Purpose: On January 23, 1968, North Korean naval forces captured a U.S spy ship, the USS Pueblo, off the coast of Wonsan. This incident nearly led to a second Korean War and heightened hostilities between the U.S and North Korean governments. This article demystifies the strategic thinking of Kim Il Sung’s regime and clarifies the reasoning behind Pyongyang’s risky undertaking in capturing the Pueblo and its crewmen as a rational and pragmatic action.
Design, Methodology, Approach: While the Pueblo crisis has been examined by a number of historians, this article which is based on former Eastern bloc archival documents and North Korean periodicals uses a multi-causal theoretical framework from an ancient Greek historian, Thucydides, in order to analyze the importance of fear, honor, and interest within North Korea’s military culture.
Findings: This article argues that North Korean regime’s fear of South Korea’s imminent economic supremacy and rising Japanese militarism along with defending the honor of Kim Il Sung and the DPRK’s territorial boundaries and advancing the interests of the global revolutionary movement factored greatly into Pyongyang’s decision-making process in 1968.
Practical Implications: In analyzing North Korea’s seemingly irrational aggression, it is vital to take a multi-causal approach, such as the one provided by Thucydides, into understanding North Korea’s past and present actions.
Originality, Value: Rather than arguing the 1968 Pueblo crisis as one motivated by internal or external concerns, this article posits that the North Korean leadership took a number of concerns into account and acted rationally in their capture of the Pueblo spy ship.
Young, Benjamin, "Thucydides in Pyongyang: Fear, Honor and Interests in the 1968 Pueblo Incident" (2020). Faculty Research & Publications. 20.