview.