For more than six decades North Korea keeps popping up in the news. And it’s never good news. The bombastic, saber-rattling, repressive rogue nation seems to have an uncanny ability to manufacture both military and diplomatic incidents.
We are coming up on the 48th anniversary of one such incident that affected our nation.
On January 23, 1968 North Korean naval and air forces attacked USS Pueblo, a United States Navy electronic technical research (read naval intelligence) ship in international waters off the coast of North Korea collecting military transmissions.
Outnumbered and outgunned, the Pueblo was forced to surrender, was boarded by the North Koreans and towed to a North Korean harbor. The captain and the crew were made prisoners. The capture became known as the Pueblo incident. North Korea claimed that the Pueblo was in their territorial waters and the United States maintained that the vessel was in international waters at the time of the incident.
In typical North Korean fashion the Pueblo crew was physically and psychologically tortured and mistreated in every fashion in attempts to get the Pueblo captain and the crew to condemn the United States while extolling the virtues of North Korea. While the North Koreans were unsuccessful in getting the crew to say anything against the United States they did manage to get them to pose for a picture.
The crew allowed themselves to be cleaned up, put on smiles and posed for the group photograph. North Korea immediately published the photo as an example of the crew happily enjoying North Korea’s hospitality. The photo widely appeared in all mainstream media publications stateside. However, on close inspection of the photo it was noticed that the neatly folded hands of each crew member prominently displayed “the finger.”
When questioned by the North Koreans as to the significance of the middle finger, it was explained to them that the gesture was known as the Hawaiian Good Luck Sign. And so “the finger” became an integral part of the crew’s anti-propaganda campaign. Any time a camera appeared, so did “the finger.”
Finally, in December 1968, 11 months after Pueblo’s capture, the United States caved in to North Korean demands acknowledging in writing that the ship was spying on North Korea in their territorial waters, and the Koreans released Pueblo’s crew.
And just as soon as Pueblo’s captain and crew were safely across the DMZ in South Korea, the United States immediately repudiated the statement stating that it was extracted under duress.
And that became the diplomatic version of the Hawaiian Good Luck Sign.
Forty eight years later, The Pueblo is still held by North Korea and the ship officially remains a commissioned vessel of the United States Navy.