Thursday, December 9, 2004

In From The Cold

I read this article in the December 13 Time magazine. After reading Fixer's post (or scroll down a teeny bit) on deserters, I thought it might be of interest. It describes the 40-year nightmare of Charles Jenkins who deserted to North Korea in 1965 rather than go to Vietnam, and his recent return.
As it turned out, Jenkins' plan wasn't much of a plan. He figured he would cross into North Korea and then try to find a way to Russia, where he would seek some form of diplomatic deportation back to the U.S. and turn himself in. As he made his way toward the border, he tied a white T shirt over the muzzle of his M-14 rifle and traipsed for several hours through the bitter cold, stepping lightly so as not to trip a land mine. Not long after dawn, Jenkins came upon a 10-ft.-high fence. A North Korean soldier spotted him, alerted his comrades, and they whisked Jenkins inside. The American says he realized almost immediately that he had made a mistake (my emphasis).

No shit, dipstick! What the Hell were you thinkin'? Must've been the goju (very high-alcohol-content Korean rice liquor).
The Americans even coined a word for doing things without permission in this land of the unfree: "freedalisms." On one occasion, the four swam across a river to pilfer a bag of coal tar from a government construction site to repair their (illegal) fishing boat. "To steal something from the North Korean government is immediately punishable by death," Jenkins said during his court-martial. "I think we all secretly wished we would be caught." Another time, they stumbled upon an array of microphones in the attic of their house and blackmailed their leader (who feared he would suffer if his superiors learned that the bugging had been exposed) into taking one of them into town to buy wine. On yet another occasion, Parrish sneaked out of the house one night to go looking for a girl he had a crush on. But Jenkins, as a practical joke, had given him a bogus address, and Parrish wandered the streets aimlessly for hours. He ultimately got picked up in central Pyongyang by police, who suspected he was meeting a spy contact; the leader had to get him out of jail.

Despite the Americans' penchant for freedalisms, the North Koreans were, after seven years, evidently pleased with their behavior and apparent indoctrination. In 1972, the four received North Korean citizenship ("Whether we wanted it or not," says Jenkins) and were ordered to start teaching English at a military school in Pyongyang, run by the party's Reconnaissance Bureau. Jenkins taught three 90-minute classes a day, 10 to 15 days a month. There were about 30 students in each class. "They wanted us to teach them American pronunciation," he says, a prospect that seems amusing considering many Americans would have trouble deciphering Jenkins' thick accent.

In 1985 he was fired for good, he says with a laugh, when the Koreans realized that his English was actually having a negative impact on the students' skills.

The article goes on about his marriage to a kidnapped Japanese woman, his children, life in the Hermit Kingdom, and his eventual return to Japan, where he turned himself in to the Army.
For now, the Jenkins family lives in standard-issue enlisted-family housing in Camp Zama. When Jenkins is officially discharged from active duty and released from the U.S. base, he plans to settle down in his wife's hometown on Japan's Sado Island. He wants to work, and the local mayor's office has said it will try to help him find a job, although it's unclear what work Jenkins could do, especially since he doesn't speak Japanese. His wife already works at city hall and receives a government stipend every month in a program benefiting North Korean kidnapping victims. At some point Jenkins also wants to visit North Carolina to see family members, including his aging mother. Asked how his daughters are faring, Jenkins concedes that he isn't sure. "I just spent 25 days in jail. I haven't really gotten a chance to talk to them that much yet. But I think they will be all right." He starts to sob. "I made a big mistake of my life, but getting my daughters out of there, that was one right thing I did."

This is kind of a long article but well worth a read, in my opinion. It offers a rare glimpse of day-to-day life in North Korea. It was no picnic, to be sure.

I think the point is made that what took Mr. Jenkins a few minutes to do, took 40 years to undo and it ain't over yet and probably never will be. The message to today's deserters, whether driven by conscience or cowardice, is: Act in haste, Repent at leisure.

And perhaps North Korea may not be the wisest choice of places to seek sanctuary!

No comments: