2004 November 04 Thursday
1965 US Army Deserter Tells Of Life In North Korea

US Army Sergeant Charles Robert Jenkins from North Carolina, age 64, deserted his unit in South Korea and crossed over into North Korea in 1965. He eventually married a Japanese woman there when the government chose her for him and they had two children. He has finally left North Korea after his wife was let go as part of a deal between North Korea and Japan. In a trial that sentenced him to 30 days in a US military jail in Japan Jenkins and his wife described life in North Korea.

The Americans, he said, were forced for 10 hours a day to study and memorize the writings of North Korea's founder, Kim Il Sung, writings that he called "class struggle from the perspective of a crazy man."

Six months ago, while he was still in North Korea, such a statement could have earned Sergeant Jenkins execution. He said here on Wednesday that if he had once criticized Mr. Kim or his son and successor, Kim Jong Il, there would have been no forgiveness. "Go dig your own hole, because you are gone,'' he testified. "I have seen that done."

With no heat or electricity in their Pyongyang house during most of the winter, she said that to sleep in the cold "we would wear everything we owned in terms of clothing when we went to bed." Warm water never flowed from faucets. Warm baths were rare luxuries.

Reading at night was by candlelight. When the candle wick had burned, she said, her husband "would collect the melted wax in a can and use it for a homemade candle." With the food rationing system breaking down, she said, they grew vegetables and raised chickens in their yard, but the family often went to bed hungry.

The family was forbidden to leave the house without their political supervisor. Coils of barbed wire surrounded their house, she told the court.

North Korea is a cold place in winter to not have heat. My guess is their clothing was poor as well.

One can not refuse anything the government in North Korea tells you to do.

Jenkinsís day in court was charged with emotion as he tearfully described his reasons for deserting, the drunken night on which it happened, and his life in Pyongyang, the capital. He was found guilty on the count of aiding the enemy by teaching North Koreans English. ďYou donít say no to North Korea. You say one thing bad about Kim Il Sung and you dig your own hole, because youíre gone,Ē he said.

Jenkins said he realized his mistake within one day of being in North Korea.

His former commanding officer thinks Jenkins should be imprisoned for life but others think he has suffered enough.

"Desertion is a very serious crime, especially in wartime. ... Jenkins ought to be in jail for the rest of his life," said Darrell E Best, now a retired lieutenant colonel.

Others argued that Jenkins had suffered enough by spending most of his life in one of the world's most impoverished and oppressive countries.

"He has done his tour in hell already," said Brendon Carr, a former military intelligence official. "His daily punishment the last 40 years must have been waking up and realising what a fool he had been to defect to North Korea."


From 1965 to 1972, Jenkins was put in a one-room house in North Korea with three other former American soldiers.

The men slept on the floor, bathed once a month and more in summer, and were forced to study the teachings of leader Kim Il Sung.

"Each day for the first 15 years I wished I would just die."

I think 40 years in North Korea is such severe punishment that the man has suffered enough for desertion.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 November 04 01:49 AM  Korea

Invisible Intellect said at November 4, 2004 12:39 PM:

"He has done his tour in hell already," said Brendon Carr, a former military intelligence official. "His daily punishment the last 40 years must have been waking up and realising what a fool he had been to defect to North Korea."

From 1965 to 1972, Jenkins was put in a one-room house in North Korea with three other former American soldiers.

The men slept on the floor, bathed once a month and more in summer, and were forced to study the teachings of leader Kim Il Sung.

"Each day for the first 15 years I wished I would just die."

I think 40 years in North Korea is such severe punishment that the man has suffered enough for desertion.

Here is a cold war joke about communism... It's from France:
One day, the Soviet President Leonid Brejnev is visiting Georges Marchais,
the leader of the French Communist party, in Paris.
But the son of Marchais is a terrible kid, and he trains their parrot who speaks both
French and Russian, to say bad things against communism and the Soviet system,
so that his father is embarassed. The bird starts saying " Down with communism and the Soviet Union,
Brejnev is an idiot, etc..". And the bird just won't shut up, just when Brejnev is on his way from the
airport to the house of Marchais. Brejnev and his body guards are at the door, and the bird keeps
saying all these embarassing things against the Soviet Union and communism... Marchais is desperate
because he worries that if Brejnev hears this parrot, he will think that the bird is just repeating what
Georges Marchais and his family are saying every day. As a desperate measure, just before Brejnev
is admitted to the house, Marchais grabs the parrot by its neck, opens the refrigerator in the kitchen,
and imprisons the bird inside the freezer, so that nobody can her it.
Brejnev finally enters the house, and says that he is very happy to be among French communists. Brejnev
opens his briefcase and shows a bottle of specially made Russian vodka he wants to present the Marchais
family as a gift. "Comrade Marchais", says Brejnev: " This is the best Russian vodka made by our working
class people in state owned factories, where only
the finest grain harvested by our hard working communist farmers, is used.". But just before Marchais
opens the bottle, Brejnev adds: "Before we open the bottle and drink it together, this vodka must be
chilled in the freezer for at least one hour, let's go to your kitchen and put the vodka in the freezer immediately
while we are starting with the apetizers." Marchais says that the refrigerator is full, and that he would rather
drink the vodka immediately, but Brejnev insists, grabs the bottle and runs to the kitchen to place it in the
freezer personally. At that moment, Marchais stops Brejnev just before he enters the kitchen, and
says: " Listen comrade, I have an embarassing confession to make, the real reason I was not letting you
open the freezer, is because I have just locked our parrot inside, because my terrible son intentionally made
the bird memorize anti-communist sentences, in order to embarass me." At that precise moment,
Brejnev says: "Don't worry comrade, I understand, my kids are much worse! If you knew what terrible things
they did in Moscow!" With the misunderstanding resolved, Brejnev and Marchais open the freezer to remove the
parrot and to put the bottle of vodka inside. But when they open the freezer, the bird starts screeming: "Long
live Russia and the Soviet Union, down with capitalism, long live communism!" Marchais is surprized, but
Brejnev then comments: "You see, comrade, what a few minutes of Siberia did to the bird!"

Infidel said at November 4, 2004 9:14 PM:

The NK jokes are to be expected, but really will Jenkins's sentence stop soldiers from deserting in places like Iraq? Also, this is an insult against any soldier who perhaps did not want to serve his/her full term, but did, and did not defect. How many soldiers every day go missing out of spite, on a bender, or miss a formation intentionally, but do not defect. There's a story here, yes. Why did he defect?

Share the jokes, even as the Norks chuckle about conservative moral values, but Jenkins is Pyongyang's best argument that westerners lack moral fiber. After all, we can't control our pitying impulses!

Invisible Intellect said at November 4, 2004 9:39 PM:

Absolutely no insult was intended for the military people, the cold war era
joke was about communism, and the cold weather in Korea and Russia.

It is true that the defector in North Korea and the disobeidence among US soldiers in Iraq,
have different reasons.

For the anti-communism wars like Korea and Viet Nam, the American rebels argued that communism was
not so bad and that we are the ones who are imperialists... Somehow, in addition to saying that we went
to war in Viet Nam to protect the interests of the upper class, the American rebels also argued that
the foreign ideology and our enemies were not that bad after all. It was argued that even if the
communists defeat us and force the United States to become communist, at least we shall have equality with them,
since they are not supposed to be imperialists like us.

But in the case of the war against Islam, the situation is interesting, because even though some of us
will correctly argue that it was for the interests of our oil companies and other evil groups that
we are fighting the war against Muslims, it also is clear that if Al Qaeda wins the war against
the West and occupies the US and Europe, then we will NOT be given equality with them.

Randall Parker said at November 4, 2004 9:43 PM:


What happened to Jenkins in North Korea is a deterrent to any American soldier serving in South Korea.

The bulk of the US soldiers in South Korea who didn't want to complete their terms who did not defect did not do so for many reasons. One reason is is that the vast bulk of the US soldiers understood that North Korea was and is a hell hole. Jenkins was a fool to defect. He's like those two NSA guys who defected to the USSR back in the 50's because they believed some Soviet propaganda magazine about life in the Soviet Union. Except Jenkins is even more foolish since North Korea was and is far worse than the post-Stalin era of the Soviet Union.

Since the vast bulk of US soldiers did not defect to North Korea the Jenkins defection says little or nothing about the West.

gene berman said at November 5, 2004 4:48 AM:

Without commenting on any other aspect of the case, I just thought I'd pass some information regarding the contemporary--1965--and germane to Jenkins' own specific knowledge. I was in the Army in Korea in 1961 and 2, which is roughly comparable.

At that time, there were still being repatriated (according to regulations of the Geneva convention) Korean nationals who had ended up in
Japan (most as former Japanese soldiers or our prisoners). Most POWs had been repatriated not long after the war but many stayed in Japan and, later changing their minds and desiring of repatriation , had to be offered the choice beween North and South (as the division had not existed when they'd left.

The choice of these men was overwhelmingly, something like 90%, in favor of North Korea. From our present perspective, and for those much younger than I, this seems hard to understand. But in that time (and in the prior years), what we now call South Korea was a very
backward agricultural area. It had only one city--Seoul--of importance; even there, a great many of the inhabitants,perhaps even more than half, were simply people from North Korea who'd managed to get out to the South before (and during) the Korean War. Viewed geographically, one could even say that Seoul was the southernmost city of the northern part of Korea (whereas now it's the northernmost part of the southern half). The north had everything: education, roads, electrification, heavy industry, mining, busy ports, major cities and cultural centers and activities, newspapers; even the topography was varied and interesting. The south was just a broad agrarian plain and populated by the more backward segment of the population. Just to impress on the spectacular change which has occurred over the years, I'd point out that in 1961, the exports of South Korea to the US would not have amounted to the value of the houses on my block; the
largest such export was about $50,000--the efforts of a US sergeant who bought reed mats from elderly villagers (who made them during winter months) and sent them to his wife to sell in the US. A further reason (for the choice of the north by the returnees) was that the gov't.
of the south, headed by those who'd historically opposed Japan, had not yet "normalized" relations with that country and thus had no trade,
diplomatic relations, or media connection; the north had all of these things. Just some perspective. And the present situation could hardly present a more stark comparison or a clearer lens throughwhich to appreciate the differences between collectivism and capitalism.

Invisible Mind said at November 5, 2004 5:24 AM:

The North Korean version of collectivism, is probably the worst example of
collectivism, since the monopoly belongs to the ruling family and thugs over there.

The Scandinavian countries, on the other hand, always had a nurturing family
capitalism, which was not called collectivism, but a certain form of civilization.

Infidel said at November 5, 2004 10:52 PM:

That you, Gene, for that point.

However, generally, the disagreement I have, is that Jenkins's case is purely a legal one. It also concerns recruitment policy during a time when joining the military in the US is beginning to look like an open-ended contract favoring the government. Serving in the military then was even worse than it is now. As a matter of fact, the experiences in Korea and Vietnam prompted reforms which the Iraq war threaten to undermine, like the end of conscription and rotation. Now, along comes Jenkins, as if out of a time machine. When soldiers today are deserting and going to Canada, Jenkins's case is a precedent Washington doesn't need.

Irrelevant to this issue, but very useful, is the information he brings about NK. As far as Jenkins's case is concerned, though, that's irrelevant. Jenkins could have defected to France, and there's still a problem. Discipline is a commander's decision within the legal bounds set by the UCMJ. Moral arguments about leniency and mitigation belong to policy at the national and congressional level, not at the theater level. The judge overstepped his perorogative. Its not the judge's job to make policy, just interpret the law. The facts are, that Jenkins willfully broke his oath by deserting. And then, he stayed and did more than just live. Then, he frustrated the American government's attempt to prosecute him by pitting Pyongyang against Washington. At one time he involved at least Beijing, Jakarta, and Tokyo. He strained relations between Tokyo and Washington. Whether or not he was injured or chronically ill is still debatable, but it seems probablr that he lied to his own advantage. All this was done while Jenkins was technically a soldier, because the military acted as if he never left. That little photo-op propaganda stunt, showing his emaciated body in a uniform he never wore was either Washington's greatest ploy or a defense lawyer's brainchild, but it was disgusting. What soldier in any situation would get mitigating circumstances for running all over Asia looking for a place to hide. If this man is not cowardly, I don't know the meaning of the word. He deserves not sympathy, but scorn. He deserves to be in jail until death, because I don't want him near good people.

I don't have to spare a kind thought for Jenkins. I do worry about the soldiers who are disgruntled but do not defect to make a cheap political point. Obviously he was intelligent enouigh to know the difference between his home, South Korea, and North Korea, and he was intelligent enough to be duped by propaganda. Stupid people just follow leaders blindly, but it takes some intellectual defect to be susceptible to lies. He knew the political ramifications enough, because the military teaches all recruits enough politics just so they know that desertion is bad. None of us know much about NK, but we know its not going to be a good place to visit and that the consequences will probably be bad, expecially if we work for the government. Why not just join the commies in the SK mountains? No one ever found most of them, at least during the war. Or back to Japan? Because the US military would never go North unless there was an invasion, which during this long truce no one would conceive of, except the conspiratorially minded and Pyongyang. That means he deliberated about his choices. This man committed a crime by any definition. he just didn't go on a bender and shack up with his girlfriend for a few days.

The more I think about Jenkins, the more I believe he's duped us all. He's not telling the whole truth about his intentions and actions. Or Washington is so embarrassed by him and his stunts that they want him out of the headlines quickly, because of the elections, to avoid a bigger international fracas involving an already explosive region. And that is just so wrong.

gc said at November 5, 2004 11:24 PM:


Or Washington is so embarrassed by him and his stunts that they want him out of the headlines quickly, because of the elections, to avoid a bigger international fracas involving an already explosive region. And that is just so wrong.

The whole point of militaries is that sometimes you have to choose the less bad choice - i.e., sometimes you *do* have to kill. Most on the right understand this.

Unless you can argue that the demoralizing effect on our soldiers in Iraq was greater in effect than the alienation of millions of Hello Kitty types in Japan - who we need on our side for any shenanigans the Norks might pull - then I don't think you can make a coherent case that our treatment of Jenkins was not the "least bad" outcome.

Infidel said at November 6, 2004 12:57 AM:

Just for argument's sake, since this is the first good comment, as opposed to the mawkish many, I have read on this issue, taking Karl Rove's lesson from the election, its better to secure the base than to convert the opposition. Those who support the US position on NK in Japan outnumber the dissenters, so assuring them that the US military will be strong is better than assuaging the dissenters' concerns. Also, at some point some of the moderate dissenters will recognize that a strong military is better, too, leaving the minority to support appeasement.

Eric said at November 6, 2004 9:59 PM:

Those who support the US position on NK in Japan outnumber the dissenters, so assuring them that the US military will be strong is better than assuaging the dissenters' concerns.
The population in Japan who support the hardline position against NK are not focused on Jenkins; he's just some random foreigner sideshow. To them, Soga, the victim of North Korean atrocities, is the central figure of this story. That means that in the mind of the most hardline elements of the Japanese public, the main effect of punishing Jenkins to the maximal extent would not be to demonstrate strength against North Korea. On the contrary, it would be piling more hell onto a real victim of N. Korea (Soga).

If Jenkins wasn't married to Soga, I (and most people in Japan) would say shoot the traitor. He sure deserves it. But his wife doesn't deserve to have her husband shot, after already having had everything stolen from her once by North Korean kidnappers. Nor do their daughters deserve to have their father shot after having been forced to grow up in hell.

Anyway, I don't think that not punishing Jenkins sets a particularly reprehensible precedent; as far as I understand (please correct me if I'm wrong), the trial pretty much turned on Soga's statements, not on Jenkins' cooperation in providing "information" about North Korea (which is probably less than what any tourist would know about the country, and certainly nothing that the stream of defectors to S. Korea haven't already told us).

Randall Parker said at November 6, 2004 10:40 PM:

Various reports on this story claimed that the US government was pressured by the Japanese to go easy on this guy because the Japanese have sympathy for him and his Japanese wife. So I really doubt that this judge who sentenced him made up his mind thinking about Iraq. Given the value of good relations with Japan the light sentence was probably the correct move - especially since 40 years in North Korea is a pretty severe self-inflicted punishment.

Infidel said at November 7, 2004 3:09 PM:

For closure's sake, I'll agree that Soga and the girls are more important than Jenkins and his guilt. Even if the judge did not take the other prblems into consideration, this does set a precedent, if only for bad judging.

Nikolas Maragoudakis said at August 28, 2005 7:56 PM:

I have no good thoughts about this turncoat. Now Senator Smith in Oregon who has voted against the VA Medical bill is a turncoat also as he has his medical his vacation money his travel money and to boot 8 million dollars. Oh how wonderful if you have a yellow streak down your back and refuse to answer just 4 queations i.e. (1. How come you didn't take on the VP and the money he received from Halliburton. (2. How come you didn't question about Iraq more at the begining. (3. Why don't you ask the Pres and VP that thier children who are now of age to serve and go to Iraq. (4. Why did you vote against the VA health medical bill. These are very simple questions or is he to ascared?

Nikolas Maragoudakis a disabled Veteran

Richard E. Norris said at July 10, 2010 8:02 PM:

my dad served in the army during the Korean War.Some of the stuff did and saw haunted him untill he died in 2000. He aid we all had our demonds. But he would serv again if called. He was a true patriot and loved hi country. I dont now what went threw this person's mind, no one knows but him and God. My dad said we do what we do,an pay for our sins. Thank God for those people who maid our freedom possible.

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