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U.S. Sailors Giving the Finger to Their North Korean Captors

Updated on March 21, 2011

North Korean Troops Learn to use "THE FINGER"

Recently (April 5, 2009) North Korea again attempted to flex its military muscle launching a long range missile. The test failed causing some embarassment for the crowd running the show in Pyongyang, North Korea's capital.

The missile launch was another step in the North Koreans attempt to demonstrate its military might and be taken seriously as an international bully. While the missile launch was a failure, it was a little more serious than their unveiling of another new weapon about three years ago.

In 2006 North Koreans unveiled a new weapon designed show that they were catching up with America's militarry might. 

Pyongyang, North Korea - Site Where USS Pueblo Was Held

A markerPyongyang North Korea -
Pyongyang, North Korea
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City of Pyongyang the capital of North Korea and home of the harbor where the USS Pueblo was held.

USS Pueblo

According to news reports at the time, North Korean troops on guard along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that divides North Korea from South Korea, attempted to intimidate U.S. troops on the South Korean side of the DMZ by shouting insults and making insulting and obscene gestures.

Among the gestures was the famous FINGER that every male in our part of the world learns upon becoming a teenager.

Of course, it took that nation's leaders almost 40 years to study and develop this weapon after their intelligence services learned about this weapon from American naval prisioners in their custody.

For a nation that had tried to isolate itself from the rest of the world, especially the democratic west, and keep its people from falling prey to our culture, this was a big step.

After all, it was only 4 decades ago that North Korean society, from the highest ranking officials on down was blissfully ignorant of the obscene gesture popularly known as THE FINGER.


USS Pueblo

(U.S. Navy public domain photo from
(U.S. Navy public domain photo from

A Secret Message in a Photo

On January 23, 1968, North Korean naval and air forces attacked a lone U.S. electronic surveillance ship, the U.S.S. Pueblo, which was in international waters off the coast of North Korea on a routine mission to collect and record Communist Bloc military transmissions for later analysis.

Suddenly, the Pueblo was approached and attacked by a North Korean sub chaser. While attempting to escape from this faster and heavier armed ship, three North Korean torpedo boats and two Mig-21 fighter jets joined the sub chaser in attacking the lone and lightly armed Pueblo.

Outnumbered and out gunned, the U.S.S. Pueblo was forced to surrender. It was boarded and towed to a North Korean harbor where its captain and crew were taken prisoner.

In typical communist fashion the North Korean captors mistreated the captain and crew of the Pueblo in an attempt to get them to condemn the U.S. and praise the brutal regime that ruled that country.

While the North Koreans were not able to get the crew to say anything against the U.S. they did manage to get them to pose for a picture.

Having previously discovered that the North Koreans were clueless when it came to understanding the meaning of "the finger", the crew allowed themselves to be cleaned up, put on smiles and posed for a group picture. North Korea published the photo far and wide as an example the crew happily enjoying their sojourn in North Korea's communist utopia.

However, on closer inspection, it was noticed that the neatly folded hands of each member of the crew prominently displayed "the finger".

The propaganda stunt backfired as the world saw the picture as nothing more than a fake. Using American ingenuity the crew had foiled the intent of their captors and secretly communicated their true condition (and true opinion of the "utopia" in which they were imprisoned).

Finally, in December of 1968 the the United States bowed to North Korean demands that we acknowledge, in writing, that the ship was spying in North Korean waters, publicly apologize and promise not to spy on North Korea in the future.

Once this document was received, the North Koreans released the captain and crew of the Pueblo.

As soon as the captain and crew were safely across the DMZ and in democratic South Korea the United States immediately repudiated the statement by stating that it was extracted under duress and that we were not spying, the apology was insincere and that we fully intended to continue spying on North Korea.

This was the diplomatic version of "the finger".

Public Domain Photos from U.S. Naval History and Heritage Commmand Website

 Crew Posing in Photo (note hands)
Crew Posing in Photo (note hands)
Picture of map released by North Korea showing location inside their territorial waters where they claimed they captured the USS Pueblo
Picture of map released by North Korea showing location inside their territorial waters where they claimed they captured the USS Pueblo
Pueblo Crew being exploited for propaganda purposes at North Korean News Conference
Pueblo Crew being exploited for propaganda purposes at North Korean News Conference
Photo of documents North Korean government claimed they captured from the USS Pueblo
Photo of documents North Korean government claimed they captured from the USS Pueblo


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    • AmpMan profile image

      AmpMan 8 years ago from London, UK.

      Pick ups, that's what those North Korean folks need, and learn to play loud ROCK MUSIC.

    • John Z profile image

      John Z 8 years ago from Midwest

      I remember the Pueblo incident and though I was in the Marines a scant 5 years afterwards, I never heard this story or viewed theses photos. LOL Very well written.

    • profile image

      wajay_47 10 years ago

      Way to go, Chuck! I had heard the story of the Pueblo, but not this twist. Gutsy and clever on the part of the crew. Great hub.

    • profile image

      TFW 10 years ago

      Interesting historical tid-bit. Our military, when pressed, has always tried to keep open the lines of truthful international communication.