A detailed history and analysis of the U.S.S. Pueblo’s capture by North Korean gunships in January 1968 and the American government’s chaotic attempts to recover its crew.
President Bush’s recent declaration that North Korea is a key member of an “axis of evil” establishes this study as both timely and compelling. Lerner (History/Ohio State Univ.) argues that the Johnson administration’s view of North Korea as a mere satellite of the Soviet empire was a dramatic miscalculation. He clearly connects the design and outfitting of the Pueblo to an American-Soviet paradigm that tolerated electronic eavesdropping in international waters. That assumption, Lerner asserts, failed to account for North Korean leader Kim Il Sung’s nationalistic determination to remain as independent as possible from both Soviet and Chinese domination. This serious shortsightedness in American policy resulted in a confrontation: the North Korean navy crippled the Pueblo with automatic-weapons fire, killing one sailor and taking Commander Lloyd Bucher and his crew prisoners. Lerner details how growing public pressure to open up a new Asian conflict over the release of the crew caused Johnson to waver between hawkish bluster and timid placating of the North Korean government. While the administration stumbled towards a resolution with negotiators, he argues, the American sailors endured more than 300 days of systematic torture and abuse during which their captors coerced them into confessing to spying and other crimes against the North Korean people. Upon his repatriation to the US, the Navy pinned the blame for the incident on Commander Bucher, transforming him, according to Lerner, into a symbol of American Cold War blindness.
Engrossing analysis of Vietnam-era diplomacy, naval history, and Cold War politics—embedded with fascinating parallels between the events of 1968 and today’s crisis over terrorism. (21 photos, 1 map)