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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:53 03/09/2007
News Review #261: November 4, 2004

G.I. Deserter Tells of Cold, Hungry Times in North Korea

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

"G.I. Deserter Tells of Cold, Hungry Times in North Korea"
(James Brooke) The New York Times


US Army Sergeant Charles Robert Jenkins, the husband of Hitomi Soga, pleaded guilty to the charge of desertion, and was demoted to the rank of private, stripped of four decades of back pay and benefits, and received a 30-day jail sentence and a dishonorable discharge.

Introduced above is an article by a well-versed reporter, who has long experience in writing with ample knowledge of Asian affairs. What may be slightly different from the reporter's ordinary tone is the almost non-existent cynicism which sometimes have made his writings a bit too sour in the past. In fact, combined with extensive quotes from the testimonies of Mr Jenkins and Ms Soga, the article is almost touching -- or is it not necessarily the writing style but the story itself that is touching.

Sgt. Charles Robert Jenkins, stationed in Korea in 1965 when he was 25, in fear of being deployed to Vietnam, abandoned his post and walked away from his squad to North Korea in the hope of eventually reaching Russia (USSR). Contrary to his desire and expectation, North Koreans kept him and forced him to teach English to North Korean soldiers and intelligence agents.

In August 1978, when she was 19, Hitomi Soga was kidnapped by North Korean agents. She was forced to teach Japanese as well as disperse her skills as a nurse, even though, and obviously, not very experienced at it at the time.

The two met in June 1980 when Ms Soga was told to study English from Mr Jenkins. In accordance with the indications provided by their guards, Ms Soga and Mr Jenkins got married after 38 days from their first seeing each other. Their love apparently grew after they began to live together, which brought them two daughters, currently 20 and 19.

In 2002, when Prime Minister Koizumi visited Pyongyang, he was told that five hostages would be returned to Japan. They were two couples and a woman. Although the two couples had been previously listed by the Japanese government as possible abductees, the woman's name, Hitomi Soga, was not on the list. There is no way of knowing North Korea's intentions in making such an unexpected move, but in any case that was how, very luckily indeed, Ms Soga returned to Japan after 24 years of abduction.

In May this year, five children of the two couples were escorted back from Pyongyang to their parents in Japan by Prime Minister Koizumi. It was not so simple in the case of Ms Soga's husband, Mr Jenkins, and the two daughters. Through complex diplomatic negotiations, a meeting of the family was set in Jakarta in July. With firm determination and shrewd tactics by Japan's government officials at the scene, the family became able to successfully fly to Tokyo together.

At that point, there was one more thing left to be settled before the family could truly set their home in Japan. The US Army was after Mr Jenkins for committing the most serious crime for any military force, desertion, among a few other charges. Mr Jenkins, after released from the hospital in mid-September, voluntarily reported to Zama US military base in order to "move legal steps forward."

In the court-martial on November 3, Ms Soga reportedly told the court, "I only hope that the small happiness we have as a family will grow bigger and bigger."

The article introduced above writes, "Apparently to minimize American media attention, the one-day military trial took place as votes were being counted in the American presidential election." There would never be any official acknowledgement of this hypothesis, but whatever the aim, the timing was indeed just right. Mr Jenkins have done nothing against Japan, rather he effectively saved and supported a kidnapped and lonely Japanese girl in North Korea. If there would be anyone dissatisfied with the outcome in the sense that the punishment was too light, they would be hard-liners in the US, whose dissenting voices could be effectively muted at this timing.

So the family lived happily ever after -- it might the normal ending if this were a fiction. But there is still one large piece missing to truly conclude the story. When Ms Soga was abducted in 1978, she was walking with her mother who was 46 at the time. Ms Soga has not seen her mother since. Until her return to Japan Ms Soga had hoped that somehow her mother was able to get away from the North Korean kidnappers. In Japan, however, it was a case of mother and her daughter disappearing together. They were both presumed dead and a funeral was performed after 15 years since the disappearance. To the inquiry made by the Japanese government, North Korea has said there is no trace of Ms Soga's mother on their record.

It must never be forgotten also that North Korea has not made any sincere effort in their search for or provided substantial information on many Japanese citizens suspected to have been abducted by the North Korean government, including whereabouts of Ms Yokota, abducted in 1977 when she was 13 years old.

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