Life is full of surprises and second chances and just when you think it can’t get any different that’s when it comes back to remind you of karma and this aptly applies to Kim Hyon-hui.
South Korea is hosting the Winter Olympics this month, and even seeing the Olympic rings gives Kim Hyon-hui flashbacks to 30 years ago, the other time this country was preparing to host the Games. Then, Kim was an elite North Korean agent. She was acting on national orders. She boarded a South Korean passenger plane, carrying a bomb on a timer. She left the bomb in an overhead bin. She exited the plane during a layover. The plane blew up.
There was a manhunt for the perpetrators. Kim was captured. And then, Kim was taken for the first time to South Korea, arrested for an act of terrorism that killed 115 people and was designed to derail the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, reported The Washington Post.
Thirty years later, Kim’s life speaks to the disorienting contrasts on the Korean Peninsula, where the Olympics can be peaceful or deadly, unifying or dividing and she’s excited to watch the 2018 Games on TV. “In North Korea, I lived as Kim Il Sung’s robot,” Kim said in an interview. “In South Korea, I got to live a new life.”
This time, the North and South agreed to march together in the Opening Ceremonies, sharing a flag and fielding a joint women’s ice hockey team, a show of unity that belies years of tensions. Kim says that her deadly role in the bombing of Korean Air Lines Flight 858 is something that leaves her sorry and ashamed. “Can my sins be pardoned?” she said. “They probably won’t be.”
Kim, who is now living in South Korea, fondly speaks about her new beginning and says that she no longer resembles the spy who was given eight years of physical and ideological training. She is 57 years old. She lives on the outskirts of South Korea’s third-largest city. She wears glasses and keeps her hair short. She no longer practices taekwondo. She no longer has an interest in knife combat or code-cracking.
But, the past continues to haunt Kim and she still remembers her past ordeals quite vividly. “I feared interrogation,” she said. “I thought it was the end. I thought I was in the last months of my life. In my head, I was singing a North Korean revolutionary song.”
Kim’s life as a spy was not straightforward and began during her second year of studying at the Pyongyang Foreign Language College, when she was called to the dean’s office, and met there by a man from the Central Party. What followed was several rounds of interviews, and finally, a handshake from a special agent. “You have been chosen by the Party,” he said, according to an account from a book Kim wrote, published in 1991. The agent told Kim to pack her belongings, say goodbye to her family, and be ready to leave the next day.
She was then told to forge a fake identity and was given the name Mayumi Hachiya. “By destroying this plane,” Kim in her book quoted an intelligence director saying, “We intend to increase this sense of chaos and ultimately prevent the Olympic Games from taking place in Seoul.” The orders for her mission, she said, were handwritten by Kim Jong Il, Kim Il Sung’s son and heir apparent.
Kim then acting on the orders given by her masters meticulously planned everything and committed the heinous act of bombing the plane and was later held by the South Korean authorities. Now, after all these years that attack continues to haunt Kim and she still regrets from the pain that she caused on people who without any fault became victims of political one-upmanship between two regimes and this upcoming winter Olympics in South Korea will come as a rude reminder to Kim who, in 1988, chose terror over humanity.