[The tensions described below — starting 55-years-ago this month — were exacerbated by North Korea’s decision to infiltrate its commandos through the U.S. sector of the DMZ.]
After the North launched the “Blue House Raid” against the presidential residence in Seoul and seized the U.S.S. Puebelo spy ship, many South Koreans demanded a strong response.
But U.S. determination to avoid military retaliation infuriated South Koreans, from the nation’s volatile, hard-drinking president to college students.
The U.S. was afraid of escalating the crisis while Pyongyang held American sailors as hostages. Pentagon planners also wanted to keep America’s focus on the fight in Vietnam, even as North Korea tried to distract and tie down the U.S. military by its attacks during the “Second Korean War” from 1966-9.
South Korea wanted payback, not patience. The RoK government threatened to withdraw some of its forces from Vietnam and complained about America’s slow delivery of promised aid.
On the street, student demonstrations for a stronger response began to include anti-American themes. US soldiers even tussled with students when they tried to cross Freedom Bridge.
“All of this left Americans like (U.N. Commander Gen. Charles) Bonesteel and Secretary of State Dean Rusk ‘deeply disturbed’ and worried about the ‘growing irrationality’ in Korea, particularly that expressed by President Park. Bonesteel conceded, however, that due to American missteps and lack of openness, ‘we have brought [a] large part of it on ourselves.’ In response, it was decided to send Cyrus Vance to Korea as Johnson’s personal envoy to try to calm tempers.”