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Act of War: Lyndon Johnson, North Korea, and the Capture of the Spy Ship Pueblo [NOOK Book]

Overview

WINNER OF THE 2014 SAMUEL ELIOT MORISON AWARD FOR NAVAL LITERATURE

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...
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Act of War: Lyndon Johnson, North Korea, and the Capture of the Spy Ship Pueblo

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Overview

WINNER OF THE 2014 SAMUEL ELIOT MORISON AWARD FOR NAVAL LITERATURE

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 ex–submarine 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 world’s most aggressive and erratic totalitarian regimes.

Less than forty-eight hours before the Pueblo’s capture, North Korean commandos had nearly succeeded in assassinating South Korea’s 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 Johnson’s 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.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
10/07/2013
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. (Dec.)
Library Journal
★ 11/15/2013
While spying off the coast of Wonsan on North Korea's east coast in 1968, the U.S.S. Pueblo, an aging and poorly equipped naval intelligence ship, was seized by North Korean forces. Cheevers supports the contention that the ship was still in international waters. One sailor died in the fight, and the rest of the crew were imprisoned for 11 months. Cheevers (former political reporter, Los Angeles Times) paints a vivid picture of the harrowing experiences the sailors faced before, during, and after their stint in a North Korean prison. Unlike the memoirs of Pueblo captain Lloyd M. Bucher (Bucher: My Story, with Mark Rascovich) and Edward R. Murphy Jr. (Second in Command, with Curt Gentry), Cheevers includes perspectives of multiple survivors as well as various military and government officials who were involved (Cheevers did interview Bucher before his death in 2004 and is sympathetic to Bucher's position). The author's access to personal interviews, large amounts of government documents, as well as news reports on the incident, allows readers to experience this event from the Pueblo's viewpoint and beyond. VERDICT Readers who appreciate intense accounts of survival against difficult circumstances will find this book enthralling. Those interested in naval history and the history of U.S.-North Korean relations will also enjoy it. It deserves a wide audience.—Joshua Wallace, South Texas Coll. Lib., McAllen
Kirkus Reviews
2013-10-05
Readers who assume that North Korea's reputation as an international nut case is a recent development must read this painful account of its 1968 seizure of the USS Pueblo and abuse of its crew. Former Los Angeles Times political reporter Cheevers has done meticulous research, including tracking down survivors of this half-forgotten outrage that made headlines at the time. During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union stationed eavesdropping ships in international waters off each other's coasts. Both observed a gentleman's agreement to keep hands off, a sensible policy since a nation who attacked an enemy spy ship could expect retaliation on one of its own. Ignoring the fact North Korea had no spy ships was the first of many American blunders. As a vessel, the Pueblo was slow, feebly armed, and crammed with secret machines, manuals and documents. Suddenly attacked by multiple North Korean ships, the crew's frantic efforts destroyed only a fraction of this material, resulting in an intelligence bonanza for the captors. Then, the North Koreans tortured and brutally beat the prisoners. They were starved, refused medical care, forced to sign bizarre confessions, filmed and paraded in public. Emaciated and sick, the men returned after a year of maddening negotiations. They were acclaimed national heroes: a godsend that prevented the Navy from court martialing the captain and his staff for surrendering. "As we unleash spies and covert operations against a growing list of twenty-first-century adversaries," writes Cheevers, "we'd do well to remember the painful lessons of the Pueblo. Although the crew behaved reasonably well under terrible conditions, this is a story where dimwits and villains dominate, and Cheevers does a fine job of rescuing from obscurity a painful Cold War debacle.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101638644
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 12/3/2013
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 103,523
  • File size: 11 MB
  • Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.

Meet the Author


Jack Cheevers is a former political reporter for the Los Angeles Times.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2014

    former CT

    As a former Navy CT this book was a homerun, was well written and held my interest till the end. Recommended

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 12, 2014

    Even though it was 380 pages i could hardly put it down and read

    Even though it was 380 pages i could hardly put it down and read it in just over ten days. An exceptionally objective and candid look into the Korean aspect of the cold war.  as a gen-xer i really had no idea re all the issues that  LBJ was encountering. my respect for him went up a few notches for him getting us through that season without another war.  

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 10, 2014

    An Amazing Story of Courage and Fidelity

    If you think you know the story of the USS Pueblo and her crew, think again...then read this book. It's well written and full of the details that make the story come alive.

    Given today's situation in North Korea, it's also a timely reminder of what this regime is capable of.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 9, 2014

    I've followed the story of the USS Pueblo since I was 14. I foun

    I've followed the story of the USS Pueblo since I was 14. I found it fascinating. The very idea a punk country like North Korea could seize 
    an American Naval vessel in international waters, hold the crew hostage, then keep the ship after the crews release is appalling.
    "An Act of War" explained things I never knew such as the political situation in Korea at the time and what was going on in the White
    House at the time. I always faulted the Navy for the disaster, sending an unarmed ship off the coast of such a hostile country. Turning
    down request for document detraction equipment, not having a way to quickly scuttle the ship to name a few. In conversation with friends
    over the years, I've had several who said the Captain should have fought it out to the last man. Obviously, they didn't have a family
    member in the crew. So the question arises, would the intelligence that was  lost be worth the 83 lives of the crew? Another rhetorical
    question is why is John Walker still breathing? We as a nation are too easy on those who would destroy us from within. After reading
    "An Act of War" and getting an idea of the cost of the intelligence loss, I'm a little easier on the Navy now      

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  • Posted February 20, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent

    Well written account of Pueblo Incident,engaging.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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