Crossing the Line

The GI Film Festival isn’t until May, but I couldn’t wait that long to watch some military related films and documentaries.  So, I’m cheating and using the fact that the Oscars are on Sunday to watch them this week. I’m starting with the 2007 film called Crossing the Line.

I am a patriot; I believe in this country and the values and beliefs it is based on. I imagine that many of you feel the same, or you wouldn’t have taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution. So it always confounds and fascinates me when I hear stories of individuals who gave up on this great country or, worse, who actively worked against it.

Why do people like Ana Montes work to become the Defense Intelligence Agency’s topic Cuban analyst, while at the same time spending decades becoming Cuba’s best spy? Why do people like Edward Snowden steal information from the US with the intent to sell it to foreign nations? Why do people like Bowe Bergdahl, currently classified as our only POW in Afghanistan, simply put down their weapons and walk into enemy territory? I’m not sure if we’ll ever fully understand it, but watching Crossing the Line will at least give you a little insight from the other side.

Crossing the Line, narrated by actor Christian Slater, is the story of James Joseph Dresnok, also known as “Comrade Joe.” A product of a busted home that eventually left him in foster care, Dresnok joined the US Army at age 17. After a wedding, a two year unaccompanied tour to West Germany, and a divorce, Dresnok was stationed in South Korea, along the DMZ, in May 1962. Three months later, in August 1962, he would defect to North Korea, the second of four Army personnel to do so in the 1960s.

Crossing the Line leads you inside North Korea and what it has been like to be an American defector in a communist country for forty years. The film lasts an hour and a half and consists primarily of the first Western interview with Dresnok since his defection, interspersed with interviews of his fellow officers and NCOs, bits of war footage, and historical details. Dresnok covers everything from why and how he defected, how he became a film propaganda star, his two marriages and what it is like for his children, and how he feels, so many years later, about his decision.

The film also covers his fellow defectors: Larry Abshier, Jerry Parrish, and Charles Robert Jenkins. Two of the men, Abshier and Parrish, are not interviewed for the film, as they passed away several years prior to the film’s production. Charles Robert Jenkins, however, makes an appearance and his story, which you may have read about in a 2004 issue of TIME magazine, and that of his wife, a Japanese woman whose journey to North Korea is almost unbelievable in its cruelty, is just as astonishing as Dresnok’s.

Overall, I found the film to be well made, if a bit dated, and fascinating in the same manner that many people find accident scenes fascinating. The history I found extremely interesting, since I had, prior to the movie, not the slightest hint that any American soldier had ever gone over to the other side of the DMZ to live. I’m not sure it left me any closer to understanding why an individual, especially one who had taken an oath to defend this country, would suddenly look across at the enemy’s position and decide that life looked better over there. Perhaps I’ve just never felt the need to be valued quite as desperately as Dresnok seems to have.

You can find out more about the film here:

© 2014, Sarah Maples LLC. All rights reserved.

Sarah Maples is a former Air Force intelligence officer and an Afghanistan veteran. She is a freelance writer and editor, specializing in veteran, military, and defense topics.

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