ill-treatment in North Korea

Photo of the Day

North Korean Propaganda Photograph of prisoners of USS Pueblo. Photo and explanation from the Time article that blew the Hawaiian Good Luck Sign secret. The sailors were flipping the middle finger, as a way to covertly protest their captivity in North Korea, and the propaganda on their treatment and guilt. The North Koreans for months photographed them without knowing the real meaning of flipping the middle finger, while the sailors explained that the sign meant good luck in Hawaii.

Flipping the North

North Korean Officials Had No Idea What Their Hostages Were Signaling in This Photo

The men in the photos look a little bored and awkward, maybe uncomfortable or even tense. The more you know about the photos, the more you read into them. But without context, what you see is young men assembled in rows for a formal group photo, staring into the camera or glumly off to the side. It could be a group photo of colleagues or a social club?a hum-drum setup. But stare longer and it?s obvious: In each photo, one or more of them is giving the finger.

All of these men are prisoners, pawns during a politically tense time, and they?re defying their captors in one of the only ways available to them: By flipping the bird.

It was 1968 and the United States was solidly mired in the Cold War, spying on the Soviet Union and its allies and being spied upon in return. The U.S.S. Pueblo was a Navy intelligence ship whose cover was collecting oceanographic data (of the 83 crewmen there were two civilian oceanographers aboard), but its actual duty was collecting intelligence on Russia and North Korea.

On January 23, 1968?just 18 days into its first mission?the Pueblo was approached by a North Korean vessel near the port of Wonsan. The vessel asked them their nationality, and the Pueblo hoisted the American flag. They were told to slow and prepare to be boarded; the Pueblo crew responded that they were 15.8 miles from land, and thus in international waters. But the situation quickly grew dire?three more North Korean boats appeared, and fighter jets flew overhead.

The North Korean ship opened fire on the Pueblo, killing one of the crew and wounding others. The Pueblo was barely armed; rather than fight back they began to frantically burn and dump documents, smashing equipment with axes and hammers. The ship was boarded and the crew taken captive. Bed sheets were cut up into blindfolds; they were tied up, punched, kicked, and prodded with bayonets.

?My mother?s prediction that I would die in dirty sheets was about to come true,?wrote one crew member, Stu Russell. ?And to make it worse, I had my boots on.?

Read more »

×