“Penetration however slight”: Remembering a good and noble hoax – the U.S.S. Pueblo, 46 years later

January 22, 2014

January 23 is the anniversary of the North Koreans‘ capture of the spy boat, U.S.S. Pueblo, in 1968 — a beginning of a momentous year for bad events.  The saga of the Pueblo and its crew, including especially Cmdr. Lloyd Bucher, is of special interest to me because it features a series of some of the grandest, best and most humorously American hoaxes ever perpetrated by imprisoned people against their captors and wardens.  This is one of the great Kilroy stories of American history.  It should not be forgotten.  Especially with the role North Korea plays in contemporary angst, the Pueblo episode should not be forgotten. This is an encore post, with new links added.

1968 brought one chunk of bad news after another to Americans. The year seemed to be one long, increasingly bad disaster. In several ways it was the mark of the times between the feel-good, post-war Eisenhower administration and the feel-good-despite-the-Cold-War Reagan administration. 1968 was depressing.

Lloyd M. Bucher

USN Cmdr. Lloyd M. Bucher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What was so bad? Vietnam manifested itself as a quagmire. Just when Washington politicians predicted an end in sight, Vietcong militia launched a nationwide attack in South Vietnam on the Vietnamese New Year holiday, Tet, at the end of January. Civil rights gains stalled, and civil rights leaders came out in opposition to the Vietnam war. President Johnson fared poorly in the New Hampshire primary election, and eventually dropped out of the race for the presidency (claiming he needed to devote time to making peace in Vietnam). Labor troubles roiled throughout the U.S., including a nasty strike by garbage collectors in Memphis. It didn’t help to settle the strike that the sanitation workers were almost 100% African American, the leadership of Memphis was almost 100% white, and race relations in the city were not so good as they might have been – the strike attracted the efforts of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Martin Luther King, Jr. – who was assassinated there in early April. In response, riots broke out in 150 American cities.

More below the fold, including the key confession to “penetration.” Read the rest of this entry »


Humanity’s hope for the future: A giant leap for mankind on July 20, 1969

July 20, 2013

It’s a day to remember history.  Do you remember that day, the first time humans set foot on the Moon?

(This is based on an earlier post.)

Southwest Elementary in Burley, Idaho, existed in a world far, far away from the U.S. space program. We watched rocket launches on black and white televisions — the orbital launches were important enough my father let me stay home from school to watch, but when he dropped me off at school, I was in a tiny band of students who actually made it to school. Potato farmers and the merchants who supported them thought the space program was big, big stuff.

By John Glenn’s flight, a three-orbit extravaganza on February 20, 1962, a television would appear in the main vestibule of the school, or in the auditorium, and we’d all watch. There were very few spitballs. Later that year my family moved to Pleasant Grove, Utah.

Toward the end of the Gemini series, television news networks stopped providing constant coverage. The launch, the splashdown, a space walk or other mission highlight, but the nation didn’t hold its breath so much for every minute of every mission. Barry McGuire would sing about leaving the planet for four days in space (” . . . but when you return, it’s the same old place.”), then six days, but it was just newspaper headlines.

The Apollo 1 fire grabbed the nation’s attention again. Gus Grissom, one of the three who died, was one of the original space titans; death was always a possibility, but the U.S. program had been so lucky. Apollo’s start with tragedy put it back in the headlines.

The space program and its many successes made Americans hopeful, even in that dark decade when the Vietnam War showed the bloody possibilities of the Cold War. That darkest year of 1968 — see the box below — closed nicely with Apollo 8 orbiting the Moon, and the famous Christmas Eve telecast from the three astronauts, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William A. Anders. The space program kept us hopeful.

By early 1969 many of us looked forward to the flight of Apollo 11 schedule for July — the space flight that promised to put people on the Moon for the first time in history, the realization of centuries-old dreams.

But, then I got my assignment for Scouting for the summer — out of nearly 50 nights under the stars, one of the days would include the day of the space walk. Not only was it difficult to get televisions into Maple Dell Scout Camp, a good signal would be virtually impossible. I went to bed knowing the next day I’d miss the chance of a lifetime, to watch the first moon landing and walk.

Just after midnight my sister Annette woke me up. NASA had decided to do the first walk on the Moon shortly after touchdown, at an ungodly hour. I’d be unrested to check Scouts in, but I’d have seen history.

And so it was that on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the Moon: “A small step for a man, a giant leap for mankind,” was what he meant to say in a transmission that was famously garbled (at least he didn’t say anything about jelly doughnuts).

P. Z. Myers says he remembers a lawnmower going somewhere. It must have been very bright in Seattle. (Thanks for the reminder, P.Z., and a tip of the old scrub brush to you.)

2013 will mark the 44th anniversary.

Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) lists 11 dates for U.S. history as the touchstones kids need to have: 1609, the founding of Jamestown; 1776, the Declaration of Independence; 1787, the Constitutional Convention; 1803, the Louisiana Purchase; 1861-1865, the American Civil War; 1877, the end of Reconstruction; 1898, the Spanish American War; 1914-1918, World War I; 1929, the Stock Market Crash and beginning of the Great Depression; 1941-1945, World War II; 1957, the launching of Sputnik by the Soviets. Most teachers add the end of the Cold War, 1981; I usually include Apollo 11 — I think that when space exploration is viewed from a century in the future, manned exploration will be counted greater milestone than orbiting a satellite; my only hesitance on making such a judgment is the utter rejection of such manned exploration after Apollo, which will be posed as a great mystery to future high school students, I think.)

* 1968, in roughly chronological order, produced a series of disasters that would depress the most hopeful of people, including: the Pueblo incident, the B-52 crash in Greenland, the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, the nerve gas leak at the Army’s facility at Dugway, Utah, that killed thousands of sheep, Lyndon Johnson’s pullout from the presidential race with gathering gloom about Vietnam, the Memphis garbage strike, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., riots, the Black Panther shoot out in Oakland, the Columbia University student takeover, the French student strikes, the tornadoes in Iowa and Arkansas on May 15, the Catonsville 9 vandalism of the Selective Service office, the sinking of the submarine U.S.S. Scorpion with all hands, the shooting of Andy Warhol, the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, the Buenos Aires soccer riot that killed 74 people, the Glenville shoot out in Cleveland, the cynicism of the Republicans and the nomination of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia crushing the “Prague Spring” democratic reforms, the Chicago Democratic Convention and the police riot, the brutal election campaign, the Tlatololco massacre of students in Mexico City, Black Power demonstrations by winning U.S. athletes at the Mexico City Olympics, coup d’etat in Panama. Whew!

More, from Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:

And even more:


“Penetration however slight”: Remembering a good and noble hoax – the U.S.S. Pueblo

January 23, 2013

January 23 is the anniversary of the North Koreans‘ capture of the spy boat, U.S.S. Pueblo, in 1968 — a beginning of a momentous year for bad events.  The saga of the Pueblo and its crew, including especially Cmdr. Lloyd Bucher, is of special interest to me because it features a series of some of the grandest, best and most humorously American hoaxes ever perpetrated by imprisoned people against their captors and wardens.  This is one of the great Kilroy stories of American history.  It should not be forgotten.  Especially with the role North Korea plays in contemporary angst, the Pueblo episode should not be forgotten. This is an encore post, with new links added.

1968 brought one chunk of bad news after another to Americans. The year seemed to be one long, increasingly bad disaster. In several ways it was the mark of the times between the feel-good, post-war Eisenhower administration and the feel-good-despite-the-Cold-War Reagan administration. 1968 was depressing.

Lloyd M. Bucher

USN Cmdr. Lloyd M. Bucher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What was so bad? Vietnam manifested itself as a quagmire. Just when Washington politicians predicted an end in sight, Vietcong militia launched a nationwide attack in South Vietnam on the Vietnamese New Year holiday, Tet, at the end of January. Civil rights gains stalled, and civil rights leaders came out in opposition to the Vietnam war. President Johnson fared poorly in the New Hampshire primary election, and eventually dropped out of the race for the presidency (claiming he needed to devote time to making peace in Vietnam). Labor troubles roiled throughout the U.S., including a nasty strike by garbage collectors in Memphis. It didn’t help to settle the strike that the sanitation workers were almost 100% African American, the leadership of Memphis was almost 100% white, and race relations in the city were not so good as they might have been – the strike attracted the efforts of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Martin Luther King, Jr. – who was assassinated there in early April. In response, riots broke out in 150 American cities.

More below the fold, including the key confession to “penetration.” Read the rest of this entry »


Encore quote of the moment: Robert Kennedy on what really matters

December 18, 2011

This is borrowed from Harry Clarke (with a few minor corrections in the text):

Robert F. Kennedy speech at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, March 18, 1968

Robert F. Kennedy speech at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, March 18, 1968 - Photo by George Silk, Time-Life Pictures/Getty Images

RFK said this in 1968. In a speech I heard today it was quoted and it stirred me.

Too much and for too long, we seem to have surrendered personal excellence and community value in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over eight hundred billion dollars a year, but that GNP — if we judge the United States of America by that — that GNP counts air pollution and cigarette advertising and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and it counts nuclear warheads, and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

Yet the Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.

Kennedy delivered these words in an address at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, on March 18, 1968.

Here’s a video production from the Glaser Progress Foundation which includes an audio recording of the speech:

More resources:

Most of this post appeared originally here in 2009.  We need the reminder.


Beginning, beginning of the end, end of the beginning, end

January 30, 2011

January 30 is a momentous date, according to the AP list of events that occurred on this day.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, National Portrait Gallery

Franklin D. Roosevelt, National Portrait Gallery

Beginning: Franklin Roosevelt, the only president of the U.S. to break the tradition of getting elected to two terms only, was born on January 30, 1882,  in Hyde Park, New York.  (Both Ulysses Grant and his cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, had tried to break the two-term tradition  before.)  Roosevelt served at the 32nd president, winning election in 1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944.  During his first term the date of presidential inaugurations was moved from March 21 to January 21, partly in appreciation for the period of time the nation drifted seemingly deeper into depression between Roosevelt’s election in November 1932 and his inauguration in March 1933.  Roosevelt contracted polio in 1921, won election as New York’s governor in 1928, and then won the 1932 presidential race.  His death on April 12, 1945, pushed Harry Truman into the presidency for three years before he had to face the electorate.

End of the beginning: On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler took office as chancellor of Germany.  A World War I veteran, Hitler had spent time in prison for trying to overthrow the government. Hitler was seven years younger than FDR, but their careers occasionally coincided on key years.  Hitler’s assuming power in January gave him a two-month jump on FDR; at the time, few people, if anyone noticed the coincidental rise, nor could see the significance of the events of the year.  According to The History Place:

Germany was a nation that in its history had little experience or interest in democracy. In January 1933, Adolf Hitler took the reins of a 14-year-old German democratic republic which in the minds of many had long outlived its usefulness. By this time, the economic pressures of the Great Depression combined with the indecisive, self-serving nature of its elected politicians had brought government in Germany to a complete standstill. The people were without jobs, without food, quite afraid and desperate for relief.

Now, the man who had spent his entire political career denouncing and attempting to destroy the Republic, was its leader. Around noon on January 30th, Hitler was sworn in.

“I will employ my strength for the welfare of the German people, protect the Constitution and laws of the German people, conscientiously discharge the duties imposed on me, and conduct my affairs of office impartially and with justice to everyone,” swore Adolf Hitler.

Democratic-based government in Germany was doomed for the foreseeable future.  Few foresaw that.

Beginning of the end: On January 30, 1968, during the Vietnamese new year celebration known as Tet, Vietcong and North Vietnamese army regulars kicked off the Tet Offensive, striking targets all over Vietnam simultaneously.  Caught nearly completely by surprise, U.S. and South Vietnamese forces lost control of Saigon, the South Vietnamese capital for a time.  While the U.S. and South Vietnamese eventually won these many battles and pushed out the invading forces,  the simple fact that the thought-to-be-decimated forces of Ho Chi Minh could pull of the offensive at all sent the chilling message that victory in this guerrilla did not yet belong to South Vietnam and the U.S., nor had a tide been turned.   After tumultuous elections in the U.S., Richard Nixon’s presidency could not turn the tide, either.  A “peace” was negotiated, mostly between North Vietnam and the U.S., in 1973, but it did not hold.  In 1975 relations between North Vietnam and South Vietnam hit crisis again, and the U.S. pulled out the last forces left in South Vietnam in April.  Vietcong and North Vietnamese forces defeated the rapidly dissipating military of the South, and the country was united under communist, North Vietnam rule.

Mahatma Gandhi addresses Indians

Mahatma Gandhi addresses Indians

An end: Hindu extremist Nathuram Godse shot and killed Mohandas K. Gandhi in India, on January 30, 1948.  Gandhi was known as “Mahatma,” which means “Great Soul.”  Gandhi campaigned for India’s independence and end of British colonial rule for most of the 1920s, including a period of time in prison for subversive activities.  Gandhi’s great contribution to political change is the massive use of non-violent, non-cooperation.  Non-violent tactics tend to highlight the moral positions of groups in conflict, and make the non-violent side appear to have the stronger case.  Such tactics expose hypocrisy and despotic government rules.  Though he resigned from his political party in 1934, Gandhi remained a key icon of the drive for India’s independence.  When violence broke out over the Mountbatten plan to grant independence in 1947, creating two nations of Pakistan and India divided along religious, Gandhi again appealed for peace, but became the most famous victim of the religious violence that still roils the region today.  Committed to peace and non-violence, Gandhi himself did not ever win the Nobel Peace Prize, perhaps because his life was cut short.  His work inspired other Nobel Peace laureates, including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1964), the Dalai Lama (1989), Aung San Suu Kyi (1991), Nelson Mandela (with Frederik Willem deKlerk, 1993), and U.S. President Barack Obama (2009).

On January 30, 2011, much of the world holds its breath, watching events in North Africa, including especially Tunisia and Egypt.  Which of these traditions will today follow, to peace, or toward war?


Colorado legislature says ‘bring the USS Pueblo home’

February 4, 2010

It’s a story about a series of the grandest and bravest hoaxes by U.S. soldiers held in extremely hostile enemy prisons.  Coloradans, especially those from the city of Pueblo, the namesake of the ship, have not forgotten.

U.S.S. Pueblo, moored in Pyongyang, Peoples Republic of Korea - Wikipedia image

U.S.S. Pueblo, moored in Pyong Yang, Peoples Republic of Korea where the North Koreans try to exploit their capture of the ship by offering tours - Wikipedia image

Spurred by its members from Pueblo, the Colorado state legislature passed a resolution on Monday asking the U.S. government to ask North Korea to return the U.S.S. Pueblo to the U.S.  The spyship was captured, probably illegally, in 1968 with Capt. Lloyd Bucher and his crew, with the loss of one crewman’s life in the capture skirmish.

North Korea (more formally known as the Peoples Republic of Korea or PRK) held Bucher and his crew eleven months in that tragic year of 1968.  The crew were tortured, but PRK finally agreed to release them in December.

During their capture the crew had signed hoax confessions that, while wildly embarrassing to the PRK, got the crew in hot water when they returned to the U.S.

Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub officially and formally approves of any legislative action honoring the captain and crew of the Pueblo, and would like to see the ship returned.

Earlier stories on the Pueblo and its capture:

An account in Korea Times suggests North Korea seized the Pueblo simply to save face after a disastrous attempt to assassinate the president of South Korea.

The entire story about the legislative resolution, from the Pueblo Chieftan, is below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »


Robert McNamara, Eagle Scout

July 8, 2009

A few weeks ago I finally got a copy of “Fog of War,” at Half-Price Books.  I’ve watched it three times so far.

DVD box for Fog of War, Errol Morriss Academy Award-winning documentary

DVD box for Fog of War, Errol Morris's Academy Award-winning documentary

For a talking head documentary, it’s compelling, and interesting.  It may be just that I lived through the time, and hearing former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara explain now what was going on at various points . . . “Fog of War” is like a director’s cut DVD of the Vietnam War with Coppola, Scorsese, Spielberg and Wilder all explaining every facet of what the director was doing.

Errol Morris’s interviews over the past few days are good, too.  Morris is the director of the movie.  He reminds us that he was making the movie before, and then in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center.  Wrong decisions about war were being repeated.

I was looking to find excerpts that might work in world history or U.S. history classes.  I’m not sure there is one, now.  It should be a powerful film for an AP U.S. history class, but probably assigned viewing rather than in-class.

For his part, Robert McNamara was never anything less than brilliant, even when wrong.  We often forget that he rose to his role as Secretary of Defense because of his being right when others were so wrong — at Ford Motor, McNamara was the one who saw the Edsel as a dismal failure and the wrong path, years before the ultimate failure of the marque, the man who saved Lincoln, the man who pushed the small car revolution in the Ford Falcon, the man who pushed safety packages with seatbelts before they were popular, or required. Even at Defense he was more capable that his predecessors, more careful, and more often right.  (Read that Miami Herald piece from Joseph Califano — it reveals the brilliance of Lyndon Johnson, too.)

McNamara’s descriptions of errors in the highest places are also brilliant in their insight.

With the possible exception of Eisenhower’s never-used apology and fault-accepting letter for the failure of D-Day, the Normandy invasion — never used because the invasion worked — have we seen a more forthright mea culpa and warning from any of our warriors about their own mistakes, and how to avoid them?

What drove McNamara to do that?

Learned something else yesterday:  Robert McNamara was an Eagle Scout.

Is that why it seems like he, almost alone among the architects of that horrible conflict, confessed to error in Vietnam? He was a man who could do almost anything, had done much, but at the most important time could not do whatever it was that was required to achieve a just peace, nor even an end to war. We don’t know yet what the right thing to do might have been.

There is much more to know from that chapter, from and about McNamara, than we have learned yet.  Perhaps McNamara’s passing will spur others to find copies of the movie, and study the Eleven Lessons Robert McNamara learned from Vietnam too late; perhaps others can now apply the lessons in time.

Robert McNamara talks about Vietnam to the press - National Archives photo

Robert McNamara talks about Vietnam to the press - National Archives photo

See the Washington Post’s gallery of photos of the life of Robert McNamara.

Tip of the old scrub brush to the discussions at Scouts-L.


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