Cover image for The reluctant communist : my desertion, court-martial, and forty-year imprisonment in North Korea / Charles Robert Jenkins ; with Jim Frederick.
The reluctant communist : my desertion, court-martial, and forty-year imprisonment in North Korea / Charles Robert Jenkins ; with Jim Frederick.
Publication Information:
Berkeley : University of California Press, c2008.
Physical Description:
xxxvi, 192 p., [8] p. of plates : ill. ; 22 cm.
Super Jenkins -- In the army, and across the DMZ -- Housemates -- Cooks, cadets, and wives -- Soga-san -- Friends and strangers -- Domestic life -- Hitomi's escape -- My escape -- Homecomings.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book 921 JENKINS 1 1
Book 921 JENKINS 1 1

On Order



In January of 1965, twenty-four-year-old U.S. Army sergeant Charles Robert Jenkins abandoned his post in South Korea, walked across the DMZ, and surrendered to communist North Korean soldiers standing sentry along the world's most heavily militarized border. He believed his action would get him back to the States and a short jail sentence. Instead he found himself in another sort of prison, where for forty years he suffered under one of the most brutal and repressive regimes the world has known. This fast-paced, harrowing tale, told plainly and simply by Jenkins (with journalist Jim Frederick), takes the reader behind the North Korean curtain and reveals the inner workings of its isolated society while offering a powerful testament to the human spirit.

Author Notes

Charles Robert Jenkins was born in Rich Square, North Carolina on February 18, 1940. He became an Army sergeant. While patrolling the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea in 1965 while drunk, he walked into the North Korea to avoid facing combat duty in Vietnam. He spent years held with other American defectors, forced to read the works of North Korean leaders and suffering from hunger and beatings. He taught English to North Korean military cadets and appeared in propaganda leaflets and films.

In 1972, he was given North Korean citizenship. In 1980, he married Hitomi Soga, a Japanese woman who had been kidnapped by North Korean agents as part of an effort to teach Japanese language and culture to spies. Soga was allowed to return to Japan in 2002 after a visit by the Japanese prime minister. Jenkins and their two daughters were allowed to leave in 2004 to rejoin Soga.

Once he was in Japan, Jenkins was court-martialed. He pleaded guilty to desertion and aiding the enemy. He was demoted to private, stripped of back pay and benefits, and given a 30-day jail sentence along with a dishonorable discharge. After his release, he worked as a greeter at a tourist attraction. His book, The Reluctant Communist: My Desertion, Court-Martial, and Forty-Year Imprisonment in North Korea written with Jim Frederick, was published in 2008. He died on December 11, 2017 at the age of 77.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Kirkus Review

A riveting account of what happened to a U.S. sergeant after he walked across the DMZ and defected to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in 1965. With the assistance of Frederick, Time magazine's former Tokyo bureau chief, Jenkins describes himself on the day he abandoned the men under his command as a young, scared, slightly drunk 24-year-old who basically wanted to go AWOL and get out of the army. He sobered up during a 40-year Sartrean odyssey in the most Orwellian of nations. Jenkins provides a rare look inside a country where up is down and down is up, where citizens are regularly forced to proclaim their loyalty to the "Dear Leader," where food, heat and logic are hard to come by. He managed to make a go of it, gamely keeping the "Organization" (his word for the Communist Party) at bay and scrounging together a living in a dirt-poor nation. In 1980 he met and quickly married Hitomi Soga, a young Japanese woman kidnapped by the North Korean security services as part of a program to indoctrinate future spies. In 2002, when North Korea was attempting rapprochement with Japan, Hitomi was allowed to visit her homeland; she stayed and ultimately arranged for Jenkins and their two daughters to join her in 2004. He surrendered to U.S. military authorities and received a 30-day sentence and dishonorable discharge for desertion and aiding the enemy. This slender book is short on historical context, although Frederick's long introduction does a decent job of setting up the story and giving some frame to Jenkins's life. The journalist's description of Jenkins's traumatized mental state during their first interview on a U.S. base in Tokyo in 2004 (mere hours after he got out of the brig) casts some doubt over this tale, but it's still well worth reading. Short on history and ideas, but worth it for the rare view inside the North Korean moonscape. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

In 1965, Jenkins, a sergeant in the U.S. Army stationed in Korea, walked across the DMZ and surrendered to North Korean troops. He hoped to be swapped in a prisoner exchange, thereby returning sooner than otherwise to the United States; he was held in North Korea until 2004. During those years, he taught English to military officers, translated Western press and Hollywood film soundtracks, and even acted in domestic film productions. He usually lived with or near other U.S. military defectors and foreigners who said they had been abducted from abroad. Although these foreigners lived better than North Korean citizens, they resorted to growing their own food to have enough to eat, digging their own wells, and maintaining their own electrical generators, especially during the 1990s, when the economy declined sharply. They were required to attend study groups on the thought of Kim Il Sung and to be mindful of the ever-present controllers who watch foreigners and citizens alike. Jenkins's straightforward presentation, written with the assistance of Frederick (senior editor, Time magazine), conveys effectively both the hardships that he and other foreigners endured and the understanding and personal ties that he established. Readers have few opportunities to hear firsthand about life inside North Korea; those who follow current events will be intrigued by this story. [The book was written in English but first appeared in Japanese translation overseas.-Ed.]-Marcia L. Sprules, Council on Foreign Relations Lib., New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Photo section followsp. 76
Forewordp. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xxxv
Preludep. 1
1 Super Jenkinsp. 4
2 In the Army, and across the DMZp. 13
3 Housematesp. 27
4 Cooks, Cadets, and Wivesp. 59
5 Soga-sanp. 77
6 Friends and Strangersp. 102
7 Domestic Lifep. 121
8 Hitomi's Escapep. 136
9 My Escapep. 153
10 Homecomingsp. 181