Nan-sook Hong interviewed by Rachael Kohn
Rachael Kohn interviewed Nansook Hong in January 1999. A section of this interview was broadcast on Rachael’s ABC Australia radio show ‘The Spirit of Things’ on February 5, 2006.
Rachael Kohn: Here’s a clip from someone who knew the Moonies intimately.
About six years ago, I interviewed Sun Myung Moon’s daughter-in-law, Nansook Hong, who became a child bride to Moon’s son. After 14 years as a member of the True Family, and virtually imprisoned in the headquarters of the Unification Church, north of New York City, Nansook Hong made a harrowing escape with her children.
Nansook Hong: The first day I came into the compound from that moment from the time that I left, every aspect was controlled, where I lived, and where I went to school, the people that I associated with, but it was more a superficial relationship. I couldn’t tell anybody who I was.
The one thing I learned very early, I learned that I couldn’t trust anybody in the compound. I always had to watch out every word that I uttered. I had to think what this was going to do to me later on. It was very much the mediaeval court, I guess lifestyle, everybody’s there for their political agenda, they’re all there stabbing each other’s back to get what they wanted.
Rachael Kohn: So you were in a kind of constant state of fear, as to whether you were saying the right thing or paying obeisance in the right way? Indeed, how did you pay obeisance to the Divine Mother and Father?
Nansook Hong: First of all I was basically their maid. I was there before they got up, I served their breakfast, I was there from the morning till they went to sleep. And the Reverend Moon has his meetings at his breakfast table, after that they watch some Korean soap opera, and I’m there serving them.
Rachael Kohn: So you had to sit and watch the soap opera with Mrs Moon?
Nansook Hong: Oh, and the Reverend Moon as well, yes. And when they went for trips, well I had to go. Whenever they felt like calling me, then I had to be there.
Rachael Kohn: Well Nansook, you had children, indeed five children, and they provided a great deal of emotional support for you.
Nansook Hong: Well I was first of all supposed to produce Reverend Moon’s grandchildren, and that was one of my missions, which I did. I had a certain belief of how I wanted to raise my children, that didn’t always follow Reverend and Mrs Moon’s ideas of how children should be raised. And there was conflict, but I couldn’t really go against what they were saying. And I had my way of asserting some of my ideas, but that was very difficult. Whenever they wanted to take the children to a different country, then they could, we couldn’t really say anything.
The grandchildren were more like ornaments to them. When they went to Alaska, when they went to Korea or different countries, they took their little grandchildren to show the members that it kind of provided a good picture of being loving grandparents.
Rachael Kohn: There was also a curious attitude that he showed towards your parents, who had done a great deal for him, financially. You describe his need to humiliate the people who did good things for them.
Nansook Hong: That was the way for Reverend Moon to put people in place, especially people who are capable. A lot of people are there just taking money, and they’re very incompetent, and my father, he brought a lot of money and he gained a lot of respect, and I think Moon felt some threat, and he always had to put people in place by humiliating people in public, that was his tactic.
He yelled, he called names, about my Dad, in front of everybody, and that’s what he did to me too, especially after my parents left, he, in front of my kids, Moon just yelled at me, called me names and it was basically a torture being there every Sunday, having to listen to what he had to say.
Rachael Kohn: Nansook, how did you manage to overcome your fear, the fear of being punished, the watchful eyes everywhere, to finally make your break from the group?
Nansook Hong: Whenever you talk about fear, you are too attached to fear, physical and also psychological. Psychologically I think the fear was there since I was born. I was told it was God’s rule and we absolutely had to obey it, and being a religious person, a person who has faith in God, you cannot conceive the idea that you will go against God.
So I was in a psychological trap, and that was a very frightening thought. And also the physical fear, I constantly had to watch what my ex might do to me, there was always concern, especially a year before I left, I knew that one day I was going to end up being dead.
When I finally realised that I had to leave for my safety - and also the big part was my children’s safety as well - I did plan very carefully, going to lawyers, at the same time going through a lot of soul-searching, whether I was going against God. And I had help, I had support, my family helped, my best friend helped, so I was one of the lucky ones.
Rachael Kohn: But the Moons did not give up so easily.
Nansook Hong: Well financially I really didn’t know how I was going to survive. I knew that Moon and the family and the church, they were going to fight to get the children back, and the major way of doing that is pressuring me financially. It was a long, legal battle, they used every tactic you can possibly think of. My ex declared bankruptcy to not to pay the money, and grandparents were telling lawyers not to pay a penny.
Rachael Kohn: Nansook, it’s one thing to break away from a life that has been something of an elongated torture, but then to write about it takes another kind of courage. Why did you feel you wanted to write this book?
Nansook Hong: When I realised that I decided that I had to write a book about my life, as a perspective from inside, it was very centred on family, and not that many people have access to that. The idealism, the theory the church has that of loving family, loving parents, and children and brothers and sisters, and establishing the society and eventually the world for God, it makes very good sense, and they have a lot of truths in it, but Moon and the family, they do not practice what they preach, and not that many people have access to the reality.
I felt some sense of obligation and it wasn’t just for the Unification Church members, there are a lot of cults, very destructive cults, out there, robbing people’s I think innocent idealism. It’s basically a cautionary tale for members, for future members, and also for the relatives or friends whose loved ones are in that kind of situation.
Rachael Kohn: Nansook Hong’s story of her life in the Moon compound is called In the Shadow of the Moons.
Listen to the whole show here: