In March, a South Korean warship was torpedoed, killing 46 sailors and sinking the vessel. Recent evidence strongly implicates North Korea as the most likely power responsible for the attack, though Pyonyang denies any involvement. Now, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has said his country will boost its defense, sever all trade with North Korea and deny North Korean merchant ships access to their sea lanes. The U.S. has backed the South Korean stance.
But this is not the first time North Korea has taken a hostile maritime policy, nor is this the most explicit act of aggression by Pyongyang.
In 1968, North Korea seized the USS Pueblo on an intelligence-gathering mission in international waters, claiming the spy ship had strayed into North Korean waters. The North Korean Navy killed one American sailor in the process of pursuing and boarding the Pueblo, and 82 others were held for 11 months. The U.S. eventually gave the Koreans a written admission and apology, which was immediately rescinded once the crew had been released.
To understand how Cold War events of the late 1960s may inform decisions being made today on the Korean peninsula, we talk with Mitch Lerner, an associate professor of history at Ohio State University and the author of “The Pueblo Incident: A Spy Ship and the Failure of American Foreign Policy.”