Mister Pterodactyl
Thursday, May 27, 2004
I’ve been following the story about the Japanese who were kidnapped by North Korean agents pretty closely. Of course it’s not news any more, but at the time I was really surprised to learn that one of them had married an American.

On January 5th, 1965, Charles Robert Jenkins, a 24-year-old army sergeant, was leading a patrol near the Korean demilitarized zone. He told his men that he heard a noise and left them to investigate. He disappeared. The U.S. government says that Jenkins crossed the DMZ and defected. His relatives back in North Carolina say he was abducted and brainwashed.

The army says Jenkins left behind four notes indicating he intended to defect, and that ten months earlier he had been reduced in rank as punishment for an unspecified infraction. Some of Jenkins’ family members dispute the existence of the notes and say that there was no sign of depression in his behavior (they’re circulating a petition on the net to have him exonerated). In North Korea, Jenkins taught English and performed in propaganda movies.

Jenkins was the fourth American serviceman to (allegedly) defect. The others are Larry Abshire (May 1962), James Dresnok (August 1962), and Jerry Parrish (December 1963). Two others, Ryan Sup Chung (1979), and Joseph White (1982), are believed to be dead. [How do they know that?]

In 1980 Jenkins married Hitomi Soga, one of the Japanese kidnapped by NK in the 70’s. They have two daughters - Mika, 20, and Belinda, 18, both students at the Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies.

In 2002, five Japanese abductees including Soga were allowed to go to Japan for a visit. The others are Yasushi Chimura and his wife, Fukie, and Kaoru Hasuike and his wife, Yukiko. NK refused to let their families go with them, expecting that would force them to return. They didn’t.

Last week Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi visited NK and returned with the five teenage children of the Chimuras and Hasuikes, apparently gaining their release through a promise of aid ($10 million for food and medical facilities and I’m sure that’s what Kim will use it for). Newspaper reports say that Kim let Jenkins decide whether to leave; he didn’t, fearing extradition and prosecution. Their two daughters also remain in NK.

The Japanese claim that ten more of their citizens have been abducted by NK; NK say the number is eight and that all of them are dead from natural causes. [Do you suppose death by gulag incarceration counts as ‘natural?’] Koizumi, while earning praise for bringing home the five children, has also been harshly criticized for striking a deal without pressing harder for information regarding them.

I generally disapprove of giving NK any kind of aid, but this is a very emotional issue for the Japanese. So I’m pleased that the ten have returned, and I certainly hope the rest can be accounted for. Their remains, if nothing else, could be returned to Japan (as an aside, the issue of the abductees has been a complication in the six-way nuclear talks). More importantly, I hope that Jenkins and his daughters can be convinced to leave as well. If the US government won’t reverse itself and pardon him, he will at least receive a trial.

That said, I think the government should promise not to seek extradition (I don’t know what the law is, but possibly he could be considered as having renounced his citizenship, if he’s not already, and simply barred from returning to the US). Getting them out of NK and reuniting their family is worth brushing aside a forty-year-old crime. And I’m really looking forward to the guy’s biography.

Accuracy alert: all the facts noted in this post were taken from a variety of articles that resulted from a Google search, so there.

[Note on Japanese names: in this post I’ve used given name first, family name last, as it was written in the articles where I found the information. Normally Japanese names are the other way around. Also, I don’t know if Japanese women typically take their husbands’ names or keep their own. Korean women keep theirs.]
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