It wasn’t the most glamorous of assignments, but when the USS Pueblo was sent out to do some eavesdropping off the coast of North Korea in 1968, there was an element of danger involved. Naturally, the government of Kim II Sung would not take kindly to the snooping. When the North Korean dictator sent his ships to intercept the American vessel and capture its crew of
more than eighty sailors, headlines were made and the small, dilapidated spy ship found its way into the history books.
Act of War by Jack Cheevers tells the story of this military action and the resulting stand-off that left the Pueblo crew in a North Korean prison for a year. Based on meticulous research, including interviews with the ship’s crew and Captain Pete Bucher, naval officers and former members of the Johnson administration, Cheevers takes the reader step-by-step through this Cold War crisis.
With military forces preparing in South Korea for a possible answer to North
Korea's action, President Johnson worked behind the scenes to save the American sailors from possible execution, which would have certainly sparked another major armed conflict in this region of Asia with consequences for not just the Korean peninsula but all of the major powers that backed either North or South Korea. As the author explains, subsequent investigations of the
USS Pueblo incident by both the Navy and Congress “revealed appalling complacency and shortsightedness in the planning and execution of the
Pueblo’s mission.” These errors are addressed in the book, as well as the horrendous experiences the captured Americans had to endure in North Korean prisons.
Forty-five years after this event, North Korea remains a dangerous threat to peace and stability in Northeast Asia. The country’s new 28-year-old leader, Kim Jong-un, as he has shown over the past year, is just as irrational and unpredictable as his grandfather and father. Since intelligence information about North Korea continues to be gathered by the U.S. and other nations to keep tabs on what the present regime is doing, there’s always the chance of another misstep like what occurred over four decades ago. “As we unleash spies and covert operations against a growing list of twenty-first century adversaries we’d do well to remember the painful lessons of the
USS Pueblo,” writes Cheevers. Those who don’t learn from blunders of the past are quite likely to repeat them, and another incident like the
USS Pueblo could be costly for everyone involved.