Today, the U.S.S. Pueblo is moored in a lonely North Korean harbor, a trophy endlessly floating on the Botong River. To some, the vessel is a prisoner of war, held hostage for 50 years. To others, she is a symbol of victory and a reminder of past hostilities.
Despite the personal beliefs of those familiar with the Pueblo’s story, few can deny that the ship may hold the key to positive diplomatic relations and a more peaceful world in 2018.
Promising Steps Towards a Korean Peace Agreement
The world is changing, and Korea seems on pace to change with it. As of April 2018, numerous sources have reported a push towards peace within the Korean Peninsula.
Officially, the Korean War ended in 1953 with the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement. The reality is much more complex, and much of the world remains unaware that a peace treaty was never signed. Technically, the Korean War is still being waged.
Korea’s Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is situated between the two halves of Korea, a 2.5-mile stretch of land that contradicts its name. The DMZ is considered the “most heavily armed border” in the world, according to the New York Times.
Political analysts believe that two major things must happen in order for a Korean peace treaty to become reality. First, both North and South Korea must become willing to ban military hostiles and denuclearize the entire Peninsula.
In addition, the U.S. will need to diplomatically recognize North Korea and may be asked to formally withdraw all or most of the 28,500 American troops currently stationed in South Korea.
If a treaty is signed, it will be a far-reaching, global endeavour, but that’s nothing new for Korea: the country has been a divided, conflicted nation since the close of WWII and the fall of Japan in 1945.
As Korea had been under Imperial Japanese rule beginning in 1910, the nation was essentially orphaned following the Second World War. In 1948, with the Soviet Union and China backing the North and the U.S. taking control of the South, Korea was split in half.
At the time, the border was never meant to be permanent. Yet Korea remains divided 70 years later.
The Capture and Imprisonment of the U.S.S. Pueblo
The U.S.S. Pueblo was born in the 1940s and constructed near the tail end of WWII. The Pueblo was built by Kewaunee Shipbuilding and Engineering, and named in honor of Pueblo County, Colorado.
The Pueblo first took to sea in 1945, and by the start of the Vietnam War, it was classified as an environmental research ship, designed to collect military intelligence. In short, the Pueblo was a spy ship. And in January 1968, the vessel left Japan and headed west towards North Korea to gather intel.
The event that is now known as the “Pueblo incident” occurred on January 23, 1968.
The Pueblo’s exact position at the time of the attack remains unclear: North Korea has never wavered in its claim that the ship was in their territory. Conversely, U.S. officials maintain that the Pueblo remained in international waters.
Reports indicate that North Korea opened fire on the U.S.S. Pueblo after receiving no response to their “cease fire” order. Ultimately, the Pueblo was pursued by two submarine chasers, four torpedo boats, and two MiG-21 fighter jets.
83 crewmen were on board the Pueblo when North Korea attacked. One sailor was killed while the ship was under fire. Historical records indicate that the remaining crew surrendered quickly, since the Pueblo’s weapons weren’t armed at the time of the attack.
The Pueblo’s crew were held prisoner for nearly a year. On December 23, 1968, exactly 11 months after their capture, the 82 remaining sailors were released.
To Promote Peace, North Korea Should Return Pueblo to the U.S.
While the official status of the U.S.S. Pueblo remains “active,” it currently serves as a museum ship, at the Victorious War Museum in Pyongyang. It has been suggested that the Pueblo should finally be released from captivity, serving as a symbolic gesture towards the possibility of peace.
After all, where an integrated Korea is concerned, the U.S. is a major player in the game. The Trump administration may be more likely to recognize North Korea diplomatically if it sees concrete evidence of the country’s willingness to compromise.
Further, the return of the Pueblo could put a compassionate, human face on a country that’s long been looked at with distrust and fear by American citizens.
The time is ripe for North Korea to act — to take the necessary steps towards denuclearization. A return of the U.S.S. Pueblo after half a century may just be the catalyst that leads to a unified Korea and the end of decades of conflict.