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tv   1968 North Korean Capture of the USS Pueblo  CSPAN  February 25, 2018 5:40pm-6:01pm EST

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hamilton scholar for exemplary scholarship, research and writing to provide accurate, objective, and insightful information to the public about the united states of america's remarkable founding father, alexander hamilton." the alexander hamilton awareness society 2018. we thank you for your decades of service. [applause] announcer: you are watching american history tv, all weekend, every weekend on c-span3. to join the conversation, like us on facebook at c-span/history. announcer: next on american history tv, ohio state university professor mitchell lerner talks about the 1968 north korean capture of the uss pueblo. mr. lerner is the author of a book on american foreign-policy. we recorded this interview at
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the american historians annual meeting at washington, d.c.. it is about 15 minutes. >> mitch lerner is a historian who was in demand these days. he directs the institute for korean studies there, something that is on a lot of people's minds. and he has written a book about a particular incident in u.s.-north korea history, the pueblo incident, which is marking its 50th anniversary. so let me start by asking you to just give the story of the pueblo. mr. lerner: it is an amazing to story. it is also amazing to the extent which it has been forgotten by the american people. the uss pablo was an old world war ii cargo carrier that had been retired. it was old and dilapidated. in the 1960's decided to pull it out of retirement, send it out
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for something they called operation click beetle. the fight the fact that had almost no weapons, mechanically a disaster, communication systems are a disaster. the national security agency and the navy decided a good first mission for it would be to send it off to north korea in january of 1968. the ship -- a couple of weeks of operation had gone pretty well, but on the morning of january 23, 1968, pueblo was operating peacefully in international waters in north korea when it was approached by a number of north korean ships and it eventually some soviet-built planes also. the captain at first thought it was routine harassment. something like this had happened to other u.s. ships. but in the end they ordered the ship to surrender.
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they tried to escape but the interested -- the engines do not work very well. there was no support. they weren't prepared. so in the end they surrendered. there was a brief gun battle. one american was killed. a number were wounded. than the ship surrendered, the north koreans boarded it, tied it up and dragged it into the harbor. the men were held prisoner in north korean prison camps for almost a year before they were released from this crazy diplomatic solution. the ship is still in north korea now where it is one of the nation's top tourist attractions. susan: that was really a surprise to me when i was preparing for this. what should we take away about north korean culture then? mitchell: the pueblo stands as a great symbol of the cold war. the american policy and intelligence community never really thought of this as a
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dangerous mission or anything like that because they thought of the north koreans as just a larger communist bloc. the soviets ran these kind of operations. soviet ships would spy, and they were never captured. the bottom line for american treatmakers was to just this as part of part of this massive communist bloc. he soviets and chinese were like the puppet master pulling strings. north korea had never been like that. north korea has always been a difficult element in the communist bloc. we know now, thanks to access to the soviet bloc archives, we see now, we recognize the extent to which korea was a problem in side the communist bloc as well. policy makers today like to dismiss north korea as a pawn of china or a lunatic place. the reality is north korea has its own history, values,
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its own ideological precepts. what you can take from the pueblo is that a country's -- they have to be taken seriously on their own merits. until policymakers start to do that we are likely to have the same kind of unsuccessful efforts we had with the play below -- peublo. susan: going back to the story of the capture, you said there were airplanes involved. were they flown by russian pilots? mitchell: we have gotten access to the soviet bloc security. none of their allies knew about it in advance. none of their allies were consulted. we now have records of soviets and east germans and others being furious publicly attacking the north koreans for this. they thought was a terrible idea, really risky, at a time
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when they were trying to focus on the vietnam war. togave the u.s. an excuse escalate involvement in south korea. they were irate about this. there are funny moments when the soviets are trying to get information about what is happening inside north korea in 1968. and they cannot get information. the north korean officials won't meet with them, they won't talk to them. we think of north korea as a black hole for information for the united states, and it is a black hole of information for their allies as well. susan: so there were 83 cruise onboard? 83 crew on board. one of them tragically killed. it was horrible. if you asked anyone what the most horrible place you can imagine is, north korean prison camp would be at the top of your list. for the first couple of weeks, they were beaten and tortured mercilessly. really primitive stuff. beaten with clubs, forced to sit
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on radiators. just really terrible things in order to get confessions out of them. north koreans wanted propaganda. they wanted to humiliate the united states so that the kim family wanted to demonstrate to its people how strong they were. the beat these men and tortured them so they would sign confessions saying they were so sorry they had done this. the american government had sent them on this terrible mission and they never wanted to go and were apologizing to the korean people. they were so impressed with what they had seen in north korea. so for the first couple of weeks while the men are being beaten into confessions, it is pretty brutal. after that things become more of mundane life in -- in north korean prison. there is another wave of beatings toward the end, the most horrible experience any of them could have imagined. then they are released in right december before christmas. but in a way the scars always say because the navy drums them out of the service.
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they are given very little or almost no medical or psychological treatment, no job training. i have gotten to know some of these men and they have a really tragic history, some of them. inability to hold jobs. the fact that the navy just swept it under the table and american people a noted is another great tragedy of the pueblo. susan: thinking about the parallel of the iranian hostages in iran, how "nightline" became created, keeping track of them every day. what was the american media doing at this time? mitchell: it is funny feared -- funny. is atout a week or so it the center of everyone's attention. people are demanding war. there are all sorts of stories about these innocent men being captured by the soviets -- sorry, north koreans. there is a lot of attention on that. but about a week later the tet offensive breaks out.
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suddenly america's eye shifts back to vietnam and this fades away. there are riots, assassinations. it just sort of fades away and it never comes back. -- 50thare at the 15th anniversary. but by and large there has been incredible silence for years. then: why would the navy or u.s. government not declare them pows? they clearly were. mitchell: they just really wanted to go away. the navy was really culpable. naval intelligence and national security agency did a terrible job of analyzing the risk assessment of emission. didn't have said -- of the mission. didn't have support on call. they just wanted this to go away. when they came home there was talk of a court-martial. public hearings, congress got involved.
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it was really a nasty situation. navy really wanted the captain to take the blame. when there was a little bit of a public outcry that they were scapegoating the men, they just made it go away. susan: what happened to the commander? mitchell: he was the one who was tortured first. they started with the captain, and his story is pretty terrible. they beat him, tortured him, threatened to kill him. there is a moment they would put a gun to his head and pull the trigger. -- emptybers, chambers, but to get to get him to collapse. they threatened to kill his men and beat and tortured some of them in front of him. while he was in the camps, people back home forgot him. his wife did a really good job of trying to pressure the american government to keep their focus on him. but he sort of faded away. got home, the navy drums him out of service.
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he went to nebraska eventually ended sort of of odd jobs the rest of his life. incidentsre are two that you talk about that when these crew men were drawn into propaganda efforts and managed to communicate their discussed with a situation. -- digsut with their situation. can you tell us about that? mitchell: the most famous is the men realized -- they were watching a north korean propaganda film. they showed the north korean soccer team competing at an international match. i think it was in london. in the standsople from london were giving them the finger. smilerth koreans bow and and wave, and they don't realize it is a sign of derision. after that the men would give them the finger all the time, explaining it is a hawaiian good luck symbol. as the men walked in doing a press conference, they were given the finger.
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he said good luck, have a great press conference. the problem became some of the publicity photos the north koreans were using of the men would go out to the international media. there was a photo of them in time magazine, eight of the men, five while they are sitting. they have their middle fingers extended. so the american government had recognized this right away but they said if the north koreans know what the symbol actually means they are going to kill the men, so they kept it quiet. but then it was in time magazine and in the caption made a reference to it, and that set off with a called hell week. they were beaten for a week. so what should we learn about the pueblo incident that
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is relevant to us today? mitchell: there is so much but i wish we would take north korea seriously on its own merits. as we have looked at some of these communist archives, the great tool for me has been to access finally what the other side of the cold war was. we are seeing to extend north korea was never a puppet of the chinese. every time i see an official talking about how china has the answer to the north korean nuclear problem. the reality is it doesn't. north korea operates for his own reasons. those are usually driven by a desire from the kim family to rally people behind them and prop up their government, usually in times they are facing internal weakness. you have to treat all nations as independent countries that act for their own domestic internal reasons. we had the united states have looked for a lot of years for easy solutions to north korea
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that involve either dismissing them as crazy or saying you see ofthey are the last legacy stalinism. the reality is we need to take them seriously on their own merits. susan: how concerned are you about the current situation? mitchell: i am concerned. but not as concerned as you might think. the reality is a military conflict in korea would be so devastating that there is not a rational option, no matter what the bluster is coming out of the capitals of both countries. everyone knows how devastating this would be. for all of our hatred of the kim family, and it is a brutal and horrible dictatorship and it will be much better when it is gone, but the kim family also likes life. they have extensive cars and taste and like to have a good time. they are not suicidal. they understand if they push things too far, they are going to be wiped out. what worries me is war in the 21st century is not always
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fought for rational reasons. it often happens because unanticipated events spiral out of control. that worries me a little bit. we have leaders on both sides who may don't have a lot of experience in foreign policy and are known to be hotheaded and emotional. there is a the risk that some things will spiral out of control. nevertheless, a conflict there would be so devastating it is unlikely to happen. susan: the last question is on lessons for the u.s. military from the pueblo. have they learned them? mitchell: every situation is unique. there were some disastrous issues as part of the risk assessment process and it is hard to covering the mission when the pueblo was out there. to some extent those are irrelevant because it is done on such a different level, whether satellite or drones or whatever. but every once in a while something happens.
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someone is captured and it is clearly didn't have forces on alert, we haven't anticipated the localized nature of the events over there. so maybe for me, the most portant thing i would say is 82 really good men went out there and paid a price for your mistake and are still paying the price. so step up and take care of the people once they leave the service also appeared susan: thank you for your time. mitchell: thank you for having me. >> does that relate to what we are seeing with the football players kneeling today with the national anthem? >> again, we have a long history of racism -- announcer: you could be featured during our next life program. join the conversation on facebook at and on twitter at c-span history. announcer: tonight on afterwards, author tara westover talks about growing up with
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survivalist parents in her book "educated." she is interviewed by author susanna to hail and. >> to learn something you have to have a degree and a whole institution in place to teach it to you. i am grateful to my parents but i was not raised to think that. when i decided i wanted to go to college when i was 16, it felt like something i could do. not because i had any formal education but ok, i need to learn altra. -- learn algebra. i barely got into university but it kept going with that. yeah, my parents took it too far. i arrived at university really unprepared. i once raised my hand in class and asked what the holocaust was. people thought i was anti-semitic but i hadn't heard of it before. i would not say this was an
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ideal education. announcer: watch afterwards at 9:00 eastern on c-span2. american history tv is on c-span3 every weekend featuring museum to worse, archival films, and programs on the presidency, the civil war and more. here is a clip from a recent program. i think it is fairly easy to summarize the relationship between government concern for private rights by using language the founders used. you cannot maintain a free society without a virtuous public. and what they meant by that was unless people have in their dispositions and habits a basic orientation towards respect for each other's national rights, and at least to some degree, willingness and ability to perform their basic minimum
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moral duties in society, no matter how well organized the legal system might be that is meant to secure private rights, it will not succeed because the public itself will not be willing to continue to vote and support policies that enable those rights to be protected. they're very common formulation was in a republican form of government based on consent, elections, virtue is needed more than any other form of government. because in a republic, the people themselves pick the rulers. so if the people themselves don't have basically good sense and basic attitudes of restraint and respect for each other's rights, they will be putting people in office who will end up exploiting some citizens at the expense of others. yet. -- yeah.
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benefiting some citizens at the expense of others, that is what i meant to say. you need to have some minimal degree of those qualities themselves as well as soft assertion. you need to be willing to fight. those qualities as well. that's a summary of how they understood that announcer: you can watch this and other american history programs on our website, where all of our video is archived. that's announcer: each week, american artifacts takes viewers into archives, museums, and historic sites around the country. the national archive center for legislative archives in washington, d.c., houses clifford berryman's popular political cartoons from the early 20th century.


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