Pueblo Captured - History

Pueblo Captured - History

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The U.S.S. Pueblo, an American intelligence- gathering vessel, was captured by the North Koreans. The North Korean charged that the vessel was within their territorial waters, a charge denied by the U.S. The crew was eventually released but the ship was not.

Pueblo Captured - History

USS Pueblo Wikipedia History:

USS Pueblo (AGER-2) is a Banner-class technical research ship (Navy intelligence) which was boarded and captured by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) on 23 January 1968 in what is known as the Pueblo incident or alternatively as the Pueblo crisis or Pueblo affair.
North Korea stated that she strayed into their territorial waters, but the United States maintains that the vessel was in international waters at the time of the incident."

Executive Officer&rsquos comments:

The Pueblo&rsquos Executive Officer (and Navigator) reaffirms that the USS PUEBLO never ever intruded into the territorial waters of North Korea. His &ldquoconfession&rdquo to the &ldquodeep&rdquo intrusions claimed by North Korea was obtained under horrific torture. Intrusion &ldquoconfessions&rdquo were always prefaced with the disclaimer: &ldquoThe charts and records show that we intruded at the following points&rdquo. In fact the &ldquoCharts and records&rdquo do not support the intrusions claimed by North Koreas, but show them to be navigational impossibilities.

More recently, facts have come to light that indicate that USS Pueblo was captured by North Korea at the instigation of the Soviet Union, which was seeking a cryptographic machine onboard to match with a key provided to the Soviets by the spy John Walker .

Had the Pueblo&rsquos Commanding Officer obeyed briefing orders to &lsquodisengage upon compromise of your mission &ndash return to port&rsquo, the Pueblo would have left the Wonson area the day before, and there would have been no &ldquoPueblo Incident&rdquo. The first Pueblo mission compromise occurred when two North Korean fishing boats were encountered the day before the capture. The second occurred when they returned later that day with photographers taking pictures while sailing close to the Pueblo. These two &ldquocompromises&rdquo pierced the planned protection for the Pueblo&rsquos maiden voyage.

The Pueblo was captured because verbal orders were not carried out. There is no question that the Soviets quickly harvested equipment and materials which magnified the Walker spy compromise, and severely impacted the US involvement in South East Asia, specifically the TET offensive . Some have wondered what impact the Pueblo's compromised equipment might have had on the sinking of the USS SCORPION and the loss of her 99 Sailors.

Pueblo, still held by DPRK today, remains a commissioned ship of the United States Navy. North Korea's then leader Kim Jong Il, specified that the USS Pueblo be used to promote anti-Americanism. During the Anniversary celebration of the Korean War, the ship was moved from a berth on the Taedong River to a permanent encasement in the Botong River alongside a war museum in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.

North Korea&rsquos return of the USS Pueblo would have been a positive first sign of friendship and gratitude for the food, fuel, and financial aid that American taxpayers have delivered to the North Koreans. However, it appears permanently ensconced and not likely to be repatriated by the current regime.

Library exhibit showcases Pueblo history through the lens of a Japanese immigrant

The photography and film of a Japanese immigrant who spent decades capturing everyday life in Pueblo is on display through an online exhibit presented by the Pueblo City-County Library District.

&ldquoNatural Framing: The Life and Work of Frank D. Muramoto&rdquo showcases the vast body of work captured on film by Frank &ldquoDuke&rdquo Denichi Muramoto, a native of Japan who lived in Pueblo from 1912 until his death in 1958.

Muramoto's high-quality collection showcases Pueblo&rsquos history and diversity.

&ldquoHe&rsquos a very good photographer so his images are clear and the subjects he&rsquos featuring &mldr were people of all ethnicities, of all races and backgrounds,&rdquo said Aaron Ramirez, manager of special collections and museum services for the library district.

&ldquoHe captured different pockets of cultures and people through time.&rdquo

Muramoto, who owned De Luxe Studio at 1142 E. Evans Ave., photographed a wide range of subjects, from parades, picnics and friendly get-togethers to feats of strength and martial arts demonstrations.

Much of his work serves as a glimpse into Southern Colorado&rsquos past, showing landmarks like the Royal Gorge and Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

The exhibit, which can be seen online at, showcases his impressive body of work, from personal family photographs to professional studio portraits.

Muramoto was also an avid user of early home-movie cameras. The exhibit features seven 16mm film reels shot by Muramoto, showing scenes throughout Pueblo and Colorado, including rides at the Colorado State Fair and what was then a newly constructed exhibit, &ldquoMonkey Mountain,&rdquo at the Pueblo Zoo.

The library district was able to digitize Muramoto's original film strips through a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation, and the films are featured in the exhibit.

&ldquoThe films have these intertitle cards that (Muramoto) created and then filmed. So kind of like you&rsquod see in the silent movies where they have an explanation of the following scene,&rdquo Ramirez said.

&ldquoHe created those and put them in between his home movies &mldr and then not only is it in English, it&rsquos also in Japanese text. And that was something that the National Preservation Film Foundation people had never seen before.&rdquo

Ramirez said Muramoto produced color films in the late 1930s that serve &ldquoas an example of early consumer color-film footage.&rdquo

The exhibit also examines the migration of Japanese immigrants into the United States and Pueblo.

Ramirez said the exhibit will be featured online indefinitely and noted the library district has obtained some of Muramoto&rsquos portrait work and is developing a future exhibit.

&ldquoWe&rsquore planning on creating a physical exhibit of those portraits that really showcases the diverse subjects,&rdquo Ramirez said.

&ldquoIt shows newlyweds, children doing their confirmations, baptisms and families getting that special family photo there in his studio. So that should be coming later this year, closer to summer.&rdquo

The USS Pueblo Incident — Assassins in Seoul, A Spy Ship Captured

January of 1968 saw two of the most serious incidents to occur on the Korean peninsula since the end of the Korean War. Skirmishes had become common along the demilitarized zone since 1967, but none were more brazen than the attempt by North Korean commandos to assassinate President of South Korea Park Chung-hee the night of January 21. An elite North Korean unit successfully crossed the DMZ and came within 100 meters of the Blue House, the president’s official residence, before being thwarted by South Korean security forces.

The failure of this mission may have prompted the North Koreans to seize the American naval intelligence ship, the USS Pueblo, on January 23. While collecting signals intelligence in international waters near the North Korean coast, the ship was attacked and captured, with one crew member killed and the rest taken hostage. The North Koreans claimed the ship had violated their territorial waters, an accusation which the United States vehemently denied. Diplomatic efforts to free the hostages dragged on for eleven months, until they were repatriated on December 23, 1968. The tensions that arose from these two incidents nearly sparked another major armed conflict on the peninsula and strained relations between the U.S. and South Korea.

Richard A. Ericson was the Political Counselor in Seoul at the time he was interviewed by ADST’s Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in 1995.

Blue House Raid: North Korea’s Attempt to Assassinate the President of South Korea

ERICSON: To the Koreans, the Blue House raid was certainly the most critical event — and I mean the Blue House raid, I do not mean the Pueblo — during that 1965-68 period, because it came as the culmination of a long series of incidents on Korean territory. People were very tense and [South Korean President] Park used this tension to justify many of his repressive measures.

As I say, he was very fond of quoting President Lincoln to all the congressmen who came through protesting these measures, both during this period and my later assignment.

Thus the Blue House raid came at a time when there already was a hell of a lot of tension. Park was feeling very unhappy about a number of things. He was beginning to think, I believe, that his commitment to Vietnam had weakened him too badly. He was starting to agitate for more military aid to Korea. And then we got reports that thirty or more well-armed North Koreans had been seen inside the DMZ by a couple of woodcutters. They had been allowed to go back to their village with a warning that if they told anyone that North Koreans were in the country the intruders would come back and wipe out the whole damn village.

Well, of course word spread immediately through the South Korean government and it threw up road blocks, mobilized internal security teams, and covered all the routes into Seoul. But the infiltrators just plain disappeared. For two days they were not heard from.

Then about 9:00 p.m. on January 21, a cold, cold night, a column of men in South Korean uniforms came marching from the North toward a police checkpoint on the road that ran along the south side of Puk-san toward the Blue House [the official residence of the South Korean head of state]. This checkpoint had been established specifically to look out for the infiltrators.

The police challenged this column and their leader, using remarkably good Korean psychology, told the South Korean policeman to button his damn lip. He said that his men were ROK CIC [Republic of Korea Military Intelligence] returning to the barracks following a search mission. He sneeringly told the police that they should know better than to muck around with the CIC. And, of course, the police backed off.

But one of the guys in the police block was a little annoyed by this. He felt it was embarrassing to be talked to like that. So he radioed his headquarters to complain that they should have been warned that there were CIC in the area. The headquarters came back after a while and said, “There are no CIC in your area.” A police lieutenant on duty at the Blue House heard the broadcast and decided to investigate. He got into his jeep and intercepted the column.

By this time it was within 800 yards of the Blue House and into a fairly heavily populated area. Seoul in those days was not all that populated to the north now it is. You couldn’t do this thing today. The lieutenant challenged the column and was promptly killed. The North Koreans opened fire on him, but in the process they opened fire on everybody else around them, killing and wounding a number of civilians, including passengers on a bus. Then, strangely, they separated into groups of two or three. They apparently had no dispersal plan, no contingency plans as to what they should do if something happened before they got to the Blue House.

To make a long story short, they split into small groups and the ROK devoted enormous resources to rounding them up. They captured two almost immediately, I think two more just disappeared and were never heard from, and the rest were all killed in fire fights with ROK security forces. Of the two they captured, one they took to the local police station. Once inside, he managed to detonate a grenade he had concealed on his person, killing himself and about five senior Korean police officials. They didn’t shake him down very well, obviously. But the other one, after severe interrogation, broke down and told all about himself and his unit.

We were not aware that there were units of this kind, but he said there was an organization of at least a thousand people currently undergoing training in North Korea for just such missions. The Korean military had never heard of anything like this, so they asked him where they had trained. He told where the camp was and drew a map of its layout.

When the spy plane photographs were developed, the camp was where he said it

was and his map was almost an exact overlay of the photos. They asked him whether these units used radio during their training. Yes. Frequencies? He gave them frequencies. The ROK denied ever having heard anything on these. He suggested they try again, and up they came.

So we began to believe this guy. He said that their primary mission was to assassinate President Park. They were supposed to deploy not very far from where they had been intercepted, they were getting pretty close. Their idea was to rush the Blue House, raise hell, and kill Park, who was there. He also said that their original mission had been to split into three groups, one of which was to go to the American military headquarters at Yong-san and kill the UN Forces Commander and other senior officers, such as the UN representative to the Armistice Commission.

The third group was to come into American Embassy Compound One and kill the Ambassador and anybody else they could lay their hands on there.

As I say, we believed him. It so happened that the girls high school right next to the wall of that compound had a very large open play area, but a new building was being constructed right alongside the wall, where a lot of construction materials were piled. The wall might as well not have been there. We had armed security guards, but we didn’t trust them all that much.

So, at that point the Ambassador issued a weapon to each family in Compound One and some residents of Compound Two. And the UN Command designated a platoon of tanks to stand by to go to our rescue should the North Koreans come again. The tank crews were billeted in the Yong San post gymnasium, thus depriving soldiers and high school kids of their basketball court, and the tanks got lost trying to find the compound on the one attempt they made to hold a dry run of the rescue effort. But the knowledge that they were there was reassuring to some.

Of course, the Blue House raid was never duplicated, but the North Koreans had succeeded in making everyone nervous.

Dump the North Korean Corpses on the Conference Table

Anyway, Park went ape over this incident. It came close. It clearly demonstrated that his phobia on assassination was well grounded and he reacted by doing what he occasionally did in periods of great stress. He went up to the mountains with a couple of friends and a couple of ladies and a large supply of alcohol and disappeared. But we got stories that he was enraged, just beside himself, out of control.

Now, the Koreans looked upon this threat to their president as a major, major event, and we were seriously concerned that out of that mountain fastness of his would come the order to go get them, to cross the DMZ, seeking retaliation of some kind. But he was out of touch and there was no way that you could get to him directly.

Meanwhile, the ROK security forces were hunting down the infiltrators and finally found all but one. The way they broke the one prisoner, incidentally, was to align all of the bodies on a hillside, 26 or 27 corpses in various states of disrepair, and march their prisoner along the line. This was a man who was still refusing to talk.

When his escorts reached the last body, they kicked its head and the head rolled off down the hill. At that point, they say, this fellow decided that he would be willing to tell all.

As far as dealing with the North Koreans was concerned, some ROK generals felt that if they weren’t going to declare war, they should at least haul the corpses up to Panmunjom and, after flaying the North Koreans verbally, dump them on the conference table. However, calmer heads eventually prevailed.

But it was several days after the Blue House raid that the Pueblo was seized, and that is where we really got into trouble with the South Koreans. They had no knowledge that the Pueblo was there.…

USS Pueblo Incident: “They had no idea of what it meant to attack an American vessel”

The Pueblo was Noah’s Ark rigged with electronic listening gear. I say Noah’s Ark because it was what we used to call a Baltic Class freighter, a slow, most inefficient, very small coastal freighter. I forget what its tonnage was. Maybe under a thousand, I can’t remember. It was not armed, except for a few small arms. It was a sad excuse for a U.S. Navy vessel.

But this particular ship was one of the Navy’s electronic intelligence gathering vessels and it had replaced a similar ship called the Banner, which had been there for quite some time. It was fairly new on the job, but it had been patrolling up and down the coast of North Korea, picking up what it could by way of North Korean electronic activity. CINCUNC [Commander in Chief, UN Command] may have known it was there I don’t know. But the ambassador was not informed and neither were the South Koreans.

It was approached by North Korean patrol boats off the North Korean port of Wonsan. I think it was pretty clearly in what we considered international waters. It was likewise pretty clearly not in what the North Koreans considered international waters. They were claiming a 12-mile limit at the time and the ship’s orders were to stay outside the three-mile limit. The North Koreans were certainly aware that it was there and had been for some time. They had tolerated it, probably not wanting to kick up a major fuss. But then when the Blue House raid came along, they took it, killing one seaman and capturing eighty-two….


were fearful that since the Blue House raid had failed to kill Park, he might order some kind of major hostilities and they didn’t want a vessel with this kind of capability there. It was something to be gotten out of the way.

You have to remember the North Koreans had been taking South Korean boats on the high seas regularly. It was their habit to pick up South Korean fishing boats, take their crews off, brainwash them and send them back to South Korea. There had probably been 50 to 100 incidents of that kind.

I don’t think they were fully sensitive to what the taking of a U.S. naval vessel would mean to us. Anyway, it turned out that it meant a great deal to the U.S. as a nation and to its leaders, much more than the Blue House raid.

One of our major points of difficulty with the South Koreans was that they thought the Blue House raid, an assassination attempt on their president, was by all odds the more important event. To them, the Pueblo was a sideshow. And back in the United States, Americans from Lyndon Johnson down thought that the Pueblo seizure was the heinous crime of the century and the Blue House raid was something few had heard about. That became a real bone of contention between us.

Washington reacted violently to the Pueblo, and Johnson ordered the carrier Enterprise, which had just finished a visit to Sasebo, to come steaming up the east coast of Korea and to station itself off Wonsan. The idea was maybe we were going to take out Wonsan and all its defenses and recapture the ship. Or perhaps it was simply to intimidate the North Koreans into acceding to whatever demands we might make for reparations.

All kinds of wild ideas were floated about what our reaction should be. Our main concern in the embassy was trying to get Washington to focus on the fact that there was a real problem with the South Koreans because of the Blue House raid and the disparity between our reaction to it and the Pueblo. We were not concerned as much with the North Koreans, who probably were not interested in a real war at that time but who would respond certainly if attacked.

“The South Koreans were more emotional than rational”

That, of course, was what determined the United States to send the Enterprise back on its way. Those interested in a cold assessment of the situation rather than histrionics estimated that it would take everything the Enterprise had and probably a good deal more to penetrate the air envelope around Wonsan and that we might very well find ourselves facing a full-scale war in Korea if we tried to do anything of that kind. My own feeling was that if we had attacked Wonsan it would have encouraged Park to the point where he might just–UN commander or no UN commander–order South Korean forces to go. The man was out of touch with reality during this whole period.

So we had to figure out how to get the ship and the crew back. That is where we got into further difficulty with the South Koreans. The South Koreans, more emotional that rational, were already, many of them, looking at our reaction as pusillanimous. Of course they weren’t aware, although perhaps they should have been aware, that the forces that we had in Korea, two divisions, the 2nd and 7th, were in very bad shape.

They had about two-thirds of their complement of troops, the shortfall being made up by KATUSAs [Korea Augmentations to the U.S. Army]. These were basically Korean soldiers detailed to serve with American units. That was always an iffy situation they never fit in very well, although some of them did very, very good work and certainly without them we would have been in vastly worse shape.

Incidentally, the Blue House raiders had deliberately come right through the 2 nd Division’s lines. The captured raider said that they figured they couldn’t get through the South Koreans because the South Koreans did their patrolling, kept awake, did not smoke cigarettes on the line, did not huddle together for warmth and all that kind of thing. Whereas, he said, the Americans up along the DMZ smoked….

You could smell their smoke, you could hear them talking they did huddle together when it got very, very cold and did rely on electronic sensors installed at American — but not South Korean — positions. But a lot of these sensors–anti-personnel radar, seismic detectors, and stuff like that–had been developed for battle in Vietnam. But unfortunately nobody had made sure they functioned as well when the temperature sank to 20 degrees below zero. And they didn’t.

The 2nd Division commander was furious when he heard this North Korean say they came right through his lines. They took him up to the fence–there was a big chain link fence along the entire front of the 2nd Division’s lines–and the commander said, “Prove it to me.”

The Korean went up to the fence at the point where he indicated they had penetrated and kicked it, and a large section of the fence fell out. He knew exactly where to go, and this incident certainly enhanced his credibility. Incidentally, they had come down over the hills. During the two days that they were undetected it was way below freezing all day and all night. It was a marvelous feat of endurance, carrying all their equipment over rough and mountainous terrain in vicious winter weather and getting to Seoul so fast.

Negotiations in Panmunjom: “The South Koreans were furious”

How to get the crew of the Pueblo back became our main concern, but to us in Seoul placating the South Koreans was as important. And, of course, our tactics in getting the crew back made the South Koreans even angrier. The embassy wasn’t really consulted very much in this as I recall. The powers that be in Washington decided, once it became clear that negotiations with the North Koreans were possible, that they should be held at Panmunjom.

We discarded various other possible places. And the North Koreans, with their own objectives in mind, wanted Panmunjom. Washington decided to use the United Nations Command representative to the Military Armistice Commission, at that time a U.S. Navy rear admiral, and his American staff and to do it at Panmunjom.

Now Panmunjom has been called a village, but it is not a village and never was a village it was just an inn. It is now and was then just a full-fledged armistice meeting place and it was regarded as neutral territory. It was close to the scene, with good communications for both the North Koreans and us and therefore had a lot to recommend it.

The problem was the South Koreans regard it as their territory. The idea was our team would negotiate directly with the North Koreans and no other nation represented in the UN Command would be present. We wouldn’t take any of the UN Command members and most specifically we wouldn’t take any South Koreans. The North Koreans had the Chinese with them for every meeting from the very beginning.

When word of our intentions reached the South Koreans, they erupted. When their initial protests were delivered to Bill Porter, then our ambassador, he gave them sort of short shrift and this enraged them to the point that they would not talk to him. They said that they would refuse to discuss this matter with Ambassador Porter. Anyway, we were going ahead to do it.

Q: Was this being called pretty much from Washington?

ERICSON: Yes, entirely. At first, it was being called by Lyndon Johnson personally. He was on the telephone a number of times when the Enterprise was there. The Department quickly set up an inter-agency crisis team. The South Koreans were absolutely furious and suspicious of what we might do. They anticipated that the North Koreans would try to exploit the situation to the ROK’s disadvantage in every way possible, and they were rapidly growing distrustful of us and losing faith in their great ally.

Of course, we had this other problem of how to ensure that the ROK would not retaliate for the Blue House raid and to ease their growing feelings of insecurity. They began to realize that the DMZ was porous and they wanted more equipment and aid. So, we were juggling a number of problems. But once the venue for the negotiations was agreed on with Pyongyang, we had to find solutions for our problems with the South Koreans. Park, by this time, I think, had returned to Seoul.

It was decided that I would be the operating officer in Seoul on the Pueblo negotiations. The official arrangement was that Admiral Smith, who was the UN Military Armistice Commission representative, would be the chief and only negotiator for us. He would take his negotiating team up there, all military personnel except for one Korean-American civilian employee (the invaluable Jimmy Lee) and they would conduct each negotiating session.

They would then return directly to the embassy, where I and some of the political officers would debrief them. We would write the immediate reporting cable covering the highlights of what had happened, and then we would also transcribe and send the verbatim text of the meeting, which had been taped.

Then we would review the transcript and concoct an interpretation of what had happened, what the significant points were, and add whatever comments and recommendations the embassy might have for what was going on. I am not sure what impact our recommendations ever had.

Then, after that had been done, it was my job to inform the ROK Government of what had transpired, because as part of keeping them in place we had agreed to keep them informed of each step along the way. I would have to do this by going up to the Foreign Ministry, usually around 10 or 11 at night, into that freezing cold, enormous stone building, the old Japanese capitol which housed the Foreign Ministry, among others. The lights would be out and the elevators not working. I could hear a scurrying sound in the dark corridors of that ghostly building.

I would walk up the four floors to the office of Park Kun, who was the director of North American Affairs at the Foreign Ministry at that time and my good golfing buddy. The Koreans’ idea was that only he and I could communicate on this subject because only he and I had a friendship capable of withstanding the strains created by this terrible thing that we were doing. The scurrying, of course, was newspapermen who were hiding around the building and would get a debrief from Park after I talked to him.

I would sit down in Park’s office and he would read me the riot act. Every time I was told exactly how we were giving the North Koreans the status and propaganda ammunition they craved while trampling on the sensitivities of the South Korean people and undermining their confidence in us and in our alliance.

I used to ask Park, ‘Why don’t you just put it on tape and I will take it home with me. Then we can get right down to business and I can go home and go to bed?’ But I think his diatribes were delivered under orders so that I would report duly that the South Koreans were still outraged. ….From about the first of April until I left in July there wasn’t that much to tell the South Koreans because meetings at Panmunjom were less frequent and there wasn’t all that much happening….

The North Korean negotiators were never empowered to act

But in the first two months, when we were meeting almost every week, some interesting things emerged. For one, we got a good look at North Korea’s negotiating style. People should study the Pueblo sessions whenever there are negotiations with the North Koreans, because I think they show how their system functions and why they are so difficult.

As one example, we would go up with a proposal of some sort on the release of the crew and they would be sitting there with a card catalog…

If the answer to the particular proposal we presented wasn’t in the cards, they would say something that was totally unresponsive and then go off and come back to the next meeting with an answer that was directed to the question. But there was rarely an immediate answer. That happened all through the negotiations.

Their negotiators obviously were never empowered to act or speak on the basis of personal judgment or general instructions. They always had to defer a reply and presumably they went over it up in Pyongyang and passed it around and then decided on it. Sometimes we would get totally nonsensical responses if they didn’t have something in the card file that corresponded to the proposal at hand.

George Newman, who was then DCM in Seoul, and I were quite proud of the telegram we wrote sometime in fairly early February, just before Washington finally decided to negotiate at Panmunjom. We called it the slippery slope telegram and it is somewhere deep in the Department’s archives. We based it on our analysis of what had happened in previous incidents, not like the Pueblo but the two or three incidents we had had of people who strayed across the border or got shot down, killed or captured.

What we said in effect was this: If you are going to do this thing at Panmunjom, and if your sole objective is to get the crew back, you will be playing into North Korea’s hands and the negotiations will follow a clear and inevitable path. You are going to be asked to sign a document that the North Koreans will have drafted. They will brook no changes. It will set forth their point of view and require you to confess to everything they accuse you of…

If you allow them to, they will take as much time as they feel they need to squeeze every damn thing they can get out of this situation in terms of their propaganda goals, and they will try to exploit this situation to drive a wedge between the U.S. and the ROK. Then when they feel they have accomplished all they can, and when we have agreed to sign their document of confession and apology, they will return the crew. They will not return the ship. This is the way it is going to be because this is the way it has always been.

And that is pretty much what happened. We went back and forth, back and forth, for ten or eleven months. We very quickly abandoned the idea of

getting the ship back. We figured it had been dismantled and all its sensitive equipment sent to Moscow.

We thought they might eventually tire of holding the crew, because the propaganda value of holding the crew would erode with time and they might be leery of having the situation turn against them if the crew started to become ill and their care began to appear inadequate, as eventually it would.

Of course, there were all these incidents of the crew being interviewed and sending messages by signs, etc. The crew held up pretty well I think, except for perhaps one or two members.

“Here, you sons of bitches, is your goddamn sheet of paper”

On our side, the chief negotiator proved to be something of a problem. Rear Admiral Smith was too much his father’s son and too much of a Navy man. It galled him beyond description to think that a U.S. naval vessel had been taken by a gunboat on the high seas. There was a lot of talk at the time that the ship should have been scuttled the captain should have gone down with his ship…

He was replaced by an Army general named Woodward, who had dealt with communists and their negotiating tactics in Berlin. Smith had had absolutely no political dealings in his life. But Woodward came from this background in Berlin and his first words when he came to the Embassy to talk to us were, ‘Well, what are you bastards going to have me do? Let’s get it over with.’ He was the negotiator who achieved the final result. He was a delight to work with….

[Earlier] a feisty American Armistice Commission representative named Ciccollella had been negotiating for weeks for the return of the body of a helicopter pilot who had strayed into North Korean territory. The North Koreans had stonewalled everything and had insisted he sign a document admitting all sorts of evil intentions on the part of the dead pilot. General Ciccollella finally got authority to sign that paper.

What he didn’t get authority for was what he did spontaneously, and that was to sign it and hand it over while saying, ‘Here you sons of bitches is your goddamn sheet of paper. It isn’t worth the paper it is written on. The only reason I am giving it to you so that we can get the body of this man back.’

He continued with something like, ‘You people should be ashamed of your conduct. You are not worthy of wearing the uniform of a soldier. I spit on you.’ The North Koreans took it with equanimity, looked at the paper, saw it met their requirements, and returned the body.

And that, on a larger scale, is essentially what happened with the Pueblo. I am given to understand that back in Washington, Jim Leonard – he was a member of the task force – was shaving one day and moaning because they hadn’t reached a solution and things were just stumbling along, when his wife asked whether they had tried offering to give the North Koreans the paper they wanted.

The piece of paper they wanted of course was to acknowledge that the Pueblo was a spy ship, that it was trying to steal the secrets of the People’s Republic of Korea, that it had repeatedly penetrated (even though we had proven at the negotiations that it had not penetrated) their coastal waters without authority and with the intention of spying, and to apologize for the gross insult to the North Korean people. That was the essence of it.

Leonard’s wife said, ‘Have you ever thought of giving them their piece of paper and then denouncing it orally?’ Jim took it to the Department and said, ‘Will you try this?’ It should have been suggested long ago because there was a history for it.

Washington approved it and Woodward was instructed to say, ‘I will give you exactly what you want, but I am going to denounce it publicly as I do.’

They said, ‘Okay.’ And that is what happened. He did give them the piece of paper and he said in effect, ‘It is a worthless piece of paper and doesn’t mean a thing and is not a reflection of what happened. But we give it to you simply to effect the release of the crew.’ The crew came back.

That period was, I think, the low point in our relations with the South Koreans. What happened on the Blue House raid and the Pueblo left the Korean’s feeling that we had behaved badly where their interests were concerned, that they were a hell of a lot weaker along the DMZ than they thought, there was more danger in Northeast Asia than they had thought, and that they had weakened themselves unduly by sending two divisions and a brigade to Vietnam.

Pueblo Crew Crossing the Bridge of No Return

Native Americans As Slaves, Slave Owners In Michigan

Native Americans As Slaves, Slave Owners In North

The Santo Tomas fiesta moves from the church grounds to the home of the festival chairman. A trio of musicians entertains. People sit at outdoor tables in a chill wind, eating bowls of steaming pozole, or hominy stew, with red chile.

One of the dancers is Gregorio Gonzales, a 28-year-old man in a black skullcap with a red arrow painted on his cheek. If asked, he says, he would say he is a genizaro.

Today, genizaro is a neutral term. But it wasn't always so, Gonzales says. He's a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology, writing his dissertation on genizaro identity.

"Genizaro, the term, was actually used as a racial slur by people, especially here in northern New Mexico, the equivalent of the N-word," he says.

Gregorio Gonzales, 28, is a dancer in the Santo Tomas festival as well as a Ph.D. candidate writing his dissertation on genizaro identity. John Burnett/NPR hide caption

Gregorio Gonzales, 28, is a dancer in the Santo Tomas festival as well as a Ph.D. candidate writing his dissertation on genizaro identity.

What's happening in New Mexico today is a sort of genizaro renaissance.

There have been recent symposia on genizaro history and identity. A pair of scholars at the University of New Mexico is putting out a book. The working title is Genizaro Nation.

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Legacy Of Forced March Still Haunts Navajo Nation

"There was a lot of Native American slavery going on. It's just an eye-opener to the average Americans when they discover this," says co-editor Enrique Lamadrid. He is a distinguished professor emeritus of Spanish at the University of New Mexico who has done some of the groundbreaking scholarship on genizaros.

While Native American slavery was commonplace, New Mexico was the only place where free Indians were called genizaros.

Enrique Lamadrid (left) and Moises Gonzales, professors at the University of New Mexico, are co-editing the forthcoming book Genizaro Nation. John Burnett/NPR hide caption

Enrique Lamadrid (left) and Moises Gonzales, professors at the University of New Mexico, are co-editing the forthcoming book Genizaro Nation.

They were often Comanches, Utes, Kiowas, Apaches and Navajos taken as slaves by each other, and by colonists.

"In the 1770s, if you were going to get married, one of the best wedding presents you could get is a little Indian kid who becomes part of your household. They took on your own last name, and they became part of the family," says Lamadrid.

One thing the new genizaro scholarship does is smash the conventional notion that New Mexican identity is somehow defined as either the noble Spaniard or the proud Pueblo Indian.

"The Spanish fantasy is a myth," says Moises Gonzales, an architecture professor at UNM and co-editor of Genizaro Nation. "I think it's great that we're finally having a very elevated conversation about what it means to be genizaro in contemporary times."

In the 300-year-old villages tucked in river valleys of New Mexico, the genizaros are finally telling their stories.

Why New Mexico’s 1680 Pueblo Revolt Is Echoing in 2020 Protests

Indigenous groups in the Southwest are imbuing their activism this year with commemorations of the 340-year-old Pueblo Revolt, one of Spain’s bloodiest defeats in its colonial empire.

ALBUQUERQUE — While protests over police violence against African-Americans spread from one city to the next in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing in May, the missive scrawled in red paint on the New Mexico History Museum reached further back in time: “1680 Land Back.”

The graffiti invoked another rebellious juncture in what is now the United States: the uprising in 1680 when Pueblo Indians handed Spain one of its bloodiest defeats anywhere in its vast colonial empire. From the protests in the late spring against New Mexico’s conquistador monuments to the writing last month emblazoning the walls of Santa Fe and Taos celebrating the Pueblo Revolt, the meticulously orchestrated rebellion that exploded 340 years ago is resonating once again.

The increasingly energetic activism in New Mexico points to how the protests across the country over racial injustice and police treatment of African-Americans have fueled an even broader questioning about the racism and inequality that endure in this part of the West.

Indigenous groups are referring to the Pueblo Revolt in organizing drives over such issues as stolen lands, the Justice Department’s deployment of federal agents to Albuquerque and the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit Native peoples especially hard.

“The Pueblo Revolt was the most successful Indian revolution in what is now the United States,” said Porter Swentzell, a historian from Santa Clara Pueblo, one of New Mexico’s 23 tribal nations. “Twenty twenty is energizing this upsurge of activism inspired by the revolt that was building for years.”

In recent decades, commemorations of 1680 in New Mexico and Arizona were already challenging the traditional centering of early American history on the English colonies in Plymouth or Jamestown. Now Representative Deb Haaland, a member of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo who is one of the first Native American women elected to Congress, is among the prominent figures raising awareness about the Pueblo Revolt.

Others from tribal nations are illuminating the revolt’s significance in ways that go well beyond street protests, including filmmaking, history, the visual arts and archaeology.

The resurrection of the Pueblo Revolt comes at a time when discussions of the country’s past are increasingly contentious. This month, President Trump said he would create a 1776 Commission to help “restore patriotic education to our schools.” The president also said the federal government would oppose attempts by public schools to include in their curriculums the 1619 Project, published by The New York Times, which examines slavery’s profound consequences across the full spectrum of U.S. history.

Still largely unknown outside the Southwest, the basic details of how the blood-soaked insurrection crystallized — and eventually produced lasting gains in Pueblo sovereignty — have long riveted scholars.

The Pueblo Revolt succeeded in dislodging a European power from a large part of North America for a considerable stretch, in contrast to other Native rebellions around the same time, like King Philip’s War in New England.

But even after Spain reasserted control over New Mexico, the Pueblos secured lasting concessions. The Spanish generally allowed them to remain in their lands, ceded to some demands for autonomy and provided ways for tribal members to lodge legal complaints about mistreatment by colonial officials.

The seeds of the rebellion started long before 1680 with the Spanish settlers and Franciscan friars who, after conquering New Mexico, imposed forced labor, evangelism and demands for tribute on Native peoples in the frontier province throughout much of the 17th century.

Pueblo Indians mounted one rebellion after another, as did Indigenous peoples elsewhere in Spanish-occupied lands, but it took a visionary shaman named Popé to orchestrate the mother of all revolts.

Popé, from the Tewa-speaking Ohkay Owingeh nation that endures in northern New Mexico to this day, did so by secretly piecing together a web of alliances among Pueblo peoples speaking languages as varied as Hopi, Keres and Zuñi.

Popé’s meticulous plotting unfolded amid almost unimaginable catastrophe. While estimates vary, the Spanish conquest is thought to have triggered a crash in the Pueblo population from around 80,000 at the start of the 17th century to about 17,000 before the revolt. Famine and epidemics in the years leading up to 1680 ratcheted the death toll higher.

“Popé is kind of this Mad Max figure in a postapocalyptic world where he could see all these ancestral villages emptied out on the landscape,” said Matthew Liebmann, a Harvard archaeologist who has worked extensively in the Pueblo of Jémez.

Before the revolt, the Spanish prohibited Indians in New Mexico from riding horses. So Popé sent long-distance runners hundreds of miles to Pueblos around the province with knotted cords of what is thought to be yucca or perhaps strips of deer hide.

In 1968, North Korea captured a U.S. war ship and tortured the 82 sailors on board

By the time White House aides woke President Lyndon B. Johnson in the middle of the night on January 23, 1968, it was already too late — the Navy’s intelligence vessel, the USS Pueblo, sent to spy on North Korea, had been seized by the Communist country.

For weeks, the Pueblo coasted, intercepting communication without incident. As part of Cold War reconnaissance, the Navy and the National Security Agency wanted updates on the status of North Korea’s growing military and the Pueblo — a specialized spy ship packed with advanced sensors and encryption equipment — was the right fit for the mission.

But soon, the warnings came. On January 20, a North Korean modified Soviet-style submarine chaser passed within 4,000 yards of the Pueblo, which was about 15 miles southeast of Mayang-Do — North Korea’s most important submarine base. The next day, a pair of fishing trawlers made an aggressive approach within 30 yards of the Pueblo, but they also veered away.

On January 23, however, the USS Pueblo was approached by a North Korean submarine chaser — a small, fast ship designed to find, track and deter, damage or destroy enemy submarines — and was ordered to stand down or be fired upon. According to U.S. reports, the Pueblo was in international waters 16 miles from shore, but the North Koreans insisted the Americans were in their territory. The Pueblo attempted to maneuver away but, as a slow-moving ship, it had no chance of outrunning the chaser.

Immediately, several warning shots were fired and soon three torpedo boats joined the chaser while two MiG fighter jets provided air cover. A fourth torpedo boat and a second submarine chaser appeared a short time later.

The North Koreans opened fire with cannons and machine guns, wounding the American commander and two others.

The Pueblo was severely outmatched in part because of its intelligence mission, but also because its ammunition was stored belowdecks and its machine guns were wrapped to disguise them — nevermind that no one on the ship had been properly trained to use them.

Faced with an inevitable capture, the Americans stalled for time so they could destroy as much of the classified information on board as possible, but a shredder became jammed with the piles of papers shoved into it, and burning the documents in waste baskets filled the cabins with smoke.

One recent declassified NSA report captures exactly how deeply the debacle ran: “Radio contact between Pueblo and the Naval Security Group in Kamiseya, Japan, had been ongoing during the incident. As a result, Seventh Fleet command was fully aware of Pueblo’s situation. Air cover was promised but never arrived. The Fifth Air Force had no aircraft on strip alert, and estimated a two to three-hour delay in launching aircraft. USS Enterprise was located 510 nautical miles (940 km) south of Pueblo, yet its four F-4B aircraft on alert were not equipped for an air-to-surface engagement. Enterprise’s captain estimated that 1.5 hours (90 minutes) were required to get the converted aircraft into the air. By the time President Lyndon B. Johnson was awakened, Pueblo had been captured and any rescue attempt would have been futile.”

Initially, the Pueblo followed the North Korean vessels to shore, as ordered, but then stopped. The North Korean ships fired upon the Pueblo again, killing one American sailor, and then boarded the ship and sailed the Pueblo — and the remaining 82 sailors — to the port of Wonsan.

And that’s when their true and enduring ordeal began.

The crew members were blindfolded and transported to Pyongyang, where they were charged with spying within North Korea’s 12-mile territorial limit and immediately imprisoned. It was the biggest crisis in two years of increased tension and minor incidents between the U.S. and North Korea.

North Korea kept them alive, but not much more.

“I got shot up in the original capture, so we were taken by bus and then train for an all-night journey to Pyongyang in North Korea, and then they put us in a place we called the barn,” Robert Chicca, a Marine corps sergeant who served as a Korean linguist on the ship, later recalled. “We had fried turnips for breakfast, turnip soup for lunch, and fried turnips for dinner….There was never enough to eat, and personally I lost about 60 pounds over there.”

Back home, there was dissent among government officials over how to handle the crisis. Representative Mendel Rivers of South Carolina became a vocal advocate for the president, issuing an ultimatum that North Korea return the Pueblo and the hostages or prepare for a nuclear attack. For his part, Johnson was deeply worried that even agitating rhetoric would result in the execution of the hostages.

However, within days of their capture, President Johnson’s attention was redirected toward the Vietnam War when the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army launched a surprise attack against the U.S., the South Vietnamese, and their allies in what became known as the Tet Offensive — an event that forced the president to order no direct retaliation against North Korea.

With little attention from the U.S., North Korea moved ahead with torturing the captives in an effort to obtain a confession and an apology. Commander Lloyd M. Bucher was psychologically tortured, including being put through a mock firing squad. Soon, the North Koreans threatened to execute his men in front of him. Eventually, Bucher agreed to “confess to his and the crew’s transgression.” They verified the meaning of what he wrote, but failed to catch his pronunciation when he read “We paean the DPRK [North Korea]. We paean their great leader Kim Il Sung.” (He pronounced “paean” as “pee on.”)

Some prisoners also rebelled in photo shoots by casually sticking out their middle finger, a gesture that their captors didn’t understand. Later, the North Koreans caught on and beat the Americans for a week.

According to recently declassified documents, the Johnson administration considered several high-risk courses of retaliatory action, including a blockade of North Korean ports, air strikes on military targets, and a bogus intelligence leak to the Soviets that the United States planned to attack North Korea.

But one stood out more than all the others.

Pentagon war planners considered using nuclear weapons to stop a possible communist invasion of South Korea, as well as mounting a massive air attack to wipe out North Korea’s air force. The nuclear option, ironically codenamed “Freedom Drop,” envisioned the use of American aircraft and surface-to-air missiles to decimate North Korean troops.

However, President Johnson remained committed to a diplomatic solution to the standoff. That, too, had its challenges.

Richard A. Ericson, a political counselor for the American embassy in Seoul, and George Newman, the Deputy Chief of Mission in Seoul, predicted how the negotiations would play out: “If your sole objective is to get the crew back, you will be playing into North Korea’s hands and the negotiations will follow a clear and inevitable path. You are going to be asked to sign a document that the North Koreans will have drafted. They will brook no changes. It will set forth their point of view and require you to confess to everything they accuse you of.”

The Pueblo Revolt

In 1680 the people known collectively as “Pueblos” rebelled against their Spanish overlords in the American Southwest. Spaniards had dominated them, their lives, their land, and their souls for eight decades. The Spanish had established and maintained their rule with terror, beginning with Juan de Oñate’s invasion in 1598. When the people of Acoma resisted, Oñate ordered that one leg be chopped from every man over fifteen and the rest of the population be enslaved, setting a pattern that lasted four-score years. Now, rising virtually as one, the Pueblos drove out Spanish soldiers and authorities. The rebels allowed many Spaniards to flee, but twenty-one Franciscan priests died at their hands, and they sacked mission churches across their land. It took twelve years for Spanish troops to reconquer Pueblo country. They never did conquer the Hopi, who had been the westernmost contributors to the rebellion.

Three hundred and thirty years later, Pueblo people still live in ancient villages across the Southwest, in many ways on their own terms. A proud statue of the rebellion’s leader, Popé (or Po’pay), is one of New Mexico’s two pieces in the National Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol. The Pueblo Revolt was the greatest and most successful rebellion of its sort in North American history. What happened? What did it signify? What did it achieve?

Unquestionably, one of revolt’s dimensions was religious. From Pecos Pueblo near the edge of the Great Plains to Acoma and Zuni in western New Mexico, Pueblo people had had enough of Christianity, after eight decades of living in what historian Ramón Gutiérrez has described as an imposed theocratic utopia. Backed by armed force and not reluctant to use the whip, Catholic missionaries had set out to destroy the ancestral Pueblo world in every respect, including what people could believe and how they could marry, work, live their lives, and pray. When the rebels could capture Franciscan priests, they killed them, sometimes after torturing them. They destroyed Catholic images, tore down mission churches, and defiled the vessels of the Catholic Mass. They put an end to marriages on Christian terms. They restored the kivas where Pueblo men had honored their ancestral Kachinas. With Catholic symbols and Spanish practices gone, the Pueblos set out to restore the lives their ancestors had lived.

Po’pay’s great achievement was to coordinate the Pueblos. The enormous, open distances of the Southwest posed a major problem. He solved it by dispatching runners carrying knotted ropes, each separate knot to be untied, one day at a time, until the chosen day, August 11, 1680. The runners had to deal with language differences as well. There was no distinct “Pueblo” people, speaking one language and sharing one culture. Instead, the Spanish conquerors had found Keres, Tompiros, Tewas, Tiwas, Towas, Piros, and Zuni, all living in similar-looking adobe villages (pueblos, hence the name), as well as Utes, Navajos, and Apaches. Their languages differed greatly, and their relations with one another were not always friendly. Nonetheless, Po’pay’s plan worked nearly perfectly. The Spanish rulers in Santa Fe received only the barest warning before the revolt broke out.

Despite the differences, as the late historian Jack D. Forbes demonstrated decades ago, the Southwest’s people were not strangers to one another at all. Neither distance nor language formed a barrier against communication. People in their settled adobe villages had had centuries to build relationships and customs, of commerce, alliance, peace, and war. By the time the Spaniards arrived, the settled tribes had also built relationships and customs with nomadic groups (the Utes, Navajos, and Apaches), creating webs of trade and understanding. In this regard Pueblo people were not much different from other settled horticultural villagers, including the Caddo of East Texas, the Mandan of the Upper Missouri Valley, and the Huron on Georgian Bay, all of whom also dealt regularly with nomadic neighbors. Pueblo languages differed, but so did Basque, Castilian, Catalan, Portuguese, and other tongues of the Iberian Peninsula. If a conflict led to war, village people knew how to abandon their permanent sites and find refuge among wanderers. If anything, the Spanish invasion intensified Native connections with one another. They learned about horses, mules, burros, cattle, sheep, and Spanish tools and weapons. Pueblo people had not worked out anything like the Great League of Peace and Power that the Iroquois developed about the time of Columbus to solve their own problems and that served them well throughout the colonial period. But the Pueblos and their neighbors possessed many ways other than warfare for dealing with one another.

The 1680 uprising was no isolated event. The seventeenth-century history of modern New Mexico and northern Mexico is punctuated by unrest and rebellion. Many of the region’s people had been conquered and none liked their situation, but they understood that though they greatly outnumbered the Spaniards, their foes were ruthless, organized, and determined. The Spanish possessed firearms and steel weapons superior to anything the Natives could muster. But despite all the odds against successful resistance, Spanish records show instance upon instance of plans and outbreaks among American Indians who supposedly had been “reduced” to Christianity and Spanish ways.

Other Native people besides the Pueblos took part in the revolt. Neighboring Apaches and Navajos remained free of Spanish dominion, both because of their nomadic way of life and because Spanish power had reached its limits. But for decades such people had had to deal with frontier warfare. Forbes suggested that “Pueblo Revolt” is actually a misnomer, and that the term “Great Southwestern Revolt,” reaching beyond Pueblo country, describes the late seventeenth-century events more accurately.

As he and, more recently, Andres Resendez also show, the revolt’s context spans much of the North American continent. Long before the revolt Native people knew how to communicate across long distances. News had reached Pueblo country quickly after the fall of the Nahua capital, Tenochtitlan, to Spanish conquistadors in 1521. When French Jesuit Jacques Marquette traveled down the Mississippi in 1673, he learned from Illinois Indians that he could reach the Pacific Ocean via the Missouri, South Platte, and Colorado Rivers. Spaniards in Mexico City knew about the French ventures, including not only Marquette’s trip but also fur-trading coureurs de bois and Robert La Salle’s journey to the mouth of the Mississippi in 1682. So did the Pueblos’ neighbors to the east. So, in all probability, did Pueblo people themselves.

Without question Po’pay and his associates knew of the successful Pueblo resistance to the initial Spanish contact in 1540. They had reason to know about other Native resistance to Spaniards as well. They probably did not know about the ongoing seventeenth-century Iroquois-French conflict in the St. Lawrence Valley and eastern Great Lakes region, King Philip’s War in New England in 1675–1676, or Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia, also in 1676. But, like the near-simultaneous founding of Spanish Santa Fe (1598), English Jamestown (1607), and French Quebec (1608), the Pueblo Revolt and the woodland wars emerged from similar situations. By the late seventeenth century, Native peoples and the Europeans they faced were not strangers to one another, whether we look at Pueblo country, Texas, the Mississippi Valley, the Great Lakes, or the Eastern woodlands. All were caught up in violent reverberations, as their worlds collided, ground against one another, and interlocked.

Slavery, rather than symbolic religious conflict, may have provided the deep underpinning of the southwestern events. Legal enslavement of American Indians by Spaniards had been forbidden by royal decree since the mid-sixteenth century, but that did not stop the actual practice. So-called “just wars” provided one loophole, and on that basis Apaches, Utes, and others who refused to acknowledge Spanish authority were fair game for enslavers. Settled Christian Indians, such as the Pueblos, could be enslaved for a period of time, if they resisted their condition. Forced encomienda labor, supposedly rendered in return for the benefits the Spaniards had brought, was not far from actual slavery. Enslaved Indians often ended up in the booming, labor-hungry silver mines of Chihuahua, but some were taken farther south and a few as far as Cuba, to work side by side with captured Africans. A lively traffic flourished across the plains in Native women and children, for both sexual exploitation and domestic labor. Outside the Spanish zone, slaving frontiers were pushing westward onto the plains both from New France and from the British colonies, particularly newly founded South Carolina. Pueblo, Apache, and Navajo country lay many miles from the European centers, but its people were caught up in an enormous web whose most-shared institution was human bondage.

For a very long time, the twelve years of Pueblo independence, from 1680 to 1692, remained virtually blank in historical terms. Knowing the importance of written records to the Europeans from their eight decades of subordination, the rebels destroyed Spanish documents and returned to their ancestral ways of remembering, thus closing off conventional historical inquiry. About the only clear point seems to be that Po’pay quickly lost the power he had gained as the revolt’s leader. But archaeologist Matthew Liebmann has reconstructed the historical material culture of Jemez Pueblo (known to its own people as Walatowa) in the mountains northwest of Albuquerque. Working with Walatowa’s present-day people, he has linked archaeological evidence with their traditions and pieced together an account of what happened between the overthrow of the Spaniards and their return. Liebmann’s project is presently making its way from a doctoral dissertation to a scholarly book. When the book appears, it will open yet another dimension of the history of the Great Pueblo Revolt.

The Spanish return in 1692 was a military conquest, just as 1598 had been, but it did not lead to a full restoration of their authority, due in part to the Spanish themselves. Secular Spanish officials began trying to rule “their” Indians in enlightened terms. They saw New Mexico not as mission country, where the friars had to be protected as they went about their task of saving Native souls, but rather as a buffer zone, protecting the precious silver mines from the not-so-distant French and even the British. They saw the New Mexican people as possible allies in the game of transcontinental empire, to be courted rather than conquered. The self-sacrificing, martyrdom-seeking zealotry of seventeenth-century Franciscan “Conquistadors of the Spirit” slackened into routine business.

How the Pueblo villagers took advantage of changed Spanish goals and worked out their own terms for dealing with the Spaniards remains to be fully explored, but the results have proven permanent. Consider Acoma, high on a mesa west of Albuquerque. Its people have inhabited the same site for more than a millennium, rebuilding their village after the conquest of 1598. From a distance, Acoma’s most visible structure is the fortress-like church of San Esteban del Rey. Acoma people constructed the church between 1629 and 1640, hauling the raw material for its high, thick walls up from the foot of the mesa. The church survived the rebellion and it remains in use, but a short walk takes visitors past ladders that lead to the rooftop entrances of kivas, where the old ways also endure. Spanish friars, soldiers, and civil administrators had tried to suppress those traditions, but they could not do it. Property at Acoma descends from mother to youngest daughter, which is the traditional Acoma way. For legal purposes, Acoma and the other eighteen functioning pueblos are self-governing tribes, not sub-units of New Mexico.

If the purpose of the rebellion was simply to drive out Spanish ways, it failed, because the Spaniards came back and remained until Mexican independence in 1821. The Spanish were followed by two successor republics, Mexico and, ultimately, the United States. There could be no complete return to how Pueblo people had lived prior to the Spanish conquest. But if the rebels’ purpose was to reassert their own ways in a new setting, their rebellion succeeded, because Acoma and places like it survive, on terms that their people set for themselves.

Edward Countryman, University Distinguished Professor of History at Southern Methodist University, is author of such books as Enjoy the Same Liberty: Black Americans and the Revolutionary Era (2011) A People in Revolution: The American Revolution and Political Society in New York, 1760–1790 (1981), winner of the Bancroft Prize and Shane (1999, with Evonne Von Heussen-Countryman). He is working on a study of how American Indians learned about the problems that Europeans were bringing to them during the colonial era.

Book tells of capture of Pueblo

The electronic spy ship Pueblo, which sat in international waters off the coast of North Korea, was on its first voyage there when a group of North Korean ships and aircraft attacked it Jan. 23, 1968, and forced its captain to bring the ship to the port of Wonsan.

Before the North Koreans boarded the Pueblo, its crew rushed to burn classified documents and destroy the code machines and eavesdropping equipment that were at the heart of the ship's mission — gathering signal intelligence and other information from the closed, totalitarian nation that remains one of the United States' greatest security threats.

&ldquo . The ship's capture was one of the biggest intelligence debacles in U.S. history -- 'everyone's worst nightmare,' as one NSA historian put it. &rdquo

For almost a year, the ship's crew, led by Cmdr. Lloyd "Pete" Bucher, was tortured and interrogated by the North Koreans. They suffered from near-starvation and post-traumatic stress disorder. In Washington, President Lyndon Johnson and his team, preoccupied with the worsening war in Vietnam, struggled for ways to free the ship and its crew without triggering another war in Korea that could spread and involve China and the Soviet Union.

The plight of the Pueblo and its crew, as well as the stakes for U.S. intelligence and security, is told by author Jack Cheevers in the new book Act of War: Lyndon Johnson, North Korea, and the Capture of the Spy Ship Pueblo. Long forgotten or never learned by most Americans, the capture of the Pueblo and its intelligence information was one of the worst losses in U.S. history, Cheevers wrote.

"One key document I uncovered was a secret, 236-page history of the Pueblo affair, written by the National Security Agency in 1992, indicating that the ship's capture was one of the biggest intelligence debacles in U.S. history — 'everyone's worst nightmare,' as one NSA historian put it," Cheevers told USA TODAY.

A former reporter for the Los Angeles Times, Cheevers made several discoveries in Act of War, including:

•An internal White House report conducted while the Pueblo was still in captivity that determined the fault for the ship's loss was with high-ranking Navy leaders who sent the ship into dangerous waters without adequate preparation and equipment.

•How the loss of the Pueblo's intelligence was aggravated by a spy ring run by a Navy enlisted man, John Walker, who sold the Soviets classified intelligence information that allowed U.S. enemies to compare that with the data collected from the Pueblo. Walker, his son and other associates were not arrested until 1985. "Thanks to the traitorous radioman, the Russians knew the tactics American aircraft carriers would use in wartime and how to sabotage U.S. spy satellites," Cheevers said.

•The previously classified NSA history that calls the loss of the Pueblo one of the worst security breaches ever.

Jack Cheevers is the author of "Act of War." (Photo: Jack Cheevers)

The world is familiar with North Korean provocations, such as the launch in recent years of missiles potentially capable of carrying one of the handful of nuclear weapons the country could have. Its leaders, including dictator Kim Jong Un, routinely threaten neighboring South Korea or the United States. Kim recently had his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, a longtime military leader, executed as part of a power struggle for control of the military. Since Kim's grandfather, Kim Il Sung, invaded South Korea in 1950, North Korea has repeatedly attacked U.S. and South Korean interests.

That was never more apparent than in 1968, when shortly before the Pueblo capture, North Korean commandos slipped into South Korea and launched a series of attacks, including a failed attempt to assassinate South Korean President Park Chung Hee. That attack set both nations on edge, and the Pueblo was sent unaware into the waters off North Korea shortly afterward. It is clear in Act of War that the Pueblo was seen by North Korea as part of a military response by the United States.

Bucher's commanders sent him into the area without adequate knowledge or the means to defend himself and his crew, Cheevers said.

"Bucher is a classic example of a front-line officer placed in a no-win position," Cheevers said. "No one in the Pentagon or the White House anticipated that North Korea would attack the Pueblo, and the lightly armed surveillance ship hadn't been assigned any protection by air or sea. As the then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Earle Wheeler, acknowledged in a secret memo, the Pueblo was a 'non-combatant.' "

After 11 months of torture and starvation, the crew of the Pueblo was released in December 1968 after a series of negotiations with the North Koreans and a false apology by the United States. The crew returned home to a nation weary of war but overjoyed by their safe homecoming. Bucher and his fellow crewmembers were treated as folk heroes by most Americans.

But not all, Cheevers wrote. Many Navy leaders believed Bucher gave up too easily and violated the service's cardinal rule against giving up a ship without a serious fight. The Navy convened an inquiry that threatened to veer into a witch hunt to make Bucher the scapegoat. After weeks of testimony, the panel of five admirals recommended that Bucher be court-martialed for his role in the ship's capture. Navy Secretary John Chafee, a former Rhode Island governor and later a U.S. senator, overruled their recommendation, saying Bucher and the crew had "suffered enough."

Bucher returned to active duty after the inquiry, but his career was effectively over after the Pueblo incident. He wrote his memoirs, which Cheevers wrote he found at a used bookstore. That led to a series of interviews with Bucher and the decision to write Act of War. Bucher died in 2004.

The Pueblo Scapegoat

When Commander Lloyd M. “Pete” Bucher surrendered his ship, the USS Pueblo (AGER-2), to North Korean gunboats in 1968, he became one of the most notorious figures in U.S. Navy history. Bucher gave up his vessel without firing a shot, the first U.S. sea commander to do so since 1807. Many in the Navy’s upper echelons regarded him as a coward and a disgrace, shaking their heads in disbelief that he hadn’t done more to resist his attackers. “I would have shot the hell out of [the North Koreans],” declared retired Vice Admiral William Raborn, echoing the attitude of many old-line officers. “I would have made [them] pay a high price.” A Navy court of inquiry urged that Bucher be court-martialed, faulting him with almost palpable disdain in its report because “he just didn’t try.” 1

But did Bucher, a tough, experienced ex-submarine officer, really do the wrong thing?

At the time of her seizure, the Pueblo, an electronic surveillance ship, was trying to pinpoint the location of military radar and radio stations along North Korea’s rugged east coast. The 176-foot vessel was alone, with no U.S. combat jets or ships to protect her. To defend herself, she had only two jam-prone .50-caliber machine guns. She was crewed by 81 officers and enlisted men plus two civilian oceanographers whose presence was intended to reinforce the ship’s cover story that she was engaged in peaceful scientific research. 2 Though packed with advanced eavesdropping gear, code machines, and classified documents, the Pueblo lacked a rapid-destruction system. Instead, her sailors had only fire axes, sledgehammers, two slow paper shredders, and a small incinerator to use in an emergency.

As the Pueblo snooped in international waters near the port of Wonsan on 23 January 1968, North Korean combat vessels rushed to the scene. Soon Bucher faced two Soviet-built SO-1–class submarine chasers, armed with 57-mm cannon, and four torpedo boats mounted with machine guns and loaded torpedo tubes. Two MiG fighters zoomed overhead.

The Navy had repeatedly assured Bucher that a communist attack on his ship was highly unlikely. He also had been told that if he did come under fire, he was on his own. Shortly before the Pueblo’s departure from Yokosuka, Japan, Rear Admiral Frank L. Johnson, who supervised spy-ship expeditions in the region, warned Bucher not to “start a war” by provoking the always touchy North Koreans. 3

The communist flotilla quickly surrounded the Pueblo as she lay dead in the water more than 15 miles off Wonsan. When the North Koreans moved to board the ship, Bucher tried to flee. But the antiquated spy boat—a converted Army freighter with a poky top speed of 13 knots—couldn’t escape her much faster pursuers. The torpedo boats opened fire with machine guns as a sub chaser began pounding the Pueblo with cannon salvos. Bucher ordered his men to get ready to destroy their top-secret equipment. A radio operator in Japan held out the possibility that Air Force F-105 fighter-bombers might be on their way to rescue them.

With the North Koreans blasting him and his men, Bucher stopped the vessel. The communists then told the U.S. captain to follow them toward Wonsan. Bucher did so, but crawled along at just four knots. When he stopped again, hoping to buy more time for his men to get rid of their secret materials, the gunboats again opened fire with cannon and machine guns. By now Bucher and ten other Americans were wounded, including a young sailor who hemorrhaged to death after a shell nearly severed one of his legs. A party of North Korean soldiers swarmed aboard. Bucher was pistol-whipped, karate-chopped, and kicked to the deck. The rest of the Americans were tied up and blindfolded. With night falling, a North Korean pilot steered the Pueblo to a dock in Wonsan.

The outrageous attack on an American naval vessel in international waters during peacetime created a difficult dilemma for President Lyndon Johnson. With hundreds of U.S. soldiers perishing each month in Vietnam, the last thing Johnson wanted was a second land war in Asia. But with many Americans clamoring for revenge against North Korea, he was under heavy pressure to take some sort of action.

Meanwhile, tensions were rising sharply between North and South Korea. Just two days before the Pueblo seizure, North Korean commandos had nearly succeeded in assassinating South Korea’s iron-fisted president, Park Chung Hee. Seething with anger and drinking heavily, Park secretly instructed his generals to prepare to march north. 4 Both countries put their militaries on high alert. Terrified South Koreans hoarded rice and swapped their currency for black-market U.S. dollars as rumors of war multiplied.

Johnson responded to the ship seizure with a massive buildup of American military power in and around the Sea of Japan, dispatching more than 350 U.S. warplanes and 25 warships led by the carrier USS Enterprise (CVAN-65). The president also called up 14,000 Air Force and Navy reservists—the largest mobilization of American military personnel since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. At the same time, Johnson secretly reached out to North Korea, hoping that closed-door negotiations with the communists would bring a peaceful resolution to the standoff. 5 He privately promised President Park, a close U.S. ally and personal friend, a wealth of new military equipment in exchange for not taking any action that could touch off a second Korean War.

LBJ also wanted to know more about the captain. The president and his advisers knew from the Pueblo’s radio transmissions that she had been captured without firing her guns. Why hadn’t Bucher fought back? Had he handed over the spy boat and her valuable equipment to the communists for money? Had they somehow blackmailed him? Johnson instructed Defense Secretary Robert McNamara to conduct an in-depth background investigation of the captain. 6

Agents of the Naval Investigative Service soon fanned out in the United States and Japan, where Bucher had been stationed during his submarine days in the early 1960s. The military gumshoes checked his bank records and grilled friends, relatives, and old shipmates about his “morals.” One officer who had served with Bucher grew so incensed at the intrusive questioning that he threw a punch at his interrogator.

Born in Pocatello, Idaho, in 1927, Bucher had been orphaned as a toddler. A couple that ran a local restaurant adopted him, but his new mother soon died and his father was imprisoned for bootlegging. By age 7 the boy found himself without parents or a home and survived by foraging for food in restaurant trashcans and sleeping in cardboard shelters. Eventually he was arrested for stealing fishhooks from a five-and-dime store and sent to a Catholic children’s home in northern Idaho. At 14, he moved on to Boys Town, the famed Omaha, Nebraska, refuge for abused and abandoned boys. He played on the football team and served as captain of the school’s cadet corps, organized after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1945, when he was 17, he enlisted in the Navy, but the war had ended by the time he was assigned to a supply ship in the Pacific.

Bucher later attended the University of Nebraska and married a Missouri farmer’s pretty daughter. He rejoined the Navy as an officer in 1953 and two years later entered submarine school. In the late 1950s and early ’60s he served onboard three subs with the delicate and dangerous task of eavesdropping on Soviet naval activities in the Far East.

Perhaps because of his Dickensian childhood, Bucher craved the company of others. He was the life of any party, telling jokes, gulping martinis, and leading everyone in song into the wee hours. Smart and well read, he could converse knowledgably about anything from U.S. naval tactics in Vietnam to Shakespeare’s sonnets to the ups and downs of the San Diego Chargers. He enjoyed fraternizing with enlisted men and occasionally jumped into a brawl at some wharf-side dive. One longtime friend aptly described him as an “intellectual barbarian.”

In the submarine corps he earned good job reviews as well as the respect of many of the men under him. He never realized his dream of commanding his own sub, though, ranking 20th on a list of candidates for 17 available boats. In 1966 the Navy “surfaced” him, putting him in charge of the Pueblo, a balky, World War II–era tub that had been dusted off from the Navy’s mothball fleet and refitted as a spy platform.

The Naval Investigative Service eventually reported that while Bucher had had a few sexual dalliances with Japanese bar girls, there was no evidence he was a traitor. 7 As part of the background probe, the Central Intelligence Agency worked up a psychological profile of Bucher. The CIA shrinks, too, concluded that he was a loyal American. However, they couldn’t resist pointing out what they evidently regarded as a significant character flaw: the captain’s “strong inclination to become too involved with his men.” 8

After mooring the pirated spy ship in Wonsan, the North Koreans paraded Bucher and his men past a screaming, spitting mob of civilians at the dock and threw them into a prison under nightmarish conditions. For the next 11 months the sailors were routinely tortured, beaten, and starved. 9 The communists applied horrendous pressure on Bucher in his first hours of captivity, trying to force him to sign a phony confession that he had intruded into their territorial waters for the purpose of espionage. He was beaten, threatened with a firing squad, subjected to a mock execution, and taken to a bleak basement to view an Asian man who had been gruesomely tortured and was barely alive. “Look at his just punishment!” shrieked a communist translator, claiming the man was a South Korean spy and implying that Bucher was in for the same treatment. The captain bravely refused to sign. He finally caved when the North Koreans threatened to shoot his men, one by one before his eyes, and brought in his youngest sailor, a 19-year-old, as the first victim.

Despite such terror, the pain of his wounds, bouts of hepatitis and other illnesses, and the loss of about half of his body weight, Bucher proved a superlative leader in prison. He persistently demanded better food and medical treatment for his men and at one point went on a five-day hunger strike to protest the miserable meals of rice, turnips, and chunks of a fish so smelly and disgusting that his men dubbed it “sewer trout.” He urged them to defy their captors in whatever ways they could and often led by example, mocking the prison guards and their rules. When the communists tried to take propaganda photos of them, the sailors raised their middle fingers to ruin the pictures, telling the clueless North Koreans they were displaying the “Hawaiian good luck sign.”

Unbeknown to the captives, the Johnson administration was doggedly trying to free them, negotiating privately with the North Koreans at the village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas. For months the communists demanded that the U.S. government sign a false admission that the Pueblo had violated their territorial waters in order to spy and that no such intrusions would occur again. 10 The American position was that the surveillance ship was performing a military mission on the high seas and had done nothing wrong under international law. The stalemate was broken when the North Koreans unexpectedly accepted a last-ditch U.S. offer to sign a confession only after publicly repudiating it. Bucher and his men finally were released and arrived in San Diego on Christmas Eve 1968 to cheering crowds of well-wishers.

Surviving the Court of Inquiry

Within weeks, however, the Navy convened a court of inquiry to examine the circumstances that led to the Pueblo disaster. The five admirals on the court heard eight weeks of often emotional testimony in an auditorium at the Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado, California. The auditorium was typically crowded with newspaper and television reporters, since the widely publicized sufferings of Bucher and his men had struck a deep chord of sympathy with the American public. The president of the court was Vice Admiral Harold G. Bowen Jr., the patrician-looking, sharp-witted commander of U.S. antisubmarine warfare forces in the Pacific.

After an emaciated Bucher delivered a spellbinding account of the attack on his ship and his travails in prison, a Navy lawyer warned that he faced a possible court-martial under Article 0730 of Navy regulations, which forbade a commander from allowing a foreign power to search his ship or remove any of his sailors “so long as he has the power to resist.” 11 The warning provoked a tornado of protest from newspaper commentators, members of Congress, and ordinary citizens who suspected the Navy was trying to scapegoat Bucher for mistakes made by higher echelons in the planning and execution of the Pueblo’s ill-fated mission. Angry letters and telegrams poured into Coronado, including one addressed to “Bowen and his pimps.” 12

Admiral Johnson, Bucher’s former supervisor, testified about his on-call arrangements with the 7th Fleet and 5th Air Force to rescue the Pueblo in the event of an emergency. But under close questioning by Bowen and his court colleagues, it became clear that no combat ships or aircraft were readily available to deal with an emergency in the Sea of Japan. Most 7th Fleet assets were tied up off Vietnam, and the Air Force, also drained by the war, had few planes ready for action in Northeast Asia. Johnson admitted he had no dedicated forces to deploy if the Pueblo came under attack.

During his time in the witness chair, Bucher detailed a long list of the Pueblo’s matériel deficiencies. The most serious was the lack of a rapid destruction system for the ship’s code machines and other classified goods. He related that he had searched unsuccessfully for dynamite before leaving Japan and that the Navy had rejected his written plea for a quick-destruct system, saying it was too expensive. An irritated Bucher had gone out and bought a commercial fuel-fed incinerator, dipping into the crew’s recreation fund for the required $1,300.

The captain also explained his rationale for giving up without a fight. After the communist gunboats surrounded him, he felt completely outgunned and trapped. The Pueblo’s two machine guns lacked protective shields, jammed frequently, and were covered by frozen tarpaulins. Bucher believed that any men who went out on deck and tried to uncover, load, and fire them would be quickly cut down by North Korean gunners. When the enemy vessels opened fire, he resisted the urge to shoot back, knowing that the sub chasers’ 57-mm cannon could chop his boat into splinters from a safe distance. For the same reason he didn’t turn his small arms on the boarding party.

Bucher said he decided not to scuttle for fear that the Pueblo would be wallowing without power or maneuverability if the F-105s showed up. (A dozen jets had been dispatched from distant Okinawa but ordered to stop in South Korea.) 13 He also thought the communists might have mistaken his ship for a South Korean vessel and would leave as soon as they realized she was American. This explanation, however, was undercut by Bucher’s earlier statement that he had hoisted the U.S. colors shortly after the gunboats arrived.

The bottom line, the captain testified, was that he didn’t want his men slaughtered in a futile effort to defend their ship. In response to a question from his lawyer, he declared flatly that he lacked the power to resist at the time he halted his boat. The admirals, though, seemed unconvinced. For generations, a banner has hung at the U.S. Naval Academy as an inspiration to midshipmen. It bears the last words of a mortally wounded commander, James Lawrence, during an 1813 battle off Boston Harbor: “Don’t give up the ship.” In the minds of many naval officers, that brave exhortation carried the gravity and immutability of sacred writ. The Navy is a war-fighting organization, and loss of life is the inevitable byproduct of war. If Navy officers surrendered whenever they felt boxed in by an enemy, the service couldn’t function. It would fall to pieces.

Although one member of the court of inquiry thought Bucher should get a medal for his leadership of his men in prison, the five admirals unanimously recommended in April 1969 that he face a court-martial on five counts, including permitting his ship to be seized while he still had power to resist and failing to destroy his classified materials. 14

A Sympathetic Public’s Influence

But could Bucher really have fought off the six gunboats and two MiGs that had enveloped him on that wintry day in 1968? What were his chances, realistically, of breaking out of such a tactical vise? If the answer was slim to none, did he have a moral responsibility to surrender without wasting his subordinates’ lives? Few would argue that a man with a derringer surrounded by six men with shotguns possesses, in any practical sense, the power to resist. Was there a point at which resistance regardless of the odds becomes an act not of bravery but of recklessness, even idiocy?

Weary of growing U.S. combat casualties in Vietnam, many Americans sided with Bucher’s decision to conserve the lives of his crew. When public-opinion pollsters asked whether the captain “did a disservice to this country in trying to save his own life,” 68 percent of the respondents said no and only 9 percent said yes.

Newly appointed Navy Secretary John Chafee had to walk a fine line in his final disposition of the case. A politically savvy former Rhode Island governor, he realized that public and media sympathy precluded a court-martial of Bucher. But the secretary, who had served as a Marine company commander in the Korean War, wanted to pay homage to the brass’ strong disapproval of Bucher’s surrender, and he understood the importance of maintaining the don’t-give-up-the-ship ethos within the officer corps.

Chafee fashioned a shrewd compromise. At a press conference in May 1969, he revealed his admirals’ preference for a court-martial, but announced that he was overruling their recommendation. Chafee candidly admitted that mistakes and miscalculations by the Navy had led to what he called the Pueblo’s “lonely confrontation by unanticipatedly bold and hostile forces.” Thus, the consequences of the ship’s seizure “must in fairness be borne by all, rather than by one or two individuals whom circumstances had placed closer to the crucial event.” Noting that Bucher and his men had endured a great deal of punishment in North Korea, the secretary said they’d face no further disciplinary action by the Navy. “They have suffered enough,” Chafee said as reporters raced for the phones. His decision was widely praised for its wisdom and compassion.

Besides capturing the sailors, the North Koreans seized a host of secret equipment and documents, including key cards used to program code machines and intelligence reports showing how deeply U.S. eavesdroppers had penetrated North Vietnamese antiaircraft defenses. Bucher indicated during the court of inquiry that he never grasped the sheer volume of classified hardware and paper that needed to be destroyed. It’s also likely that he didn’t understand the full implications of that material falling into communist hands. But he did know that as more and more of his men were wounded and killed during the attack, he’d have fewer hands to destroy the secret gear. By running, he hoped to buy more time for the destruction work to proceed.

How serious was the intelligence loss from the Pueblo? According to long-secret National Security Agency damage assessments obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the capture of the ship and her eavesdropping gear was one of the worst intelligence debacles in U.S. history. 15 Of the 539 classified documents and pieces of equipment onboard the ship, up to 80 percent had been compromised, the NSA reported. Only 5 percent of the electronic gear had been “destroyed beyond repair or usefulness.” NSA officials worried that the North Vietnamese, in particular, might tighten their communications security, making their secret messages harder to crack and putting U.S. servicemen in more jeopardy.

But the United States was lucky. NSA analysts concluded in a 1969 report that the North Vietnamese had gained no apparent advantage on the battlefield as a result of the ship’s commandeered electronics. Nor has any evidence surfaced since then that U.S. security interests were damaged as a result of the Pueblo incident.

On balance, Bucher did the right thing in preserving the lives of his men.

1. Findings of Fact, Opinions, and Recommendations of a Court of Inquiry Convened by Order of Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Fleet, to Inquire into the Circumstances Relating to the Seizure of USS Pueblo (AGER-2), 88.

2. Lloyd M. Bucher and Mark Rascovich, Bucher: My Story (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1970), 39.

Watch the video: DPRK History US Armed Spy Ship Pueblo (July 2022).


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