Power to Resist?
By Harry Iredale
"And so it had come to this. Never mind the extenuating circumstances. Sweep away all the irrelevant kindling. What mattered only was that 152-minute period on that freezing afternoon in the Sea of Japan; his dilemma was summed up in the clause ". . . so long as he has the power to resist." But how did one measure "power to resist"?" (Armbrister)
"In horsepower? In bullets? In will? Suppose he had sent one gunner to cross the icy deck and the man had been shot down. Would he then have been expected to keep sending replacements? Where did one draw the line? At five bodies? At fifteen? Was courage quantitative? Would it have made any difference if he had fired one shot himself? A symbolic gesture, of course, but precisely what Commodore Barron had done in 1807. Six years later Lieutenant James Lawrence had uttered his famous command: "Don't give up the ship." The scaffolding of Naval tradition. Did anyone remember that-as he lay dying-Lawrence had done just that?" (Armbrister)
During the Court of Inquiry many questions were asked about the lack of resistance to the boarding and seizure of Pueblo by the North Koreans. Why weren’t the .50 caliber guns manned? Why a Thompson was not poked out of a porthole and used to mow down the boarding party? Without knowing the verbal orders given the Pueblo’s captain, and the written orders for the mission, the history of previous AGER missions, and not being there, these appear to be incriminating questions.
Pueblo's captain had been told to expect harassment, but not to antagonize, or to start World War III. Pueblo was not a warship, but a research vessel. Therefore the .50 caliber guns were not manned when the Korean war vessels appeared. And since these guns were unprotected and not easily prepared for use, it would have meant certain death for anyone who tried to do so once the North Koreans used deadly force.
The first boarding attempt was made before actual hostile fire had commenced. This boarding attempt could easily be considered harassment, though rather extreme. No reason to open fire first and give the KORCOMs an excuse to attack. The second boarding (attempt) was accomplished after Pueblo had had several salvos of 57mm and machine gun fire directed at her, and Pueblo had sustained personnel casualties. Too late to man the unprotected .50 caliber guns. Too much confusion (poor visibility from smoke, men crowded in spaces trying to destroy classified materials and equipment) to mow down the second boarding party. But, even had the Pueblo crew resisted by firing weapons, any survivors would have been captured, and unmercifully beaten, severely tortured and possibly murdered at the KORCOMs pleasure if North Korean soldiers had been killed. And what would have happened differently? Most likely the same scenario, but with greater loss of life. What would sacrificing the Pueblo crew's lives have gained? Whatever classified materials were compromised would have been compromised. Would our leaders have then commenced WWIII?
Pueblo had not been told that the KORCOMS had threatened to capture Banner, her sister ship which had operated off North Korea previously. Nor of the raid on the Blue House earlier in January, or other recent North Korean provocations. Otherwise, this incident may have not happened. That Pueblo should have had contingency forces available is now obvious. Banner had had them when off Korea. Pueblo would have been further offshore and possibly not even harassed, and the .50 caliber guns might have been manned when the subchaser was first sited had the Pueblo known the arrogant attitude of North Korea.
Pueblo radiomen were in constant communications with Naval Security Group in Kamiseya, Japan during the entire attack, and had received word that "birds are winging your way", but was given no instructions.
The U. S. was not at war with North Korea. Pueblo crew members were incredulous and shocked that we had been attacked and expected the U. S. to attempt to terminate this act of piracy as it happened, and later to retaliate. That the U. S. did neither then, nor retaliated when the EC-121 was shot down with the loss of 34 lives in April 15, 1969 reflects our governments reticence to wage another war. Did not the actions of the government and Pueblo's crew demonstrate the mood of the country at that time?
Copyright © 2010 USS PUEBLO Veteran's Association. All rights reserved.
USS PUEBLO oceanographer
(photo by Mark Edward Harris)