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Flipping the North Koreans off

with 45 comments

Not many people visit North korea these days but if you are one of the lucky few, more likely than not you will be led through an official guided tour of USS Pueblo – an American Intelligence vessel captured in 1968 – which remains the only American vessel currently in captivity.

The seizure of USS Pueblo is now one of the forgotten episodes of the Cold War. The U.S. claimed it was in the international waters, while the D.P.R.K. insisted that it was in the North Korean waters. Diplomatic and military stand-off that followed was punctuated by a series of photos, films, and letters depicting the crew of the Pueblo enjoying their comfortable captivity.

In reality, however, the crew was being subjected to psychical and psychological abuse. From behind the bars in one of the most isolated places on the planet, the crew nonetheless delivered a master class in political subversion. To undermine the credibility of the letters written home to suggest that they had willingly defected, the crew wrote about the events that never happened. In their press conferences, they used archaic words the Koreans didn’t perfectly understand. Since none of the Koreans knew English well enough to write the confession, the vessel’s commander wrote it himself. They checked the meaning of his words with a dictionary, but failed to catch the pun: “We paean the DPRK. We paean the Korean people. We paean their great leader Kim Il Sung”. (“Paean” is homophonic with “pee on”.)

And almost by accident, they came across the idea behind their greatest coup: in two propaganda movies, the crew noticed people giving the finger were not censored. The crew deduced that the North Koreans didn’t know what the finger meant. In the subsequent propaganda photos of the crew, their middle fingers were firmly extended to the cameraman. When the North Koreans questioned, the crew described it as the “Hawaiian good luck sign.” The ruse went on unnoticed until October 1968, when Time magazine explained the mysterious gesture appearing in many photos as one of “obscene derisiveness and contempt.”

This revelation infuriated the North Korean captors, bringing about a period of severe beatings and torture, and the propaganda letters, photos and videos stopped after this. Yet, it would take two more months for the U.S. to offer a perfunctory apology (retracted afterwards) to ensure the release of 82 crewmen. Diplomatic and morale victory hid the bitter reality that the loss of USS Pueblo was a significant blow to the intelligence services. It is now believed that the Soviets urged the North Koreans to seize the ship so that they can reverse engineer US equipment and codebooks.

Time Magazine never responded to the repercussions that followed its very public explanation, which in its entirely is reproduced below. For more photos, check the link here.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

October 1, 2010 at 11:29 pm

45 Responses

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  1. This site fucking ROCKS.

    persephone

    October 2, 2010 at 7:15 am

  2. So even then Time magazine acted contrary to American interests; traitorous to fellow Americans suffering in captivity and mindlessly giving the American enemy the intelligence to use against us.

    It figures.

    ETat

    October 2, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    • Yeah, I have to agree.

      A boycott should have ensued on Time magazine, for their careless actions.

      Joe

      October 2, 2010 at 10:35 pm

    • Yeah, Time magazine hates America. What rock do you people live under, and where do YOU get your news??

      This is a great story of American courage, and you bring yuor silly little-girl tea party whining to the comments. You should be ashamed.

      TXSwede

      October 4, 2010 at 9:25 pm

      • It is indeed a story of the bravery and ingenuity of the American fighting man. But it’s also a [sad] reminder that there will always be so-called citizens who feel the need to aid the enemy. There is no shame in pointing this out and I’m not sure I understand your point.

        Jimmy

        October 4, 2010 at 10:36 pm

  3. [...] Flipping the North Koreans off Not many people visit North korea these days but if you are one of the lucky few, more likely than not you will be led [...] [...]

  4. Should things ever start up again with North Korea, I’d love to see us take back that ship just because we should. My grandfather fought in that war and I share his opinion, that the government of North Korea would be better off not breathing.

    Brian Green

    October 3, 2010 at 2:29 am

  5. I recall my dad, a career Air Force Sergeant, laughing his head off over these photos at the time. Ahh, pleasant memories.

    Tribeca Mike

    October 4, 2010 at 7:47 pm

  6. Since it is still a United States warship, I think we would be within our rights to sink it.

    A couple of Tomahawks ought to do the trick. Sucks for any Norks on board.

    celticdragon

    October 4, 2010 at 8:15 pm

  7. Maybe Hanoi Jane was working at Time at that moment.

    Jimmy

    October 4, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    • Here’s an idea, Tea Party pea-brains. Maybe the middle finger is a widely recognized gesture and North Korea eventually would have been tipped off. Maybe the USA should have apologized before North Korea started taking trophy photos.

      Avery

      October 4, 2010 at 11:48 pm

      • Why should the US have apologized at all? And as far as the gesture being easily recognized, it’s interesting that no other magazine or newspaper in any other country decided to give the game away.

        Dom

        October 5, 2010 at 1:32 pm

      • You’re an idiot “Avery”. Please kill yourself cause you suck at life. Also, be sure to post where your worthless carcass will be buried cause I would love to shit on your grave.

        Dan

        May 11, 2012 at 4:14 am

      • You dumb C O C K thank god pussies like you arent the ones who fight wars or we would all be speaking a foreign language!! Id like to smack you in your big stupid arrogant mouth!

        Jonny

        March 15, 2013 at 6:29 am

    • NO, it was Cheney.

      Dbrown

      October 5, 2010 at 2:07 pm

  8. I’m no Tea Partier. In fact, I’m not even a Republican. But I say that whenever the media does something that brings “a period of severe beatings and torture” upon its countrymen at the hands of an avowed enemy, then it has acted carelessly, at best, and indefensibly.

    Dave

    October 5, 2010 at 1:09 am

    • Or unknowingly.

      Ken Reibel

      October 5, 2010 at 1:51 am

      • Sounds like a clear case of “stupid or evil” to me. Was Time Magazine stupid or evil in telling people about the birds in the photo? Because if they didn’t do it on purpose, they sure were stupid. But if they did do it on purpose, they were undoubtedly evil.

        Matt

        October 5, 2010 at 4:45 am

      • I don’t buy the ‘unknowing’ or ‘stupid’ excuse…
        print media reaches millions of people each day, and with that kind of power comes an equal amount of responsibility

        rebecca.

        October 5, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    • So I suppose that the torture that has been inflicted in the Middle East (Abu Ghraib, Bagram, black sites)should not be reported because the Arab street will go off? Is THAT aiding the enemy?

      I agree that Time did our men no favors, and should have thought again before they published, but that is not treason, or “aiding the enemy”, or whatever un-American slant you want to put on it.

      TXSwede

      October 5, 2010 at 2:19 pm

      • I see you hate Tea Parties. What a strange thing for an American, contrary to world-envied tradition of freedom and independent thinking.

        But that’s OK -exactly thanks to this tradition you’re allowed to behave stupidly, cut the branch you’[re sitting on, bite the hand that feeds you, etc etc – but only if your stupidity does not harm others, your fellow innocent Americans. Time magazine crossed that line. Recent “leaks” in the press that aided the4 enemy crossed that line.

        As to Abu Ghraib – this so called “torture” is a joke. Maybe you should watch couple of videos of beheadings that our enemy practice and they produced for the world and you to see – this is the real torture. Saddam’s gassing of entire province – that’s where real torture is. He didn;t do it himself, you know. Do you even understand what “war” means? Or you form the picture in your head by watching Hollywood movies?
        And prey tell what the hell is “black sites”?

        I don’t know how it is possible to have an access to internet, to live in this country, not in some isolated mountain village, for the last 10 years and learning absolutely nothing of what really happened?!

        ETat

        October 8, 2010 at 3:54 am

      • Forgot:

        you should be ashamed of yourself. You are an embarrassment to your ancestors: they valued America, they left their hellholes ruled by tyrants to come here, in the free country. You want it to became to hellhole they left behind – with your hatred of Tea Parties.

        ETat

        October 8, 2010 at 3:59 am

  9. [...] Photos has posted the photo of the men of the USS Pueblo saluting their captives, a solute that went unnoticed until TIME was kind enough to explain it to the North Koreans, [...]

  10. Why would Time NEED to explain a gesture universally understood in the English speaking world?
    Indefensible.

    DaninVan

    October 5, 2010 at 9:50 pm

  11. ETat,

    This area has been argued, and your side has lost. America has reconfirmed our past bans on torture, forgotten after 9/11. If you want to drag the US down to the level of our barbaric enemies, that is your business, but it is NOT in the tradition of the US. What are you so afraid of that you would justify throwing out our own morality to try to stay safe?

    My ancestors came here for a better life, under the rule of law, and I fear for America when I hear ill-informed clowns like you use American exceptionalism as a defense for throwing out the rules that make America the best country on earth.

    And by the way, I only dislike Tea Parties because I see them as the stupid-and-malleable wing of the Republican Party. Your posts seem to back me up.

    TXSwede

    October 8, 2010 at 4:29 am

    • See, this is where you make a mistake: “my side” will never lose. Because it is a side of common sense. We see the cause and effect. And you judge the world by theories constructed in liberal arts’ college classes.
      Have all the news from Guantanamo Bay not reach you? Oh, sorry, I forgot – it’s still functioning. And will be, as it should (and should be much more severe to “inmates”) – look at the result of letting the scum out: they continue on their merry way. Even your nincompoop of president now understands it. Apropos of whom: apparently, he continues most the Bush’s foreign policy – surprise, surprise!

      It’s your side that’s lost, TXSwede – and in 3 weeks it’ll be an avalanche.

      Also, about your moniker: take a look at Sweden, long the beacon for American socialists: what party gaining more and more support in the last 5 years in their elections? People with common sense prevail everywhere.
      It will come to you, too.

      I know it.

      ETat

      October 8, 2010 at 11:45 am

      • Damn, TXSwede, do you smell that? It’s a burn!

        lhrdovah

        March 16, 2013 at 3:19 pm

  12. That was irresponsible and thoughtless on the part of Time to publish such a story. But really, awesome act by the crew !

    YMR

    October 11, 2010 at 6:06 pm

  13. [...] A show of defiance ! Not many people visit North korea these days but if you are one of the lucky few, more likely than not you will be led through an official guided tour of USS Pueblo – an American Intelligence vessel captured in 1968 – which remains the only American vessel currently in captivity. The seizure of USS Pueblo is now one of the forgotten episodes of the Cold War. The U.S. claimed it was in the international waters, while the D.P.R.K. insisted that it … Read More [...]

  14. Listening to men who went through that made it easy to decide that the last bullet was for me.

    Ralph

    October 20, 2010 at 8:13 pm

  15. palyaço istanbul olarak asya ve avrupa yakasında gösteri hizmetleri adında profesyonel olarak hizmet vermekteyiz. Sihirbaz , ateşbaz , tahta bacak , jonglör , bisiklet show , gösteri organizasyonu , dansçı kiralama , palyaço fiyatı…

    palyaco

    October 22, 2010 at 9:29 am

  16. [...] The North Koreans bought it. Hook, line and sinker. At least until Time magazine, in their infinite wisdom, explained what the gesture really meant in one of their articles. Amplify’d from iconicphotos.wordpress.com [...]

  17. [...] Flipping the North Koreans off « Iconic Photos And almost by accident, they came across the idea behind their greatest coup: in two propaganda movies, the crew noticed people giving the finger were not censored. The crew deduced that the North Koreans didn’t know what the finger meant. In the subsequent propaganda photos of the crew, their middle fingers were firmly extended to the cameraman. When the North Koreans questioned, the crew described it as the “Hawaiian good luck sign.” The ruse went on unnoticed until October 1968, when Time magazine explained the mysterious gesture appearing in many photos as one of “obscene derisiveness and contempt.” [...]

    links for 2010-12-09

    December 9, 2010 at 1:21 pm

  18. [...] course, the Americans were being put up to it, and they made this clear to the folks back home by giving the North Korean photographers the finger, which the captors didn’t understand.Via The Daily Dish.Related postsUp Yours, North KoreaThe [...]

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    palyaço

    January 13, 2011 at 3:27 pm

  20. Bail Bonds Los Angeles…

    [...]right here are some url links to websites online which I link to since we feel they really are worth checking out[...]…

    Bail Bonds Los Angeles

    October 31, 2011 at 12:54 pm

  21. This isn’t about a “traitorous magazine” that published an article, really it’s about a handful of journalists whose ambitions to make a name for themselves created a huge problem for service men.

    BoB

    May 10, 2012 at 6:44 pm

  22. RIP Steve Robin. We remember.

    Mike

    May 11, 2012 at 3:55 am

  23. Late to the game here; But in fact, in the 1960s, Time Magazine was actually considered one of the most conservative magazines in America. So I’m going with the stupid explanation here. Suck on that, teabaggers. Newsroom has the right idea, but American Taliban is an understatement at best.

    Timothy Lee

    September 15, 2012 at 3:27 am

  24. [...] captors of the USS Pueblo crew allowed servicemen to write letters home to their loved ones and be photographed for propaganda purposes. But as former hostage Rick Rogala recalls in an article in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, it quickly [...]

  25. What I don’t understand is, why hasn’t the ship been destroyed? A single GPS guided cruise missile fired from international waters would do the trick and send a powerful message. Don’t steal property of the USA …you wont be allowed to keep it.

    grant Fournier

    July 27, 2013 at 6:47 am

  26. Drop a nuke on it!

    James Day

    March 30, 2014 at 11:31 pm


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