Act of War
Lyndon Johnson, North Korea, and the Capture of the Spy Ship Pueblo
By Jack Cheevers
(NAL Hardcover, Hardcover, 9780451466198, 448pp.)
Publication Date: December 3, 2013
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In 1968, a small, dilapidated American spy ship set out on a dangerous mission: to pinpoint military radar stations along the coast of North Korea. Packed with advanced electronic-surveillance equipment and classified intelligence documents, the USS Pueblo was poorly armed and lacked backup by air or sea. Its crew, led by a charismatic, hard-drinking exsubmarine officer named Pete Bucher, was made up mostly of untested sailors in their teens and twenties.
On a frigid January morning while eavesdropping near the port of Wonsan, the Pueblo was challenged by a North Korean gunboat. When Bucher tried to escape, his ship was quickly surrounded by more patrol boats, shelled and machine-gunned, and forced to surrender. One American was killed and ten wounded, and Bucher and his young crew were taken prisoner by one of the world’s most aggressive and erratic totalitarian regimes.
Less than forty-eight hours before the Pueblo’s capture, North Korean commandos had nearly succeeded in assassinating South Korea’s president in downtown Seoul. Together, the two explosive incidents pushed Cold War tensions toward a flashpoint as both North and South Korea girded for warwith fifty thousand American soldiers caught between them. President Lyndon Johnson rushed U.S. combat ships and aircraft to reinforce South Korea, while secretly trying to negotiate a peaceful solution to the crisis.
Act of War tells the riveting saga of Bucher and his men as they struggled to survive merciless torture and horrendous living conditions in North Korean prisons. Based on extensive interviews and numerous government documents released through the Freedom of Information Act, this book also reveals new details of Johnson’s high-risk gambit to prevent war from erupting on the Korean peninsula while his negotiators desperately tried to save the sailors from possible execution. A dramatic tale of human endurance against the backdrop of an international diplomatic poker game, Act of War offers lessons on the perils of covert intelligence operations as America finds itself confronting a host of twenty-first-century enemies.
Jack Cheevers is a former political reporter for the Los Angeles Times.
“Comprehensive and compelling… a narrative as fascinating as any fictional spy story… Act of War is likely to be the definitive account of the Pueblo incident.” —The Virginian–Pilot
“Outstanding and necessary.”—Booklist, starred review
“A deep, gripping narrative of the Pueblo story… harrowing.” —Alastair Gale, Wall Street Journal blog
“Readers who appreciate intense accounts of survival against difficult circumstances will find this book enthralling… It deserves a wide audience.”—Library Journal, starred review
"Mesmerizing... a striking tribute to the Pueblo's commander and crew who acted honorably under horrendous conditions."—Murray Polner, History News Network
“Brilliant... One walks away from this book with a deeper appreciation for the burdens of command, and a new gratitude for the men and women who wear a uniform and sacrifice for our freedoms…. With Act of War, Cheevers has created a magnificent historical narrative that reads like a great novel but accurately presents the facts.” —Deseret News
"Act of War is international in scope, well written, and an enjoyable read....highly recommended....[a] gripping account of personal service, tragedy, sacrifice, and perseverance of the crew that played out within the heightened international tensions of the Cold War."—Proceedings
“Sweeping in its power and importance as a historical document and absolutely riveting in its personal stories of sacrifice and heroism, Act of War is the best kind of narrative nonfiction. From the halls of power in Washington to the heaving seas of the Pacific and to the cold, stark torture rooms of Pyongyang, this book leaves no stone unturned. This is a masterwork by Jack Cheevers. I devoured Act of War the way I did Flyboys, Flags of our Fathers and Lost in Shangri-la.”—Michael Connelly, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Black Box
“A riveting, superbly-researched, and revealing account of a Cold War clash at sea between the United States and North Korea—and of the courageous captain of the Pueblo, who stood up both to his brutal captors and to the Navy brass who tried to make him a scapegoat to cover up their own failures.”—David Wise, author of Tiger Trap: America’s Secret Spy War with China
“Cheevers skillfully brings to life one of the most dramatic events of the Cold War, a story of torture, imprisonment, secret negotiations and White House deal making. Today, the Pueblo remains the only commissioned U.S. ship on display as a war trophy by a foreign government. Act of War sheds new light on how that happened, and at the same time it shows how quickly espionage, and miscalculation, can lead to all-out war.” —James Bamford, author of Body of Secrets, The Shadow Factory, and The Puzzle Palace
“Jack Cheevers is not only a terrific researcher but a master storyteller. Act of War reads like a Cold War thriller—I couldn’t put it down.”—James Scott, author of The War Below
“With vivid clarity, Cheevers tells the amazing story of the capture of the Pueblo and its crew—one of many dangerous showdowns between North Korea and the U.S. A fascinating, well-rendered account of a little known episode in the on-going conflict on the Korean peninsula.”—Sheila Miyoshi Jager, author of Brothers at War: The Unending Conflict in Korea
“A fitting tribute to the Pueblo crew, a timely reminder of the nature of the North Korean regime (now developing nuclear weapons), and, not least, a great read.”—Jack F. Matlock, Jr., US Ambassador to the Soviet Union, 1987-91, and author of Reagan and Gorbachev
“Using a trove of declassified CIA materials and interviews, Cheevers provides a valuable new addition to our understanding of what happened in January 1968 when the North Koreans attacked and captured the USS Pueblo.”—Larry Berman, author of Zumwalt: The Life and Times of Admiral Elmo Russell “Bud” Zumwalt, Jr.
“Jack Cheevers' true account of the USS Pueblo will not only glue you to your seat, you'll be stunned anyone survived at all.”—John Geoghegan, author of Operation Storm