Pacific News Minute: 50 Years Since N. Korea Seized the U.S.S. Pueblo and Crew

Jan 25, 2018

U.S.S. Pueblo
Credit Nicor / Wikimedia Commons

This week marks 50 years since North Korea seized an American intelligence ship, the U.S.S. Pueblo. Its crew of 82 suffered starvation and torture before their release almost a year later. The ship itself is now on display at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum in Pyongyang. We have more from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.

North Korea marked the anniversary with a special TV broadcast, which described heroic actions of the North Korean Navy as it captured the lightly armed intelligence ship. It also showed propaganda footage of the crewmen in captivity. Forced to pose for pictures, many crewmen raised their middle fingers. They told their captors that the gesture was the Hawaiian good luck salute and were beaten when the North Koreans discovered its actual meaning.

While American military forces quickly prepared for war, President Lyndon Johnson decided against it – the U.S. was already bogged down in Vietnam and could not manage a second major conflict. To win the safe return of the crew, the U.S. sent a letter of apology, which it later repudiated.

A CIA analysis considers the Pueblo alongside another incident, just a few months later, when a North Korean fighter shot down a U.S. Air Force reconnaissance plane and killed all 31 aboard. 

While it’s possible to argue that the Pueblo may have been in North Korean waters, the reconnaissance plane was 50 miles off the coast. The new Nixon Administration also prepared for war, and also decided against it. 

The CIA analysis concludes that both incidents were not the result of accident, the fog of war or the spontaneous actions of local commanders, but were ordered and directed by Pyongyang. ”National Leaders may undertake malevolent courses of action,” the report warns, “no matter how irrational the behavior may seem.”