Hostage crises almost always involve a tradeoff between the “national honor”—bound up with national identity and a sense of self-esteem—and the desire to get hostages back safely and without loss of life. This was certainly the case in 1968, as President Lyndon Johnson and his advisers agonized over the crew of the USS Pueblo, which had been seized by North Korea while on an intelligence-gathering mission at the height of the Cold War. Such episodes also commonly lead to a frantic search for historical analogies and policy options that will attain one objective or another. Various historical analogies influenced the deliberations of U.S. policymakers as they looked beyond cases involving the seizure of intelligence-gathering ships to other types of hostage incident involving U.S. helicopters and spy planes. They gradually pieced together a solution to the problem at hand, much as one would a jigsaw puzzle.

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