There are two things about Korea you never forget.
The first is the roiling mishmash of stinks.That May, there was the
bitter stench of tear gas, an essence of spring and fall, since
Korean students are what you might term fair-weather protesters.
There was the ripened aroma of kimchi, a spiced and aged cabbage
that makes your nostrils think your upper lip's plagued with
gangrene. On top of that was the acrid odor of garlic, the
lifeblood of every Korean. Finally, there were all the smells of
careless progress: smog, construction, and human sweat.
The second thing you never forget is exactly how miserably steamy a
Korean late spring day can be. My shirt was pasted to my back
before I got halfway across the tarmac to the flight building of
Osan Air Base.
I dashed straight through the entry and shoved aside a sputtering
Army captain who was rooted like a potted plant waiting to meet and
"Major Drummond, I, ooof—"was all he could manage before he
crashed up against the wall. Then I heard him skittering along
I moved my stiff legs as fast as I could, till I spied the door I
so desperately sought. I lunged through hard enough to blow it off
the hinges; the captain scurried right behind me. At the urinal I
got my zipper down not a moment too soon. Another millisecond and
the jig would've been up.
My escort propped himself against the sink and studied me with an
awed expression."Jeez, you should see your face." "You got no
idea." "Long flight, huh?"
I put my left hand against the wall. "Long ain't the half of it.
Know whose neck I'd like to wring? The miserable bastard who broke
the only toilet in the C-141. I've had my legs crossed since the
"Well, you're finally here," he consoled, grinning like a fool. "I
guess I am."
A full, awkward thirty seconds passed before he nervously tapped
his leg."My name's Chuck Wilson. I, uh, I've been told to pick you
up and escort you to Seoul."
"Hey, that's great, Chuck.Why?" "Huh?" "Why are you taking me to
Seoul? Why am I in Korea in the first place?"
An exquisitely befuddled look popped onto his face."I got no idea,
sir. Why are you here?"
The stream of urine flooding out of my body had not abated one bit.
I got worried. Has anybody ever pissed himself to death? I didn't
ask him that, though. I said,"If I knew that,why the hell would I
be asking you?"
He glanced down at his watch and said,"You okay, Major? It's been
over a minute."
"No, I'm not okay," I complained."My hand's tired. This damn
thing's so big and heavy. Can you come over here and hold it for
We both chuckled a little too emphatically, like real men do
whenever any topic arises even remotely touching on homosexuality.
"Sheeit," he drawled in a deep, manly way,"some things a man's
gotta do hisself."
"Damn right," I firmly pronounced.
He averted his eyes while I gave Ol' Humungo a manly shake,
reholstered,and got my zipper back up."Okay,"I said,moving to the
sinks and splashing some water on my hands and face,"let's find my
bags and get outta here."
"Forget the bags," he said."My driver's getting 'em."
We went out, and a husky young corporal named Vasquez was standing
proudly beside a spanking-new black Kia sedan with lots of gleaming
chrome.I made him open the trunk so I could peek in, and sure
enough there sat my duffel bag and oversize lawyer's briefcase.Then
Wilson and I climbed into the backseat.
"Well, ain't this the plush life," I remarked, running an admiring
hand across the leather upholstery. "I figured you'd get me in a
nasty old humvee."
"Not unless I got an armed escort." "Armed escort?"
He gave me a curious look."Haven't you been reading the papers?" I
said, "Hey, Chuck, see these shorts and this ratty T-shirt I'm
wearing?" "Yes sir."
"This is what's called formal attire in Bermuda. See, that's where
I was until, uh, oh"—I looked at my watch—"until about
twenty-eight hours ago.Know what's so great about Bermuda? No? Let
me tell you: No newspapers. No TVs. No cares in the world but which
beach has the skimpiest bikinis and which bar's having a
two-for-one special at happy hour."
He nodded right along."Yeah, well, things aren't so blasé over
here. We're drowning in anti-American riots. It's gotten so bad
we're restricted to our bases. No civilian cars with U.S. plates
and no unescorted military vehicles are allowed outside the
"That why we're in this Kia?"
"It's less noticeable.And it took a two-star general to sign off on
letting me come get you. I asked for a helicopter, but, no offense
intended, they said you just weren't that damned important."
"A helicopter?"I asked,beginning to think this captain was a little
over the edge.This was South Korea.These people were our allies,
not our enemies.
Sounding not the least bit contrite, he said,"I know it sounds
crazy,but,hey,the American embassy got firebombed two days ago. The
ambassador actually got beat up. Bad, too. He had to be medevaced
With the worldly resignation of one who has spent some time in
Korea, I said,"Look, anti-American riots are a popular local sport.
You must be new. Trust me, Chuck, you'll get used to it."
Three seconds later, I ate my words.
We'd just crested a long, steep hill, and the back gate of the air
base loomed only twenty yards ahead.The roof of our car suddenly
sounded like it was exploding.The sound came from a shower of rocks
that struck like pistol shots. I looked through the front
windshield and saw three Molotov cocktails come sailing, end over
end, through the air.Two exploded on the tarmac directly ahead.The
third grazed off the trunk of our car and erupted right behind us.
Two dozen military policemen were careening through the gate,
flailing hopelessly with their nightsticks, shoving backward, and
being chased by a huge mob of Koreans.
I'm no expert on riots, but I've seen a few. I once watched a bunch
of Somali provocateurs trying to get a rise out of some American
peacekeepers.That was a taunting kind of riot, not really meant to
harm the peacekeepers; in fact intended to achieve the opposite: to
get the peacekeepers so riled up they'd do something harmful to the
crowd and end up looking like bad guys.The idea was to provoke an
And as someone who lived through the Vietnam era, I witnessed my
share of antiwar riots.Those "riots"were actually more like big
frat parties with lots of kids showing up for the free dope and to
get laid.Those kinds of riots, everybody walks on eggshells, and
they do it in a real fretful way, because both sides are praying
the other doesn't do anything stupid. Atrocities are the last thing
The mob bearing down on us looked to be the third kind of riot: the
bad kind of riot. The folks in this crowd had menace in their eyes
and mayhem on their minds. Their faces were snarled with anger and
hatred, and a lot of them were carrying bats, or Molotov cocktails,
or throwing big stones. By the guardshack, two MPs were down, and
several Koreans were gathered around kicking and beating them like
they were snare drums.
Corporal Vasquez, the driver,jammed down hard on the brakes. He
rubbernecked around to face us."Hey, Captain,what do ya want me to
Wilson craned forward and peered through the windshield.He rubbed
his jaw thoughtfully and studied the situation, and looked more
thoughtful. His prolonged thoughtfulness made me nervous.
"Gun it!" I yelled. "Huh?"Vasquez asked. "Go!" I yelled.
Vasquez turned out to be my favorite kind of soldier: the
hairtrigger obedient type. He spun back around,downshifted into
neutral, jammed the gas pedal to the floor, then shifted into
gear.The car nearly leaped off the ground. The tires screamed as
they got traction,and Vasquez wisely shoved down hard on the
horn,adding to the racket.
All of a sudden the mob focused on the big, noisy black sedan
bearing down on them.That look of the maddened crowd evaporated. I
guess they realized there's a fundamental difference between
chasing a group of outnumbered, scared MPs and eating the front
bumper of a speeding car.
Rioters dove all over the place.We raced through the narrow gate,
then Vasquez took a hard right turn, with more squealing tires, and
drove madly through a bunch of skinny twisted streets with tightly
packed shops on both sides. It took about three minutes before we
cleared the village of Osan and made it to a country road that led
to the Seoul-Pusan highway.
Captain Wilson's fingers had a death grip on the back of Vasquez's
seat. His face was chalky white. "You shouldn't have done that," he
moaned."That was a real bad idea."
"How come?" I asked. He shook his head and gave me an exasperated
look."'Cause we're gonna get an official complaint. No doubt about
it. You coulda hurt some of those people."
"Hey Chucky,you got things backward.They wanted to hurt us.
Besides, Osan Air Base is military territory.We have an agreement
with the South Koreans.Those people were trespassers. If we'd hit
one, it would've been perfectly legal.Trust me."
He gave me a dubious look."What makes you so damn sure of
"I ought to be," I told him."I'm a lawyer." "A lawyer?" he asked,
like he'd just discovered a big gob of smelly dog doo on the sole
of his shoe. "Yeah, you know. A JAG officer. One of those guys with
a license to practice law."
His face got this very pained expression. "You mean... you mean, I
went through this shit to get a JAG officer?"
With the tension and all, he just blurted that out. I didn't take
offense, though. See, in the Army, JAG officers aren't real high on
anybody's be-sure-to-invite-to-the-party lists. We're regarded as
geeky, bookish, wimpy types without a lot of redeeming virtues.
Lawyers aren't all that popular in the civilian world, either, but
at least they inspire envy with the money they earn.
Military lawyers, nobody envies us.We shave our heads and dress
somewhat funny, and our pay's only a hairsbreadth away from minimum
I leaned back into my seat and crossed my recently tanned legs. "So
what's got the natives up in arms this time?" Wilson let loose his
grip on Vasquez's seat and drifted back also."What happened was
that three American soldiers raped and murdered a South
"That's too bad,"I said in a casually offhanded way."Regrettable,
I'm sure, but that kind of thing's happened over here plenty of
times.Anything special about this one?"
"I'd say." "What?" "It was a fag rape." I nodded, but "Umm-hmm"was
all I said.
"That's not the least of it, either.The kid they raped and murdered
was a Katusa."
I nodded and umm-hmm'd some more. Katusas are South Korean soldiers
assigned to American units.The term actually stands for "Korean
Augmentees to the U.S. Army"—more proof that the military can
convolute anything into an acronym. Katusas are almost all highly
educated college graduates who speak English if not fluently, at
least with some degree of proficiency. Most Korean kids consider
Katusa duty to be the most agreeable way to perform mandatory
With good reason, too, because the Korean Army is a brownshoe
affair, much like the American Army back in the thirties, where a
common soldier's lot is fairly spartan.The pay stinks, the barracks
are rustic and unheated, the food's just enough to keep you from
starving, and Korean sergeants believe fervently that if you spare
the rod,you spoil the child.Hazing and beatings are fairly
The American military, on the other hand, is inarguably the world's
most spoiled and pampered. Barracks are like college dorms,
food's.... well, at least ample, and if a sergeant so much as
raises an open hand in the direction of a private, he's going to
need a good defense counsel, like me.
Naturally,any Korean kid with an iota of sense wants to be a
Katusa. And just as naturally, any Korean kid with rich or powerful
parents usually gets his way.
I looked at Chuck."I can see where that would be ugly." "You don't
know the half of it," he replied, sighing very visibly. "The
Katusa's name was Lee No Tae. Of course, since nearly everybody who
lives here's named Lee or Kim, I don't expect you to see the
significance of that. His father is Lee Jung Kim. Ever heard of
"He's the defense minister of the South Korean armed forces." I
felt a sudden wrenching in my gut. I mean, here I am, a JAG
officer, and I get this panicky call from the Judge Advocate
General, the two-star general in charge of the entire Army's JAG
Corps, ordering me to terminate my vacation and haul my butt up to
Andrews Air Force Base to catch the next military flight to South
Korea.Worse, he wouldn't say why. He just said I'd find out when I
It was my turn to squeeze the back of the seat in front of me. "Has
this got anything to do with why I've been brought over
It was a rhetorical question, of course. "No sir," he said,
sounding completely resolute."Not a thing." "Yeah? How do you
"'Cause, according to the papers, the Organization for Gay Military
Members—some group back in the States—hired a bunch of
civilian attorneys to come over here and represent the accused." A
relieved sigh escaped from my lungs. I don't mean to sound
squeamish, but in my eight years as an Army lawyer, I'd managed to
never once be involved with a court case related to homosexuality.
There aren't a lot of experienced military lawyers who can say
that. I could, though. I was damned glad of it, too.
The thing about flying twelve hours with my bladder pumped full of
coffee and that six-pack of Molson I now sorely regretted having
smuggled aboard was that I couldn't sleep for fear I'd awaken with
a big wet spot in my lap. I smelled foul and was wrung out, so I
told Captain Wilson to wake me up when we got to Seoul.
Excerpted from MORTAL ALLIES © Copyright 2002 by Brian
Haig. Reprinted with permission by Warner Books. All rights