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Act of War: Lyndon Johnson, North Korea, and the Capture of the Spy Ship Puebloby Jack Cheevers
Synopses & Reviews
In 1968, a small, dilapidated American spy ship set out on a dangerous mission: to pinpoint military radar stations along the coast of North Korea. Packed with advanced electronic-surveillance equipment and classified intelligence documents, the USS Pueblo was poorly armed and lacked backup by air or sea. Its crew, led by a charismatic, hard-drinking exsubmarine officer named Pete Bucher, was made up mostly of untested sailors in their teens and twenties.
On a frigid January morning while eavesdropping near the port of Wonsan, the Pueblo was challenged by a North Korean gunboat. When Bucher tried to escape, his ship was quickly surrounded by more patrol boats, shelled and machine-gunned, and forced to surrender. One American was killed and ten wounded, and Bucher and his young crew were taken prisoner by one of the worlds most aggressive and erratic totalitarian regimes.
Less than forty-eight hours before the Pueblos capture, North Korean commandos had nearly succeeded in assassinating South Koreas president in downtown Seoul. Together, the two explosive incidents pushed Cold War tensions toward a flashpoint as both North and South Korea girded for war—with fifty thousand American soldiers caught between them. President Lyndon Johnson rushed U.S. combat ships and aircraft to reinforce South Korea, while secretly trying to negotiate a peaceful solution to the crisis.
Act of War tells the riveting saga of Bucher and his men as they struggled to survive merciless torture and horrendous living conditions in North Korean prisons. Based on extensive interviews and numerous government documents released through the Freedom of Information Act, this book also reveals new details of Johnsons high-risk gambit to prevent war from erupting on the Korean peninsula while his negotiators desperately tried to save the sailors from possible execution. A dramatic tale of human endurance against the backdrop of an international diplomatic poker game, Act of War offers lessons on the perils of covert intelligence operations as America finds itself confronting a host of twenty-first-century enemies.
"In 1968 North Korea seized an American intelligence-gathering ship, the U.S.S. Pueblo, in international waters. Journalist Cheevers combines interviews with recently released government documents to tell the story of a slipshod operation that nearly led to the crew's execution and a return to war footing with Korea. The Pueblo was meant to be unobtrusive, but the shabby, virtually unarmed cargo ship was packed with top-secret code machines and documents; dispatched to international waters off North Korea's coast without the North Korean government's knowledge and no more protection than 'the centuries-old body of law and custom that guaranteed free passage on the high seas.' When the Pueblo was intercepted the commander prudently surrendered. The Johnson administration, concerned about 'reactions in the court of public opinion,' merely mounted a diplomatic reply to this act of war. Meanwhile, the captured sailors were brutalized into signing an admission of spying — a 'handy pretext to shoot them all.' Pyongyang demanded an unconditional apology, which the U.S. eventually signed, though that apology had been 'prerepudiated' — disavowed in advance. The ship remains in North Korean hands; the released crew was eventually recognized as prisoners of war. Cheever's account of 'false assumptions, negligent planning..., excessive risk taking' is a useful reminder in today's world of surveillance and diplomatic brinksmanship." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
I devoured Act of War the way I did Flyboys, Flags of our Fathers and Lost in Shangri-la.” —Michael Connelly, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author
In 1968, the small, dilapidated American spy ship USS Pueblo set out to pinpoint military radar stations along the coast of North Korea. Though packed with advanced electronic-surveillance equipment and classified intelligence documents, its crew, led by exsubmarine officer Pete Bucher, was made up mostly of untested young sailors.
On a frigid January morning, the Pueblo was challenged by a North Korean gunboat. When Bucher tried to escape, his ship was quickly surrounded by more boats, shelled and machine-gunned, forced to surrender, and taken prisoner. Less than forty-eight hours before the Pueblos capture, North Korean commandos had nearly succeeded in assassinating South Koreas president. The two explosive incidents pushed Cold War tensions toward a flashpoint.
Based on extensive interviews and numerous government documents released through the Freedom of Information Act, Act of War tells the riveting saga of Bucher and his men as they struggled to survive merciless torture and horrendous living conditions set against the backdrop of an international powder keg.
About the Author
Jack Cheevers is a former political reporter for the Los Angeles Times. He and his wife, Kathleen Matz, live in Oakland, California.
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History and Social Science » Military » Espionage