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Were the USS Pueblo Incident and the Tet Offensive Coordinated?

Originally published under Ask Mr. History. Published Online: June 10, 2014 
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Mr. History:

I have been reading an account of the Siege of Khe Sanh, which began in January ,1968. There was a note in passing in my readings that the U.S.S. Pueblo was seized shortly after the siege began and incidentally just a few days before the Tet Offensive kicked off. My question is: Are there any indicators that the North Vietnamese and the North Koreans, either with or without the help of the Soviets and/or Chinese actively colluded to time these events so closely as to have an impact on U. S. planning and operations?

It was just a strange thought of mine, but I really do not know if the Communist Forces were that globally sophisticated or perhaps that politically connected or inclined. Any enlightenment would be appreciated!

Kurt Nelson

? ? ?

Dear Mr. Nelson,

The question of just how coordinated the Pueblo incident and the Tet Offensive were is recently addressed in In the Shadow of Vietnam, a 2013 book on the diplomatic relations between the two by Hungarian historian Balász Szalontai (see attached review).
Although Mr. Szalontai has had invaluable access to the former Hungarian People's Republic's documents on relations throughout the Communist Bloc, his efforts were still limited by the paucity of documentation specifically covering the direct relations between North Vietnam and North Korea themsevles, which in 1968 both regarded themselves as more actively engaged in revolution and less compromised in their convictions than the superpowers aiding them, the Soviet Union and China. Nevertheless, he continues to believe that in practice both Hanoi and Pyongyang were pursuing separate agendas more in line with their own national characters and objectives than working together to coordinate a "united front." North Vietnam had spent a long time working up to the Tet Offensive in spite of misgivings in its own camp (Le Duan apparently overruled Vo Nguyen Giap when it came to getting it underway), whereas the North Koreans saw Pueblo's close spying pass as an opportunity and grabbed it. Coincidental though the two events were in terms to time, if Pueblo's seizure was intended to divert American attention from South Vietnam on the eve of Tet, it didn't work. Tet had major consequences, both as a tactical defeat for the Communists and as an unexpectedly effective strategic blow, just by the fact that it happened at all, on wavering American resolve. The Pueblo affair, in comparison, left the North Koreans feeling pretty good about themselves, but otherwise accomplished nothing vis-à-vis the balance of power with South Korea and the United States.



Jon Guttman
Research Director
Weider History Group
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