Kudos to Jeremy Kirk of the Far Eastern Economic Review for getting the first interview with U.S. defector Charles Robert Jenkins. He is now in Japan with his Japanese wife Hitomi Soga (who as a young girl was abducted to N.Korea), and is wanted for desertion by the U.S. military. Several interesting things came out of the interview:
– He plans to turn himself in to the U.S. military, to “clear my conscience.” He pleads guilty to at least 1 of the four charges against him.
– He was beaten frequently by another U.S. defector, James Dresnok (who will soon be profiled in a documentary as noted recently by NKzone).
– He suffers from panic disorder as a result of the way he was treated in North Korea.
– He once attempted to leave N.Korea by requesting asylum at the Russian embassy.
– He says he and his wife Hitomi shared a hatred for the North Korean regime.
– He says that earlier this year, Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi had offered to take him back to Japan. He declined because North Korean authorities had threatened him.
– He is offering the U.S. government information about other foreign nationals used as spies in exchange for an agreement in which he would be sent home to his family in the U.S. rather than to prison.
Jenkins arrived in North Korea already a service veteran. He dropped out of school in North Carolina in the seventh grade, not long after the death of his father, and in 1955, at 15, he entered the National Guard. After an honourable discharge in April 1958, he enlisted in the regular Army. By August 1960 he had begun a 13-month tour in South Korea, during which he was promoted to sergeant; he was returned for a second tour in September, 1964. Then, on a bone-chilling night early the following January, on patrol along the Demilitarized Zone, the 24-year-old sergeant with an unblemished nine-year service record vanished. The U.S. government considers him a deserter, saying that he left behind letters stating his intention to defect; members of his family in the U.S. have said they are convinced that he was captured by the communist state….
Now that he’s left the country, Jenkins no longer disguises his bitterness at the North Korean regime. His legal defence is based in part on the notion that he learned to feign fealty to a regime he despised to avoid death and keep his family together….
What he wants now is an end to a nearly four-decade Odyssey, as he prepares to turn himself over to the Americans. He has no interest in getting a civilian attorney. “The American Army has supplied, assigned a very capable man to me, to help me, bring me to military justice. I don’t think I need no civilians. All I want to do is clear myself with the American Army.”
I don’t know why I feel any emotional investment in this story. Maybe it’s watching a stoically emotional Hitomi Soga with a camera in her face on so many Japanese news stories. Maybe it’s wanting to get beyond the absolutely idiotic fixation on Vietnam in the current U.S. presidential campaign.
Please, can we just forgive Clinton and Cheney and Brokaw and Matthews and O’Reilly and Russert and everyone else who avoided military service altogether, and Bush and Gephardt for taking the National Guard route, and Gore and Safire for taking the military reporter route (and me for taking the language-school route), and Kerry for bailing out on his Swiftboat “Band of Brothers” just as soon as he got his third purple heart? Jenkins wasn’t a politically ambitious officer. And he was very far from being a Yalie. He was a hardscrabble, ill-educated NCO, who seems to have done something very stupid nearly 40 years ago. He’s willing to face military justice–as he should–and to pay a price to keep his family together.