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

January 25, 2018

Official US Navy photograph of the U.S.S. Pueblo, taken shortly after it went into service as the AGER-2 intelligence gathering ship on May 13, 1967. Crypto Museum image.

Official US Navy photograph of the U.S.S. Pueblo, taken shortly after it went into service as the AGER-2 intelligence gathering ship on May 13, 1967. Crypto Museum image.

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.
  • 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 protestors, 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 protestors, and Chicago policemen, who considered themselves the political opposites of the shaggy-haired protestors, attacked the protestors with clubs and tear gas. A national commission later called it a “police riot.”
  • Apart from Chicago, and the post-King assassination riots, America saw eight other massive riots in cities across the nation; riots also occurred around the world, notably in Paris, France.
  • 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. But when people remember 1968, it’s the strife most recall first.

Throughout 1968, 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. Their 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 the crew 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.

Sadly, the Navy brought charges against Bucher for having failed to avoid capture. The heroes welcome the crew should have gotten, never happened. In months of litigation in Navy courtrooms, the brilliance of the resistance of the crew of the Pueblo was lost, and forgotten. Bucher was cleared, but his reputation was never the same. Officially, the tale of the Pueblo crew is not celebrated.

In an era when hoaxes generally aid and abet the works of scoundrels, crooks and traitors, we should pause for a short time to remember when brave American sailors used hoaxes to let their nation know they were alive and resisting, and to embarrass their captors. It was a sterling show of American spirit, and humor.

We need more shows of American spirit and humor.

More:  

USS Pueblo after captured by North Korea, from...

USS Pueblo after being captured by North Korea, from A-12 spyplane Photo: Wikipedia

Good news update: Much more information on the Pueblo incident is available online now, than when I first wrote about it in 2008. Still no celebrations.

This is an encore post.

Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.

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110 years ago: First “official” Boy Scout Troop, January 24, 1908?

January 25, 2018

From the archives.

There are those who argue that the the first Boy Scout Troop was organized on January 24, 1908.

History is not so clear on that point, however.  There may have been earlier troops organized, but records were unclear, or lost.

From Wikipedia: Front cover of the first part of Scouting for Boys by Robert Baden-Powell, published in January 1908. Illustrations by Baden-Powell himself.

From Wikipedia: Front cover of the first part of Scouting for Boys by Robert Baden-Powell, published in January 1908. Illustrations by Baden-Powell himself.

We do know that the the first installment of the serialized Scouting for Boys was published on January 24, 1908.  By April of that year all installments were published, and we can say that the first Boy Scout handbook had arrived.

Either way, January 24 holds some historical significance for the Scouting movement.

Do a good turn in honor of the day, even if it’s a day or two later. (Scouts in the U.S. work to do a good turn every day.)

Who was really first?  Unfortunately, the records don’t exist to settle that issue.

Scouting, in England, arose from the popular clamor by boys after the 1899 publication of Col. Robert Baden-Powell’s handbook for the scouts he trained for the British Army in southern Africa, Aids to Scouting.  Though not written for a youthful audience, the book became a best seller among boys who wished to emulate the adventures of soldiers and rangers in the British Army.

By 1907, Baden-Powell seriously worked to translate his experience and wisdom in a book aimed at boys.  In the summer of 1907 he gathered a collection of boys to camp, to try out his ideas for outdoor activities for boys.  With aid of the YMCA and other organizations, troops were planned and organized at the end of 1907 and in early 1908; then the program skyrocketed, with 60,000 boy members by the end of 1908.

Which was the “first” troop?

In England, where history and firsts might understandably be taken more seriously for Scouting, a number of groups can make the claims — and it’s almost impossible to choose from among them.  Wikipedia explains the claims of each, without much blood (I’ve left in most of the links and footnote links):

The first Scout Troops were formed in the United Kingdom in 1907, and registered in 1908. There are a number of claimants to be the first troop. However, due to poor record keeping when the Scouting Movement started, The Scout Association does not acknowledge any single troop as being the first. The Scout Association maintains a list of all the Scout Troops who claim to have started in 1908.[1]

The Scout Troops with the strongest claims are listed below:

The 1st Glasgow Scout Group in Scotland holds the earliest known registration certificate, dated 26 January 1908, issued by the Scouting Association. The Group was formed from the Glasgow Battalion of the Army Cadet Corps; its Adjutant was Captain Robert E Young. In June 1907, they formed the ‘Cadets’ Winter Recreation Training Club’. The club was a success from the beginning, as ‘Boss’ Young related: “At first we met at my house, signalled up and down the stairs, tied knots around the banisters and always finished with a good tuck-in.” ‘Boss’ Young met B-P during Autumn 1907 who suggested that the Club could experiment with the ideas contained in ‘Scouting for Boys’. On 16 January 1908, the Club was formally disbanded and the First Glasgow Troop of Boy Scouts was registered with Scout HQ in London.[1][2]

The first Scout Troop to receive a visit from Baden-Powell was the Vaux’s Own Scout Troop in Sunderland. This visit was made on 22 February 1908, so it is assumed by The Scout Association “that it had already been in existence for some days at any rate”.[1] This was also the first Scout Troop listed in the Imperial records. The 1st Crystal Palace Patrol (now known as the 2nd Croydon, 1st Crystal Palace) is documented as being in existence on 28 February 1908. The group is still in existence.[3]

In 2007, 1st Henfield Scout Troop was named as the oldest surviving Scout Troop in the world for the centenary of Scouting. They were the hosts of the only place that the centenary flame stopped in England for the night before reaching its goal of Brownsea Island. However, it is not the oldest Scout Troop, as others were set up before Henfield. It is said that the boys that went to Brownsea Island on the first ever scout trip were from Henfield.[4]

The 1st Birkenhead (YMCA) has a claim to be the oldest Scout Troop as it was founded on 24 January 1908 when B P attended a meeting at the YMCA. Documents at the District Headquarters confirm this fact. Baden-Powell at the 1929 Coming of Age Jamboree in Birkenhead said “Here in Birkenhead that I first mooted the idea of Scouting”.

The 1st Croydon Scout Group (Addiscombe) were founded in the latter months of 1907. The Group was officially registered by Imperial Scout Headquarters on 16 June 1908 and can claim to be one of the earliest Groups.

1st Church Kirk, Church near Accrington Lancashire. Formed 1907. Baden Powell formed a link with Accrington during his opening of the Ambulance Drill Hall in 1904.

There is an entry in Baden-Powell’s diary on 4 February 1908 which mentions a Scout Troop in Nottingham.

1st Alsager, Cheshire were formed before 24 February 1908.

A troop from Hampstead was involved in various events in the first half of 1908.

The 1st City Of Aberdeen Scouts existed in 1908. 1st Arbroath Scout Troop (2nd Angus) dates back to June 1908.[5]

The 1st Norwich “Capt. Bower’s Own” Sea Scouts started in January 1908.[6] The group is one of few which has continuously run for 100 years and, remarkably, had just 4 Group Scout Leaders during that time. To celebrate their centenary year, the group published a book entitled, “It Can Be Done: The Hundred Year History of the 1st Norwich Sea Scout Group.” drawing from their extensive archives.[7]

In Poole, Dorset, there are strong claims from 3 current Scout Groups, that all have separate newspaper articles back to 1908 listing Patrols or Troops practicing Scouting. 1st Parkstone has got a registration number back to February 1908 for a Scout Troop. Hamworthy are listed as having a Boat patrol at the Local Church in November 1908 and Broadstone having an Ambulance Scout at the Gathering on Brownsea Island in December 1908.

Wycliffe Scout Group (Gloucestershire) claims to be the oldest continuously active school-based Scout group in the world (active September 2013). It is listed in the Scout Association database with a registration date of 1 February 1909, although the Group celebrated their centenary in 2008, implying that there had been Scouting activity at the school before the Group was registered.

Who was first?  The question remains, not yet satisfactorily answered for history.

How would you decide the controversy?

Scouts from several nations around a campfire -- photo from the website of the World Scout Organization.

Scouts from several nations around a campfire — photo from EraScouting page [replacing photo from the website of the World Scout Organization]. “Leave this world a little better than you found it” — Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting. There are over 40 million Scouts in the World Organization of the Scout Movement.

More:

This is an encore post.

Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.


Catching up on January historical events

January 25, 2018

Aldabra giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea). This tortoise is native to the islands of the Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles. Wikipedia image.

Aldabra giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea); tortoises move slowly, but get the job done. This tortoise is native to the islands of the Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles. Wikipedia image.

January flies by, especially when there is so much other stuff going on — new year to start, tests to prepare for, choirs start up from the holiday break, etc., etc.

There are a few key historical events I like to touch, some that have already passed. I’ll work to catch up. This week is the anniversary of the founding of the first Boy Scout Troop, in England; coming are the birthdays of William Henry Harrison McKinley, our shortest-termed president (31 days, one month) on January 28, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, our longest-termed president (12 years and 1 month) on January 29. And more stuff.

Is it even worth posting a flag-flying calendar for January 2018?

Remember the archives here (see “search” features on the right), and especially don’t forget to note in comments when links don’t work. Thank you, Dear Reader.


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