December 19, 2004


Until Amritas put me on the spot, I didn't know the full details of Charles Jenkins' desertion. (Remember he's the guy who was in North Korea for almost forty years and just turned himself in.) When I first heard the gist of the story, I thought he was despicable, but now I believe he's paid the price for his choice.

Jenkins' unit, he had learned, was scheduled to ship out soon to the live war in Vietnam, a prospect that terrified him. "I did not want to be responsible for the lives of other soldiers under me," he said during his court-martial trial last month. So Jenkins looked for a way out. He could confess his cowardice to superiors and accept the consequences or attempt somehow to flee. He chose the latter option.

He should have chosen the former. When you sign up for the military, you'd better be prepared for the worst assignment possible in exchange for that precious GI Bill. You don't get to pick and choose with the military -- as Paredes and Hinzman believe they can -- so if you break that contract you signed, you go to jail. You don't try to flee. That said, Jenkins paid dearly for his error in judgement, working as a slave to the North Korean government for 40 years, and turned himself in willingly at the first chance he could find.

He would plead guilty only to desertion and aiding the enemy (for the time he spent teaching English). In exchange, his penalty would be a maximum 30 days' confinement, a demotion to private, forfeiture of all pay and benefits and a dishonorable discharge. Military-law experts assume Jenkins won this relatively lenient treatment in exchange for providing intelligence about North Korean spy programs. Neither Jenkins nor the U.S. government will comment on any such discussions.

Jenkins has paid his debt to the military and to society, and he has likely suffered far more than if he'd stayed in the Army a few more years. His slate is clean in my book. Hinzman, on the other hand, has far more 'splainin' to do.

Posted by Sarah at December 19, 2004 08:51 AM

"He was young.. he did something dumb. The consequences were pretty severe.... I'd agree he's been punished far worse then our system of justice would have handled him. He didn't go to the media or the Anti-war left (Perhaps he knows something about them he imparted to the government).. he cooperated and to his lumps (he still gets the dishonerable discharge I noted) abeit not that hard.

I'd also say he'd paid his debt to soceity.. anything else is between him and whatever god he believes in.

Posted by: LarryConley at December 19, 2004 09:12 AM

Rodger Young had a similar predicament. His hearing was going and as an NCO he realized that he might endanger those he was in command of. He didn't want to be responsible for the lives of those was in command of under those circumstances.

He chose a different way. Rather than desert his country and his comrades, and rather than turn to his country's enemies for help in the matter he requested, and was granted, a demotion to private.

He died saving his unit from a machine gun emplacement. After being wounded several times he continued to crawl towards the emplacement, taking it out and saving his unit.

I'd say something along that lines would have impressed me; Jenkins betrayal (not simple desertion since he defected to an enemy nation) of his country was simply despicable since he failed to try any other options and chose to run into the arms of America's enemy rather than find a way to serve his country and address his fears.

He did finally pay his debt to his country, though it took him decades to decide to do it. As I recall, there was no question of him paying that debt until the US made an issue of it, and originally it seemed he might have gotten treatment in Japan and gone back to Korea. So I'm not impressed that he might have chosen that course. I believe he simply got caught and was forced to face the music for his own heinous acts. Now if only the US would show the same dedication towards today's deserters in Canada.

"Shines the name, shines the name of Rodger Young."


Posted by: Kalroy at December 19, 2004 12:54 PM

"it took him decades to decide to do it"

Let's suppose he decided to pay for his crime in, say, 1966. What should he have done? Should he have told his captors that he wanted to go back and face the music? Would they have let him go? I doubt it. Should he have died as a martyr under torture? It's easy for me to say "yes" because I haven't been in his shoes.

Posted by: Amritas at December 19, 2004 05:02 PM

Well, he could have made the decision when he went to Japan, but that doesn't seem to have been his aim. When he was on Japanese soil, away from North Korean power, I don't recall any account of him saying he has longed to pay his debt to America.

I could easily be wrong about this, but the first I recall him claiming to have had this change of heart was after Japan had decided to extradite him to the US to pay for his crime. I remain unconvinced that his final change of heart was not self-serving. The only evidence that this might be true is the word of a deserter and a traitor whose actions (failure to make this claim until it was certain he was going back to the US to face trial) seem to belie his words and pleas for forgivness and clemency.

So I'm not buying it. He could have easily made those same statements while under Japanese jurisdiction, before Japan decided to extradite him and he failed to.


Posted by: Kalroy at December 20, 2004 02:43 AM

Mind you, he's already done forty years hard time.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at December 21, 2004 01:21 AM