Editor’s note: A longer version of this article first appeared at The American Spectator.
This generation has its KAL 007. The stunning downing of Malaysian flight 17 is strikingly similar to the shock of September 1, 1983, when the Russians downed a Korean passenger airliner, flight 007, which had left New York City for Seoul via Alaska. In both cases, the Russian government vehemently denied any involvement, disparaging anyone who dared to accuse it of prior knowledge.
Both planes were Asian with similar numbers of dead. KAL had 269 passengers; the Malaysian flight nearly 300. They were mostly Asian passengers but also Americans—61 Americans in KAL 007 and a much smaller (still unconfirmed) number in the Malaysian flight. In both cases, questions arise over why the planes were flying where they were flying. Exactly what happened with KAL still isn’t entirely clear, but it seems the computer on the plane’s guidance system was set incorrectly, allowing it to stray into Soviet airspace. Russian fighter planes stalked KAL 007 before blasting it out of the sky.
In 1983, Moscow initially denied the dirty deed, with Yuri Andropov, Vladimir Putin’s former boss at the KGB, insisting on his country’s innocence. The denials were shattered when the Reagan administration produced audio of the two Russian pilots communicating as they excitedly shot the plane. The audio was secured via the National Security Agency’s exceptional electronic surveillance technology.
But a major difference between September 1983 and July 2014 is the initial reaction of the two presidents.