Lessons from Pueblo and Bonifas?

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We in MABINI are mostly dual citizens now, Filipino and Senior.

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MABINI qua MABINI has yet to lodge its Edca petition. Many are against Edca, others are quiet, one is on record as supportive of the Agreement, no official copy of which has been issued to my knowledge, which I would like to attach to our petition (the third to raise questions on Edca).

Congress is now faced with the dilemma of whether to ask that it not be left out on something so crucial it may affect my apos, eldest not quite six. Would they be better protected? Anyway, why would Edca arguably not be worth the paper it is written on.

The USS Pueblo was boarded and captured by North Korean forces in January 1968. There followed an eleven-month prisoner drama. No Rambo. The North Koreans stated that Pueblo had strayed into their territorial waters.

The US maintained that the vessel was in international waters at the time of the incident. Per the Kanos, on January 22, Pueblo was approached by a submarine chaser and her nationality was challenged; Pueblo responded by raising the US flag. The North Korean vessel then ordered it to stand down or be fired upon. Pueblo attempted to maneuver away, but was much slower than the sub chaser. Warning shots were fired. Three torpedo boats appeared and joined in the chase and subsequent attack.

The attackers were joined by two MiG-21 fighters. A fourth torpedo boat and a second sub chaser appeared on the horizon a short time later. US Navy authorities and the Pueblo crew insist that before the capture, Pueblo was miles outside Nokor territorial waters. North Korea claims the vessel was well within Nokor territory.

The Nokors attempted to board Pueblo, but she was maneuvered to prevent this for over two hours. A sub chaser then opened fire, killing a member of the crew. The smaller vessels fired machine guns into Pueblo, which then signaled compliance. Radio contact between Pueblo and the Naval Security Group in Kamiseya, Japan, had been ongoing during the incident. As a result, the Seventh Fleet command was fully aware of the situation. Air cover was promised but never arrived. The Fifth Air Force had no aircraft on strip alert, and estimated a two to three-hour delay in launching aircraft. The USS Enterprise was located 510 nautical miles south of Pueblo, yet its four F-4 Baircraft on alert were not equipped for an air-to-surface engagement. Enterprise’s captain estimated that 90 minutes were required to get the converted aircraft into the air. By the time President Johnson was awakened, Pueblo had been captured and any rescue attempt would have failed.

Once Pueblo was in Nokor territorial waters, she was boarded again, this time by high-ranking Nokor officials. Johnson’s “reaction to the hostage taking was to work very hard here to keep down any demands for retaliation or any other attacks upon North Koreans,” worried that rhetoric might result in the hostages being killed. The crew reported on release that they were starved and regularly tortured while in custody. This treatment allegedly turned worse when the Nokors realized that crewmen were secretly giving them “the finger” in staged propaganda photos.

Commander Bucher was psychologically tortured, such as being put through a mock firing squad in an effort to make him confess. Eventually the Koreans threatened to execute his men in front of him, and he relented and agreed to “confess to his and the crew’s transgression.” He wrote the confession since a “confession” by definition needed to be written by the confessor himself. They verified the meaning of what he wrote, but failed to catch the pun when he said “We paean the DPRK [North Korea]. We paean their great leader Kim Il Sung, ” “Paean” sounds identical to “pee on”. Following an apology, a written admission by the US that Pueblo had been spying, and an assurance that the US would not spy in the future, the NoKors decided to release the 82 remaining crew members, although the written apology was preceded by an oral statement that it was done only to secure the release.

On December 23, 1968, the crew was taken by buses to the DMZ border with South Korea and ordered to walk south one by one across the “Bridge of No Return.” Exactly eleven months after being taken prisoners. The US then orally retracted the ransom admission, apology, and assurance. Pueblo is still in North Korea today.

Prof. Roger Fisher specialized in negotiation and conflict management. He was the co-author of “Getting to YES,” the classic book on “interest-based” negotiation, as well as numerous other publications. Roger was our Harvard Law teacher. (He’s gone now, where Alvin Capino just joined him. Condolences.)

On our first day in his class in January, 1968, he asked us to resolve the Pueblo problem, how to solve the Pueblo crisis. Inconclusive and one suggestion was to appeal to the Pope.

West Point alum Capt. Art Bonifas was axed to death by the Nokors in August, 1976 in Korea’s demilitarized zone, in full view of his comrades. What did the US government do? Virtually nothing.

The lesson of Pueblo and Bonifas is that even in protecting their own, the Americans weigh many, many considerations in polycentric situations.

Why should they rush to help their Little Brown Brothers just cuz of EDCA?

But it is good that after PNoy’s firm stance many countries have announced their support for us in seeking a peaceful way out. The US, Japan, et. have stood up to be counted. Taiwan should support us. South Korea has a battalion helping in the Yolanda-stricken areas.

Countries will come to support us to protect their own interests. But Pueblo and Bonifas show that it would be folly to put our eggs in one basket, that of America with whom we had a war from 1898 on.

No permanent friends, no permanent enemies, only permanent interests.

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