A good hoax? It could happen, right?
It did happen.
A U.S. spy ship, the U.S.S. Pueblo, under the command of Cmdr. Lloyd Bucher, was captured by North Korea on January 28, 1968 — the beginning of a very bad year in the U.S. that included Viet Cong’s Tet Offensive that revealed victory for the U.S. in Vietnam to be a long way off, the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., the assassination of presidential candidate Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, riots during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, a bitter election — and a wonderful television broadcast from astronauts orbiting the Moon on Christmas Eve.
North Korea held the crew of the Pueblo for eleven months. While holding the crew hostage — there was never any serious thought that the ship had in fact strayed into North Korean territorial waters, which might have lent some legitimacy to the seizure of the ship — North Korea (DPRK) tried to milk the event for all the publicity and propaganda possible. Such use of prisoners is generally and specifically prohibited by several international conventions. Nations make a calculated gamble when they stray from international law and general fairness.
To their credit, the crew resisted these propaganda efforts in ways that were particularly embarrassing to the North Koreans. DPRK threatened to torture the Americans, and did beat them — but then would hope to get photographs of the Americans “enjoying” a game of basketball, to show that the Americans were treated well. The crew discovered that the North Koreans were naive about American culture, especially profanity and insults. When posing for photos, the Americans showed what they told DPRK was the “Hawaiian good luck sign” — raised middle fingers. The photos were printed in newspapers around the world, except the United States, where they were considered profane. The indications were clear — the crew was dutifully resisting their captors. When the hoax was discovered, the Americans were beaten for a period of two weeks.
Bucher was court martialed for not having resisted capture more ferociously, a court martial that troubles many of us. Among other complaints was a “confession” that Bucher signed, to please the DPRK. One day I’ll get the transcript and see how it was dealt with in the hearing — but any serious reading of the confession reveals that it was a hoax on the North Koreans, too, and it showed them to be particularly ill-prepared to deal with prisoners who had some spirit and and their wits about them.
Hoaxes are an interest of mine, and this series of hoaxes should not be left out of school history books, I think. Alas, all I can find on the internet are edited copies of the “confession.”
Missing from these excerpts are a some elements that I recall, but which I may be recalling in error. My recollection is that at one point the confession noted specific latitude and longitude for the assignment of the spy ship — coordinates that would have put the boat in Juneau, Alaska, rather than off the coast of Korea. And most important, I recall that there was a phrase about the Pueblo’s entering, or penetrating, North Korea’s territorial waters. Bucher “confessed” to having made a slight penetration of DPRK territory waters, but added this phrase, as I recall: “penetration, no matter how slight, is sufficient to completion of the act.” That phrase comes from the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the definition of rape. Every serviceman who heard Bucher’s voice reading the “confession” knew immediately that it was a “screw job.”
Here is the text of a confession I have found on the web; if you know of a source of the complete confession, or if you have information to correct my account, please pass it along.
A final confession in anticipation of leniency for my crew and myself for the heinous crimes perpetrated by ourselves while conducting horrible outrages against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for the purpose of provocating and annoying those stalwarts of peace-loving humanity. The absolute truth of this bowel wrenching confession is attested to by my fervent desire to paean the Korean People’s Army Navy, and their government and to beseech the Korean people to forgive our dastardly deeds unmatched since Attila. I therefore swear the following account to be true on the sacred honor of the Great Speckled Bird.
Following rigorous training in provacation and intrusion wherein each of my officers had to meet the overly high standards I had set for them we emerged from the bowels of San Diego harbor bent on setting records for the highest yardage gained in intrusions ever set in the standard patrol. Our first stop was Hawaii where I visited the kingpin of all provocateurs, including spies. None other than Fleet General Barney Google. He was all I had been told, sly, cunning, closed mouthed, bulbous nosed, smelling of musty top secrets and some foul smelling medicine that kept him going twenty hours a day in pursuit of the perfect spy mission. He talked haltingly with me but persuasively about our forthcoming mission. “By God, Bucher, I want you to get in there and be elusive, spy them out, spy out their water, look sharp for signs of electronic saline water traps. You will be going to spy out the DPRK. By the sainted General Bullmoose we must learn why they are so advanced in the art of people’s defense.”
We entered into our assigned operating areas along the Eastern Korean Sea at latitude 39N and boldly steamed in a northerly direction to the farthest point we could. In so doing we had traversed Operation Areas Mars, Venus, and Pluto so named because like the planets, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is really far out. We knew that the lackeys of the Bowery Street Billionaires would never be satiated until we had found out all there was to know about the huge successes that the noble peace loving peoples of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had made in the recent past. Surely we had to find out how come such a newly created government could lead its peoples so quickly into the number one position. As we went about detecting this valuable information, particularly the oceanic salinity, density, ionic dispersion rate, humpback whale counts, both low and high protoplasmic unicellular uglena and plankton counts. This information was of the highest value to our own scientists for the development of war mongering at sea when no one was looking.
Now we have come to realize just how great our crimes were and we seek the leniency of the Korean people even though we are criminals of the basest variety and deserve only swift punishment of the just Korean law. Further, we know that our crimes are greater than those of any criminals discovered this century, nevertheless we ask forgiveness and promise never to engage in such naughty acts ever again if we are forgiven. We know that our crime is merely a reflection of the dastardly policies of the Bowery Street Billionaires and we can only hope they will realize their own responsibilities for our actions; because who else could have dreamed up such a heinous and foul playing ship as Pueblo and then searched out enough arch criminals such as we to operate it. Yea, we feel it is time indeed for those really responsible for us to step forward and accept their own roles and Admit, Apologize and give Assurances that they will never again prepare another spy bag to be filled with goodies.
In summation, we who have been rotating upon the fickle finger of fate for such long languid months give our word to the Great Speckled Bird that we will heretofor in all sincerity cleanse ourselves of rottenness and vituperations. We solemnly await our return to our loved ones so that the fickle finger can be replaced by the rosy fingers of dawn and salvation. So help me, Hanna.
By the way, the word “paean” was pronounced by Cmdr. Bucher as “pee-on,” with the full intent of invoking the double entendre.
If you know of a source of the full confession, please list it in comments.
And spread the news: