The Capture of the USS Pueblo (McFarland, 209 pp. $39.95, paper; $9.99, Kindle) by James Duermeyer is an efficient and instructive review of one of the all-but forgotten events of 1968. As with many books these days, there is a longish subtitle which, in this case, is a helpful summary: The Incident, the Reaction, and the Aftermath.
It is important to remember that in January 1968 (when the Pueblo was captured) the Korean War was a recent memory in the American psyche. When you add to this the nation’s turmoil in 1968 over the Vietnam War, then the possibility of this series of foreign policy and military blunders involving a poorly designed spy ship was, in retrospect, almost inevitable.
Within a week after the capture of the ship, the Tet Offensive was unleashed. By the time the crewmen were released in December, Richard Nixon had been elected president, after LBJ chose not to run for re-election. The Vietnam War was a constant presence in the Johnson Administration’s deliberations about how to respond to the capture of the Pueblo. Military options were considered. But in the end, negotiations assured the release of the crew.
Duermeyer. who has master’s degree in U.S. History from the University of Texas, served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. After the war, he continued his Navy career in the Reserves, reaching the rank of Commander. Duermeyer has written five historical novels she he retired from the Navy. In this book, he writes about a time and a subject (naval history) for which he seems well qualified.
The Capture of the USS Pueblo comes in at a compact 172 pages of text, with an excellent preface, introduction, and epilogue. These short sections book-end six chapters, which are a bit over-analytical. What’s more Duermeyer does not provide a compelling narrative arc in the book.
On the other hand, he includes several interesting facts and stories, including some dealing with the negotiations. However, one wishes that he humanized the main players a bit more, especially the Pueblo’s captain, Cmdr. Lloyd Bucher. The book jumps around chronologically, with many references to post-release reviews and findings that disrupt the flow of the story.
North Korea remains a mystery, but Duermeyer does shed some light on North Korean political thought. He devotes an entire chapter to “Juche,” an ideology that demands independence and “self-sustainability” in foreign policy.
Duermeyer also provides interesting background and analysis of the Korean leader, Kim Il-Sung, which could inform our nation’s thinking as we continue to struggle in our relations with North Korea.