North Korea: A hole in the fabric of the 21st century

February 25, 2014

Here’s a photograph of one of the greatest, and longest-running tragedies of our time.

No, that’s not a stretch of water in the red circle.  That’s North Korea, at night, blacked out by a lack of electrical lights.

Tweetpic from the Washington Post: North Korea looks like a sea of misery in this photo from space http://wapo.st/1c1B84q  via @KnowMoreWP pic.twitter.com/nB3g8fa63Q

Tweetpic from the Washington Post: North Korea looks like a sea of misery in this photo from space http://wapo.st/1c1B84q via @KnowMoreWP pic.twitter.com/nB3g8fa63Q

It’s a photo from the International Space Station taken in January.

The KnowMore blog from the Post describes the tragedy, and points to even more disturbing stories:

North Korea appears as nothing more than a shadow in the above photograph, taken at night aboard the International Space Station last month. South Korea’s eastern coastline is indistinguishable from the demilitarized zone along the border with the North, as though the Sea of Japan flowed into the Yellow Sea and Pyongyang were an island in a strait separating South Korea from China.

North Korea’s interior is nearly invisible from orbit at night, just as what happens inside the country on a day-to-day basis is largely invisible to the outside world. U.N. investigators managed to shine a little light into North Korea’s darkest corners last month.  [Click here to get to the U.N. report]

I’ve used similar photos in class.  It’s a powerful exercise.  North Korea is as dark as undeveloped and largely unpopulated areas of the Congo River Basin, the Australian Outback, the Arabian Peninsula’s “Empty Quarter,” and almost as dark as Antarctica.

No doubt stargazing is good in some of those dark spots in North Korea.  This is one case where the absence of light pollution does NOT indicate good planning, but instead an amazing paucity of rational development.


Korean War history sources

March 26, 2010

So, teachers, students with projects due:  You need sources of information on the Korean War?

Posters, books, CDs, from the U.S. GPO (Government Printing Office); the posters are inexpensive, too.

Alas, some of the stock needs more orders to get reprints . . .

This contributes to why they call it “the forgotten war.”


Wits, not bombs: North Korea, U.S.S. Pueblo, continued

February 16, 2009

Is it time?  Is there any chance we could bring the Pueblo home?

Regular readers here probably know of my admiration for the resistance put up against North Korea (NPRK) by the captive crew of the U.S.S. Pueblo during their 11 months’ imprisonment in 1968.

In a recent comment to a post I did back in 2006, a reader named Bob Liskey offered an interesting, and rational way by which NPRK could demonstrate lasting good faith in negotiations with the U.S., especially over the state of their energy generation and nuclear weapons production:

We made every effort to avoid the catastrophe of a second Korean War and the use of nuclear weapons such a war. Much better and saner than a RAMBO approach.

At this point in time, I would like to see the OBAMA administration suggest to NK that if they really want to improve and normalize relations with the USA then they ought to return the USS PUEBLO as a clear intent to improve and normalize relations. I would like to see the USS PUEBLO returned to the USA and docked at SAN DIEGO as a memorial to the crew and DUAYNE HODGES and those who undertake secret and dangerous missions on behalf of the USA.

Mr. Liskey offered several other chunks of history of the incidents in 1968 you may want to read, including just how close we were to the brink of using nuclear weapons to retaliate against NPRK, an issue that is not much discussed elsewhere, I think.  Interesting reading.

What’s Bill Richardson doing this week?  Since he’s not on track to be Secretary of Commerce, maybe we could borrow him to establish a pillar of world peace in North Korea, instead?

Mr. President?  Sec. Clinton?  Do you ever drop down into the Bathtub?  What about Bob Liskey’s suggestion?


Remember the Pueblo, the crew and Commander Bucher, and the Great Hoaxes of 1968

December 24, 2008

They are safely back on American soil.  Except for the boat, the U.S.S. Pueblo, which remains in North Korea, the biggest bauble for a failed North Korean government that clings to power at the price of the lives of its people.

 General Charles H. Bonesteel III, U.S. Army, Commander-in-Chief, United Nations Command, (left) and Rear Admiral Edwin M. Rosenberg, USN, Commander Task Force 76, (right) greet members of Pueblos crew as they arrive at the U.N. Advance Camp, Korean Demilitarized Zone, on 23 December 1968, following their release by the North Korean government. USS Pueblo (AGER-2) and her crew had been captured off Wonsan on 23 January 1968. Note Christmas decorations.  Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

General Charles H. Bonesteel III, U.S. Army, Commander-in-Chief, United Nations Command, (left) and Rear Admiral Edwin M. Rosenberg, USN, Commander Task Force 76, (right) greet members of Pueblo's crew as they arrive at the U.N. Advance Camp, Korean Demilitarized Zone, on 23 December 1968, following their release by the North Korean government. USS Pueblo (AGER-2) and her crew had been captured off Wonsan on 23 January 1968. Note Christmas decorations. Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

40 years ago, yesterday, the crew of the Pueblo was repatriated, after 11 months of grueling prison time, and torture, and hoaxes that best demonstrate American views on authority.

Harry Iredell, one of the most active chroniclers of the Pueblo, wrote:

On December 23rd, 11 months to the day of their capture, the crew of the PUEBLO walked, one every 15 seconds, across the Bridge of no Return to freedom and the opportunity to live the rest of their lives.

I had expected to write a lot more about 1968 through this year, the 40th anniversary — but events overtake a part-time blogger, often, and I am no exception.

I would like to see some recognition given to the crew of Pueblo at the end of this year.  They deserve it for their great service to our nation, in the first place.

But in the second place, their story is a talisman of what happened to the U.S. in that stormy year, a year that I believe was one of the most traumatic in U.S. history.  It was a year of bad news mostly, from Vietnam, in civil rights with the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and in politics with the assassination of New York’s Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. on the night he won the California primary in the presidential race. One reason we think to remember the good news of Apollo 8 at the end of the year, is that the rest of 1968 was so bad.  Apollo 8’s stunning success in the last week of the year was a refreshing and hopeful contrast to the despairing news from the rest of the year.  Even the release of the Pueblo crew did not erase the bad taste from the capture, and their torture by North Korea.

Here is what I wrote about 1968 a while ago, in “Penetration however slight:  More on a good and noble hoax — the U.S.S. Pueblo” :

1968 was depressing.

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.

Two months later, in June, with the Vietnam War as a very divisive issue, the presidential campaign was marked by great distress of voters and increasing polarization. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy appeared to pull into the lead when he won the California primary in June, but he was assassinated that night. Tens of thousands of anti-war protesters, angry at President Johnson, showed up at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago – with Johnson out of the race, the protests were essentially for show. Mayor Richard J. Daley took offense at the protesters, and Chicago policemen, who considered themselves the political opposites of the shaggy-haired protesters, attacked the protesters with clubs and tear gas. A national commission later called it a “police riot.” Vice President Hubert Humphrey could not make his opposition to the Vietnam War known soon enough or broadly enough, and had a tough campaign against Republican, former Vice President Richard Nixon, who promised that he had a “secret” peace plan for Vietnam. Nixon won in a squeaker. Nixon had no secret peace plan.

At the end of the year, the U.S. got a feel-good story out of the Apollo Project, when NASA launched Apollo 8, which orbited the Moon on Christmas Eve.

Throughout the year, there was the continuing sore of Americans held captive by the Republic of North Korea.

Commander Lloyd M. Bucher and the men of the U.S.S. Pueblo were captured by a superior force of North Korean gunboats on January 23, 1968, a few days before the Tet Offensive. The capture and 11 months of captivity were a trial for the 84 men, and an embarrassment for the U.S. Tortured and unable to effect an escape, Bucher and his men did the next best thing: They played hoaxes that made the North Koreans look silly.

Among other things, Cmdr. Bucher had signed a confession demanded (by torture) by North Korea. When news of this confession was revealed in the western press, observers were concerned that a U.S. citizen would succumb to making what was regarded as a false confession, but a coup for communist totalitarians. The texts of the confessions and other material from the captives, however, revealed something quite different. The confessions were written or edited largely by Bucher and the crew, and to an American with any familiarity with popular culture, they were hilarious.

My recollection was that at least one of the confessions was that the Pueblo had indeed penetrated North Korean territorial waters, but it was phrased to make it sound like the definition of rape offered in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). I could not find any record of that confession on the internet.

At some length, I succeeded in getting a copy of the out-of-print autobiography of Cmdr. Bucher, to check my memory of the confessions. The book is out of print. I found a couple of copies at a used book vendor, very inexpensive, through Amazon.com. However, shortly after ordering the books, I was informed by both the Post Office and the vendor that the books had been destroyed by sorting machinery. Fortunately, they had been shipped separately, and one finally arrived.

Unfortunately, the “Final, final confession” does not contain what I recall. However, the book revealed that after the writing of the “Final, final,” Bucher’s crew was asked to write more – apologies to the people of North Korea, and other propaganda documents. It was in those documents that the text I recalled, appeared.

2008 marks 40 years since that terrible year, 40 years since the Pueblo incident. For the sake of posterity, and to aid your lesson plans, here is the part of the confessions I recall which has not been available lately.

Bucher: My Story, Commander Lloyd M. Bucher, USN, with Mark Rascovich, Doubleday 1970, Dell 1971; p. 342

We did in fact get away with a composition that matched my Final, Final Confession for brazen kidding of the KORCOMS, and which far surpassed it in subtlety. Blended into the standard Communist verbosity were such lines of our own as:

“We, as conscientious human beings who were cast upon the rocks and shoals of immorality by the tidal waves of Washington’s naughty policies know that neither the frequency nor the distances of these transgressions into the territorial waters of this sovereign peace-loving nation matter because penetration however slight is sufficient to complete the act. (“Rocks and Shoals” is Navy slang for the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the last line contains the essential definition of rape.)

This was both delivered over film and TV and published in the “Ping-pong Times.” The Glorious General was well pleased and set the same team to working on the next letter.

North Korea was anxious to cash in on the propaganda opportunities of the confessions and other material, and spread these documents as far as their naïve public relations offices could. Eventually, in late November or early December, a photograph of the captives, intended to show them healthy and having a good time, was distributed to newspapers. In the photo, the crew were shown smiling on a basketball court, holding a basketball, with a few of their North Korean guards. The photo was not published widely in the United States, however, because almost to a man, the crew were displaying what they had told the North Koreans was a “Hawaiian good luck symbol” – extended middle fingers. U.S. papers thought the photo inappropriate. European papers published it, however, and eventually Time Magazine ran the photo, with an explanation.

When news got back to Pyong Yang that the North Koreans had been hoaxed, the North Koreans instituted a week of beatings and torture. Within a couple of weeks, however, the North Koreans handed over the crew back to the U.S., at Panmunjon. U.S. officials were convinced that their signing an insincere confession got the Pueblo crew released. Anyone who ever read O. Henry’s Ransom of Red Chief suspected the North Koreans got the crew out of North Korea before they could hoax the government completely away.

Fortunately, Lloyd Bucher and the crew of the Pueblo did not follow H. L. Mencken’s advice after the Fillmore Bathtub hoax, and swear off hoaxes completely.

The “confessions” were hoaxes, great and glorious hoaxes in the best “Kilroy was here” spirit of American fighting forces.  Unsure that they wouldn’t be executed, after being tortured, American Navy people still had the piss and vinegar to kick their captors in the ass.

A Navy Yeoman Second Class holds a U.S. flag, to be used to drape the coffin of Seaman Duane Hodges, who was killed when USS Pueblo  (AGER-2) was captured by the North Koreans off Wonsan on 23 January 1968. Seaman Hodges body was returned to American custody with the ships other crewmen, at the Korean Demilitarized Zone, 23 December 1968.  Official U.S. Navy Photograph

A Navy Yeoman Second Class holds a U.S. flag, to be used to drape the coffin of Seaman Duane Hodges, who was killed when USS Pueblo (AGER-2) was captured by the North Koreans off Wonsan on 23 January 1968. Seaman Hodges' body was returned to American custody with the ship's other crewmen, at the Korean Demilitarized Zone, 23 December 1968. Official U.S. Navy Photograph

There ought to be a special medal for that sort of stuff.  There isn’t.  More people should know and remember the story.  Not enough do.

Resources:

At Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub

Other sources



Power of education

July 20, 2008

Thought provoking post at beauty and depravity, taking note of education achievements in South Korea in the past 50 years or so, and then looking at education world wide:

The education system is what made United States the most influential nation and may be the very thing that will lead to its demise. Unequal access to education – even at the most elementary levels – and the rising costs of college education is a debilitating concern.

If you have the time and the energy, UNESCO’s Global Education Digest [190+ pages] is a great read about the trends and voids in education throughout the world. The UIS Global Education Digest monitors the flows of students moving from the primary to secondary level of education across the world. In Africa, only 62% of pupils complete primary education and are therefore ready to pursue their studies, compared to an average completion rate of 94% in North America and 88% in Asia. According to the latest figures in the Digest:

  • Africa has the lowest primary completion ratios in the world (see Figure 1). In Europe, almost all countries have ratios exceeding 90%. Out of 45 African countries, only eight reach this level: Algeria, Botswana, Cape Verde, Egypt, Mauritius, Seychelles, South Africa and Tunisia.
  • In 19 African countries, the ratios are 50% or lower, meaning that at least every second child does not complete primary school.
  • Only about one in three children will complete primary education in six countries: Niger (21%), Guinea-Bissau (27%), Burkina Faso (27%), Chad (32%), Burundi (32%) and Mali (33%).
  • 69% adults of tertiary age are enrolled in tertiary education programmes in North America and Europe, but only 5% in sub-Saharan Africa and 10% in South and West Asia. [Tertiary age = post secondary].

This is why EDUCATION is so important in the battle against global poverty. Another reason is I can’t think of anything more sustainable that empowering, equipping, and enabling children through education.

I’m inclined to agree with much of what this fellow, Eugene Cho says about education (he’s a preacher; his politics, especially what appears to be his association with Republicanism, is troubling, but adds piquance to his education views).

How about you? Go read what he says; comment there, come back here and comment here, too.  Is he on the right track?


Legacy of 1968: USS Pueblo still shadows North Korean relations

June 29, 2008

It’s clear that U.S. relations with North Korea (the Peoples Republic of Korea, or PRK) still suffer from institutional memories of the USS Pueblo incident. For both sides the Pueblo incident remains a sore point from 1968, a very trying year for the U.S. anyway.

PRK was scheduled to detail its nuclear activities in a report last Thursday when I started pondering this issue — part of the continuing negotiations to close down nuclear weapons production in PRK. PRK hoped to get off the U.S. list of “terrorist nations.

Al Jazeera featured this story, below, in September 2007. In addition to footage of the Pueblo, still illegally held by PRK, and used as tourist site and propaganda opportunity, the piece explores the effects of the incident on more recent events, the negotiations to de-nuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

And now we know the rest of the story. PRK delivered the report; Bush announced the nation would be taken off the list of supporters of terrorism.  (Report below from CBS News)

PRK destroyed the cooling towers to their offensive reactor.

And now we’re right back where we were in 1995. Eight years of Bush’s work pushed us backwards 13 years.  Partial compliance by PRK, but the bomb-building project is on hold.

Nuclear non-proliferation mades some strides this last week. Still I can’t help the feeling that January 21, 2009, cannot arrive quickly enough.

Remember the Pueblo veterans. The Pueblo Affair still dogs relations between the U.S. and the PRK, through no fault of the crew of the Pueblo who endured a year of brutal captivity, and then seem to have been forgotten by the nation they served so well.


40th anniversary, capture of the U.S.S. Pueblo

January 28, 2008

On January 28, 1968, Commander Lloyd Bucher and the crew of the U.S.S. Pueblo were confronted by several armed swift boats from North Korea, and after an exchange of gunfire that resulted in the death of one of the Pueblo crew, the North Koreans took the boat and crew captive.

1968 was a dramatic and mostly bad year for the U.S. The 11-month saga of the crew in captivity often gets lost from accounts of the year.

Among other reasons I track these events, the crewman pulled a series of hoaxes on their North Korean captors that, I believe, helped lead to their release.


January 28: Anniversary of Pueblo capture

January 23, 2008

January 28 will be the 40th anniversary of the capture of the U.S.S. Pueblo by gunboats from North Korea (or Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, DPRK), which led to some of the more interesting hoaxes of modern times.

Just watching the calendar in this 40th anniversary of 1968.


WSJ on oral histories: A hoax in the family line

August 6, 2007

Jay Gould told everybody he knew about his work recording the memories from the working people of Manhattan, real history. In 1942 he told The New Yorker of his work, and the phrase “oral history” leapt out of the story.

It was a great idea. But Gould made up everything about his work. At his death, friends discovered he left no oral histories behind.

It’s still a good idea, though, and it makes for good student project. Barry Weiss wrote a quick history of oral history for the Wall Street Journal last week. You can pull it off of JSTOR and use it as an introduction to the projects you assign to students.

You’ve never heard of him, but Robert Rush may be a modern-day Herodotus. Mr. Rush, who jokes that “he got his B.A. from the back of a Humvee,” is an oral historian with the U.S. Army. A retired command sergeant major who spent 30 years on active duty before getting his doctorate in history, Mr. Rush believes that recorded testimonies “can flesh out details that aren’t present in the paper histories.” In 2006, he was stationed in Iraq, where he spent seven months interviewing everyone from “engineers to bricklayers to military officers,” all with his handheld Olympus.

A century ago, historians might have laughed at Mr. Rush’s desire to spend time talking to construction workers. Today, the populist impulse is everywhere in the study of history.

Veteran interviews need to be done quickly for any veterans left from World War I, and for the few remaining veterans from World War II and Korea. There is a crying need for interviews of the women who performed the “Rosie the Riveter” work building airplanes, tanks, bombs, and other manufactured items, especially interviews of those women who worked in heavy industries and then went home to raise families when the men returned from foreign fronts. Rush got the soldiers while they were in Iraq — many of them are home now, and provide a source of oral history.

Veterans of Gulf War I, and Vietnam, have stories that need to be told and recorded. There is much to be done.

These stories would be perfect for podcasts, by the way.

Today, digital technology has allowed for every fisherman and every member of Parliament to immortalize their stories. With folks from all walks of life now making autobiographical podcasts, historians in the future will be presented with the issue of how to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Storycorps, an ambitious national oral- history project whose results can occasionally be heard on NPR, does some of this sorting, providing a more structured opportunity for such recordings than YouTube. In soundbooths across the country, Americans can come in and record their stories for 40 minutes, which then get archived in the Library of Congress. David Isay, the founder of Storycorps, describes the act of listening to the voice as “an adrenaline shot to the heart.” The physical experience of hearing another’s words can bring an understanding that reading those words on a page simply cannot.

If you go to the Library of Congress Web site you can listen to Lloyd Brown, the last U.S. Navy veteran of World War I, who died earlier this year. On the 71-minute recording, which he made at age 103, Mr. Brown offers a confession for posterity. “I lied about my age; I told them I was 18,” he recalls in a Southern drawl. At 16, he couldn’t wait two years to join the Navy. “It was a matter of patriotism.” So says the voice from history.

Weiss’s story, in the on-line version, briefly linked to this blog last week, bringing in at least two readers. Alas for the blog, but good for readers, the links at the bottom of the page change. Follow what’s there, see what you find.


A fine, patriotic hoax — the U.S.S. Pueblo

October 8, 2006

Commander Lloyd Bucher

Cmdr. Lloyd Bucher and the Pueblo on the cover of Time Magazine, February 2, 1968 (substituted for the official portrait of Bucher, which is no longer available)

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. Read the rest of this entry »


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