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Publisher's Summary

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 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, ex-submarine 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 patrolboats, 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 war - with fifty thousand American soldiers caught between them.

President Lyndon Johnson rushed US 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.

The backdrop of an international diplomatic poker game, Act of War offers lessons on the perils of covertintelligence operations as America finds itself confronting a host of 21st-century enemies.

©2013 Jack Cheevers (P)2013 Blackstone Audio

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  • Jean
  • Santa Cruz, CA, United States
  • 09-18-14

Mesmerizing book

On January 23, 1968 the USS Pueblo, a lightly armed diminutive spy ship was boarded by heavily armed North Korean military near Wonsan and the American crewmen taken prisoner. Jack Cheevers, a former Los Angeles Times political reporter, painstakingly and dramatically describes the seizure of the ship and crew and how close the United States came to becoming involved in a second Korean War. On January 21, 1968 North Korean commandos had attempted the assassination of the South Korean President. The USS Pueblo was never notified of this incident. The author had done meticulous research including tracking down survivors for their stories.

To avoid the potential war LBJ dispatched Cyrus R. Vance to South Korea to negotiate. Cheevers carefully tracks Vance’s delicate mission. For eleven months the Pueblo crew was regularly and savagely beaten, tortured and starved while negotiation to get them back was going on. Cheever’s reports that once freed the crew all suffered from a variety of mental and physical ailments. A Navy psychiatrist diagnosed some of the crew member with “Concentration Camp Syndrome”. (A disorders that afflicted survivors of Hitler’s death camps).

The last part of the book deals with the Navy’s inquiry of the incident. The Court of Inquiry ordered a court marshal of Cmdr. Lloyd “Pete” Bucher but the Secretary of the Navy dismissed it. Bucher and crew had to fight for their reputation the rest of their lives. Many years later, after a long fight by supporters, the crew was finally awarded the POW medal.
This book tells an important and almost forgotten incident of the Cold War. The book reads like a suspense military novel rather than a history book. Jeffrey Kafer did an excellent job narrating the book.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Very well done

I was like most people today, never heard of the Pueblo story. I'm glad to be up to speed now. Very well told. Important history for every American to know. You should read to too. You won't be disappointed.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Excellent recount of an all too forgotten struggle

Breezed through this fine work in 4 days, such was my interest in the subject and my love for the author's narrative of same. I HIGHLY recommend it - what I heretofore thought was an ancillary by-product I've now come to appreciate as a pivotal benchmark in our relations with the DPRK.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • C
  • 06-12-16

An interesting but incomplete

What made the experience of listening to Act of War the most enjoyable?

The narrator spoke with a tone and prosody that matched the genre of the book.

What did you like best about this story?

The author does a forthright job in recounting the horrors the sailors experienced during their time of captivity in North Korea and does not fail to inform the reader of the complexities surrounding the return of the sailors to America. Specifically, the author explores whether the commander of the ship, Llyod Bucher, is a hero or a villain. On the one hand, Bucher was regarded with much praise from his subordinates and the American public following the incident in the way he resisted cooperating with the North Koreans, and ultimately during his time in captivity. The incident took an incredible toll on his body, and no doubt, his mental well-being as well. On the other hand, Bucher is the only known American captain to surrender his ship without having fired a single shot. As such, he faced much ridicule from many high ranking officials in the navy.

While this book does an excellent job problematizing whether Bucher is a hero or a villain, it falls short in explaining how the North Koreans benefited from the capture and seems, in large part, unfamiliar with the underpinnings of Korean culture. For one, most Koreans will get defensive if you were to refer to the body of water separating Korea and Japan as "The Sea of Japan". Koreans refer to it as the "East Sea". On a personal note, I think the either name promotes ethnocentrism, so perhaps something more neutral would be appropriate. But returning to the issue at hand, this book would have been more complete if it made an attempt at explaining what the capture of the USS Pueblo meant for North Korea or how documented exactly how the North Koreans managed to sail the ship from Wonson through 'the body of water separating Korea and Japan' to its present day location in Pyeongyang.

Which scene was your favorite?

The part where the crew is being captured. The author's choice of words and narrative cohesion is, to be put bluntly, gripping.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

Likely the same as the title of the book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Great Drama

Having been in the Navy serving as a Radioman 2nd Class, I was keenly aware of the USS Pueblo's capture by North Korea as all crypto materials were considered comprised and had to be replaced. We picked up the material in Subic Bay.

My brother met Murphy, the Pueblo's XO in San Diego and had the impression he was the most harshly punished crew member by the Korean captors. This book paints Murphy in a much different light.

Finally I learn the full story of the Pueblo.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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USS PUBELO

Have two friends who were on the USS PUBELO and they said it was factual

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Truth will out

The government always tries to push the blame down the ladder until it sticks to someone,here they picked the wrong people. Good read or as in my case listen,in fact I will listen again.

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An Unfortunate Episode Exacerbated by Ineptitude

I previously knew nothing about this incident and thought our biggest Naval 'acts of war' since Vietnam era were the USS Liberty (cited in this book) and the USS Cole. My father actually ran into one of the former USS Pueblo crewman, Dale Rigby, in St. George, Utah and gave him my challenge coin; he called to thank me and I'm looking forward to meeting him in person in a few weeks.

This book primarily follows the ship Captain, Lloyd Bucher, from his pre-Pueblo sub-mariner days through the Pueblo Incident and after his repatriation to the US. There's anecdotal passages regarding the other crew members, but mostly focuses on Commander Bucher. This is good since he was at the forefront as well as responsible for everything that happens on his ship. However, much is missing from other crew-members' perspectives and experience (especially while in DPRK captivity); although it seems a mild attempt to get their stories was manifested.

The "...Exacerbated by Ineptitude" isn't a slight at Commander Bucher, rather a typical occurrence in military operations when higher command doesn't value or simply dismisses the assessment of a subordinate commander regarding 'needed support'. The Pueblo was put into a situation that it shouldn't have been without that support, but it seems (from this account) that the global situation (e.g., Vietnam, DPRK situation) predicated much of that dismissal, but really should have been more thoroughly reviewed prior to dispatching this ship on its intelligence mission.

The author mitigates much of the overall responsibility for the mishap away from Bucher, but at the end of the day, he was the one responsible for his ship, the mission and crew. He deserves some of the criticism he received, but really was placed in a no win situation. The fact that most of the crew survived the ordeal is directly reflected by Bucher's actions, perspectively ignoble as they may seem to another military commander.

I usually listen at 3x speed and had no problems with this narration.

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Life over Death

Any additional comments?

If you've ever been in the military you need to read this book. If you've ever been in the US Navy you really, need to read this book. If you are a military officer especially in any kind of Billet with command and Authority you really, really need to read this book. If you are a US Naval officer if you don't read this book you probably have made one of the biggest mistakes of your career.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Pueblo

The latest literature on the USS Pueblo incident from January, 1968--a commissioned US warship was suddenly attacked and captured by forces of North Korea in the Sea of Japan...still held in North Korea.
Jack Cheevers' description of the incident and it's aftermath was a good one, with as little prejudice as is possible. Knowing something about the incident, I knew nothing of the author. So, when I tried a web search for him, I could find nothing except a marketing web site for the book. How does one judge the author's bona fides?
As an audiobook, it sucked badly. Jeffrey Kafer's performance was very poor. He mangled words, especially the Korean and Japanese place names as well as military acronyms and jargon that Cheevers defined whenever there was a need.
The book centers on Cdr "Pete" Bucher, Pueblo's CO, and draws upon other crew experience. Bucher performed masterfully in captivity but was criticized for surrendering without a fight. Bucher was also accused of code of conduct violations by "confessions" made to NK. No mention was made of the the changes in the code of conduct as a result of POW experiences of the Pueblo crew and others during this time.
While the book did an excellent job describing the plight of the crew, I thought it could have spent additional time on the political environment. President Lyndon Johnson, for example, is mentioned in the title, but not much space is devoted to LBJ's actions. Because of the ways that LBJ "fought" the Vietnam Conflict, did LBJ prevent military reaction during the hijacking and delay recovery of the crew in a timely way?
All in all, a good summary of the incident. The book demonstrates that we continue to not learn from our mistakes and reenact "Murphy's Law" time and again. It also illustrates that for every tragedy, there is a scapegoat . Read the book!
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1 of 2 people found this review helpful