On 23 January 1968 the North Korean navy captured the USS Pueblo, a spy ship operating off the east cost of the DPRK. (See the wikipedia account here.) Never one to pass up an opportunity to poke the US in the eye, the Korean Central News Agency unleashed a no-holds-barred harangue on the 40th anniversary of the Pueblo incident: (Careful about clicking that link–Kim Jong Il is an internet expert and may track you down!)
Pyongyang, January 22 (KCNA) — The U.S. should not forget the bitter lesson drawn from the incident of its imperialist armed spy ship “Pueblo” in the last century but stop the anachronistic hostile policy toward the DPRK at once and sincerely opt for replacing the Armistice Agreement with a peace accord.
A spokesman for the Korean National Peace Committee demanded this in a statement released on Tuesday as regards the lapse of 40 years since the incident.
The incident was a product of the U.S. gangster-like policy of aggression against the DPRK in every aspect, the statement said, adding that after that the U.S. continued to conduct aggressive espionage and military provocations, arms buildup and military exercises against the DPRK, driving the situation to the brink of war.
Saying that the root cause of war is the confrontation ruckus kicked up by the U.S. conservative hardliners who are keen on pursuing the hostile policy toward the DPRK, talking about the “nuclear issue,” the statement goes on:
The history and the reality clearly prove that the U.S. is a harasser of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and it is chiefly to blame for posing a threat of war there.
In order to ease the constant tension and achieve lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula, it is necessary to stop the arms buildup and military exercises for aggression conducted by the U.S. and its followers and get the U.S. forces withdrawn from south Korea.
It turns out that the US was not the only participant in the incident to get poked in the eye, however, as enterprising sailors schemed to foil the North Korean attempts to exploit them for propaganda purposes during the crew’s 11-month captivity. Their North Korean captors would often hold “press conferences,” releasing photos of the crew along with prepared statements. The sailors were also subject to indoctrination films, and it was during one of these that the idea for the most effective element of the crew’s own anti-propaganda campaign was born–the Hawaiian Good Luck sign:
The film about the soccer team began with the North Korean team arriving in London and driving through the streets in a bus festooned with flags of the DPRK. As the bus drove down the street one proper English gentlemen complete with derby and umbrella spotted the bus and flipped it off. The man must have been a Korean War vet and he was giving the bus the finger. Whoever was taking the pictures zoomed in on it. A murmur went through the crew, the KORCOMs didn’t know what the finger meant.
[...] We had been captured, but we never surrendered. Damn the Koreans, full fingers ahead!
The finger became an integral part of our anti-propaganda campaign. Any time a camera appeared, so did the fingers. A concern grew among us that sooner or later the Koreans would notice this and ask questions. It was decided that if the question was raised, the answer was to be that the finger was a gesture known as the Hawaiian Good Luck sign, a variation of the Hang Loose gesture. (Account by Stu Russell)
Photos like these were the result, conveying a message any grade schooler in America would understand:
When the captors finally wised up, the crew was beaten and punished for their antics. Still, they were released just a few weeks later without further incident and lived to tell the tale of nonviolent resistance gone right.
With 40 years of hindsight, maybe it’s true that the US is “a harasser of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula”–how else could one spin this American prediliction for obscene gestures? But cultural exchanges such as this foster better understanding among two peoples separated by political considerations in preparation of the day when the DPRK throws open its borders and North Korean kids can compete with their South Korean counterparts in being the savviest exchange students in the US.