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Act of War    by Jack Cheevers order for
Act of War
by Jack Cheevers
Order:  USA  Can
New American Library, 2013 (2013)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

In the 1960s, in the throes of the Cold War, the United States Navy began Operation Clickbeetle: outfitting small, cheap spy ships for purposes of eavesdropping on potential adversaries - including USSR, China, and North Korea. One of those ships, the USS PUEBLO, was just 176 feet long, smaller than some fleet tugboats. The USS PUEBLO crew's ostensible mission would be oceanographic research. The real mission of the crew of this converted World War II cargo hauler was cutting-edge electronic intelligence collection.

And so it was that CDR Lloyd M. Bucher - the ship's newly assigned commanding officer with a reputation for being a 'major-league drinker and party animal onshore' - took the USS PUEBLO on its first operational mission off the coast of North Korea. Then, on a frigid 23 January 1968, the world forever changed for the ship's crew. North Korean ships and aircraft began their unlawful assault. Soon, when the chaos ended, Bucher, his crew, and his ship - battered victims of an act of war - were captured by the North Koreans.

Now, after other books' authors have attempted but failed to tell the whole story, Jack Cheevers delivers a tour de force of narrative history by giving readers Act of War, the bare-knuckled, no-holds-barred tale of the USS PUEBLO and the crew's ordeals as captives in North Korea. Moreover, without pulling punches, Cheevers explains everything that happened to the crew during and after their long captivity.

When readers finish the book, they will then be able to determine for themselves answers to many of the nagging questions that have for years surround the USS PUEBLO incident: Why did the United States government send such a vulnerable, unarmed ship into such a dangerous mission? Did the ship violate international law by getting too close to North Korea? Why didn't someone do more to intervene and rescue the ship and crew? Was the ship unlawfully seized? Did members of the crew consistently conduct themselves with honor and integrity during their captivity? Were secrets revealed? Were American interests compromised? Did officials of the United States government conduct themselves with honor and integrity during the crew's captivity and after the crew's release and repatriation?

Now, I want to offer a personal note: When the USS PUEBLO and its crew were seized, I was employed by the U.S. Navy at an Atlantic command, doing the same kind of intelligence-collection and analysis work. And I remember being on duty when the encrypted teletype messages reported the incident. Like others in my small community of cryptologic technicians (CTs), I was both horrified and furious. 'How dare those ________ communists ________ with our buddies! I hope we nuke the ________ North Koreans!' (You fill-in-the-blanks as you might imagine a young sailor might have expressed his anger.) While reading Jack Cheevers' highly recommended, must-read account of my colleagues' ordeal I was again horrified and furious. My diction has tempered over the years. But my fury remains.

Finally, I will offer this comment: If you read only one book about the Cold War, this should be the one. Trust me! You will never forget - and you never should forget - what happened to those brave men on the USS PUEBLO.

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