Hawaiian Good Luck Sign

Hawaiian Good Luck Sign (USS Pueblo.org)

Communist North Koreans captured the U.S.S. Pueblo, imprisoned its crew, and began using them for propaganda purposes, coercing them to write apologies and trotting them out at press conferences that North Korea used to its advantage.

The October 18, 1968 issue of Time revealed that the men of the Pueblo, while appearing to cooperate with the North Koreans (out of fear for their lives) were actually giving their captors the finger. Korean culture did not recognize a raised middle finger as a gesture of contempt.

The North Koreans, learning the truth through the magazine, punished their prisoners severely.

The Time photo caption makes a witty allusion to Marshall McLuhan. The men had reasoned that their captors would probably learn the meaning of the gesture sooner or later, but the ethics of exposing a prisoner’s only means of communication is troubling.

For future reference… here’s another troubling photo.

Update: My brother-in-law, Robert, notes that I got a historical detail wrong in this entry… I’ve deleted the offending passage. Thanks for the correction.