Graeme Wood

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The Defector

I profiled Charles Robert Jenkins, a US soldier who defected to North Korea, in The Atlantic.

Filed under: Atlantic Monthly, ,

Defective: Return to Sender

Sgt. Jenkins‘s punishment is in his face — a withered, jug-eared mug that looks about two decades older than its sixty-odd years. In January 1965, Jenkins deserted his unit in the Korean DMZ and slinked into North Korean territory, where he intended to turn himself in and go home after a prisoner-swap. The scheme failed badly. Instead of going home, he ended up confined with a handful of other American deserters, beaten bloody by one, malnourished from the start, and forced every day to do nothing but read and memorize the works of Kim Il Sung. It is a measure of the unpleasantness of the ensuing four decades that one low point was the ripping of a U.S. Army tattoo off his arm without anesthetic, and a high point was watching a bootleg video of Michael Jackson’s (admittedly sublime) “Thriller,” with the volume turned to nearly inaudible levels, lest someone hear it, turn him in, and possibly have him shot. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Atlantic Monthly, ,

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