Thursday, November 04, 2004

Elsewhere in the World

With our return to the somewhat mundane post-election life we've all craved since the Iowa caususes, we find a few tidbits of information that had been tucked away somewhere while we cogitated about how best to keep Bush in office this year.

However, across the Pacific at Camp Zama in Japan, a drama played out in a court martial for Sergeant Charles R. Jenkins, who defected to North Korea rather than face combat in Vietnam. The court sentenced him to 30 days confinement, reduced him in rank to Private, revoked his right to back-pay for his near 40 year absence, and gave him a dishonorable discharge.

After the 30 day sentence is served, private citizen Jenkins will be free to return to the United States to be reunited with family he has not seen since 1965.

The New York Times (hey, I only read it because the hotel gave it to me this morning!) made much of the political angle. By only sentencing him to 30 days, Japanese public opinion would be softened somewhat toward the United States. This is critical because the U.S. wishes to move the Army First Corp from Washington to Camp Zama, and will need a favorable impression for the Japanese public to accept such a move. Recent debaucles in Taiwan have raised Japanese concerns in recent months over any such U.S. military presence in their country.

All that aside, the more significant story for me is the story of a defector who found out the hard way (as they nearly all have) that life is never as rosy elsewhere as it is in the good ol' United States.

Jenkins and his wife recounted their experiences together in a hostile and socially backward country. Their marriage was arranged, and tightly controlled from the beginning. They were rarely without the "companionship" of their Political Advisor. Jenkins was forced to study and memorize the writings of Kim Il Sung, North Korea's vicious and delusional founder and dictator. Kim's son and current NK leader, Kim Jong Il is described as an evil man who runs an evil system.

I do not wish to sound harsh, and I certainly don't know what I would expect had I made the same choices Jenkins made forty years ago. Still, Jenkins made those choices. Rather than Canada, he made North Korea his hiding place of choice, and suffered serious depravations as a result.

I cannot agree with those who may wish to demonize this man, especially since he has seen the error of his ways and more than understands the benefits of citizenship in the United States. Still, great care must be taken to use Jenkins' story as a means of teaching people what citizenship in this country means. Expecially in the context of the tremendous responsibility we have to participate in our republican processes in order to maintain those freedoms we enjoy.

Life here may not be perfect. Certainly the liberals of this country may not have much joy in their hearts after the election, and I'm certain we've not heard the last of such issues as gay marriage and abortion rights. But people need to be glad that we still, after more than two hundred years, have the ability to keep talking about it. Even in angry tones.

God help Mr. Jenkins and his family in their new life together. And God bless America.


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