With the North Korean government recently admitting to kidnapping Japanese citizens throughout the 1980s, University of Hawaii sociology professor Patricia Steinhoff — who has had direct contact with the kidnappers — offered a personal perspective of the situation at a lecture Thursday.
Steinhoff, an expert on Japanese radical groups, gave the fourth annual installment of the John W. Hall Lecture Series in Japanese Studies at the Peabody Museum. In her talk, Steinhoff spoke about the psychological effects on the kidnapped Japanese citizens.
“I am interested in what happens to people in extreme situations and when they are so motivated by a political thought,” Steinhoff said. “You can put anybody under these conditions and most people will capitulate eventually — All of us are vulnerable to these kinds of pressures and need to think about how we would respond under these circumstances.”
Unlike much of the mainstream media, which has primarily focused on the political ramifications of the situation, Steinhoff presented a more historical account.
Steinhoff began her lecture by describing the revolutionary air in Japan during the early 1980s. The Japanese Red Army was plotting a Communist overthrow of the government and decided to send soldiers to Cuba to learn how to execute a Communist revolution. Nine Red Army members, all male and known as the Yodogo group, hijacked a small plane in Japan. Realizing the plane could not reach Cuba, the Yodogo group headed for North Korea, Steinhoff said.
Steinhoff said that she does not believe the Yodogo group should be considered “kidnapped” because they went to North Korea of their own free will. But she said the group’s unexpected landing gave the North Korean government a reason to kidnap Japanese citizens — members of the Yodogo group needed Japanese wives.
She said the most surprising aspect of the situation was the loyalty exhibited by the Japanese citizens to the North Korean government that was holding them hostage. The Yodogo wives who were sent to Europe to kidnap more Japanese citizens all returned to North Korea after completing the mission, Steinhoff said.
Steinhoff said that she felt her account of the kidnapping story differed from that of the mainstream press because the press focused solely on the kidnappings that North Korea admitted to committing. Instead, Steinhoff said many more Japanese citizens were kidnapped.
Steinhoff ended her lecture by presenting a list of all those she believes were kidnapped. While the North Korean government admitted to kidnapping only 13 Japanese citizens, Steinhoff said she believes there were more than 30 Japanese victims, including the Yodogo wives.
Mimi Yiengpruksawan, chairperson of the Council of East Asian Studies, said she was impressed that Steinhoff personally knew members of the Yodogo group and their wives. Yiengpruksawan worked in conjunction with Alexander Han, administrative associate for Japan programs, in bringing Steinhoff to campus.
Han said in an e-mail that he was excited to host Steinhoff because of her expertise on the subject.
“Professor Steinhoff is a prolific and active scholar, very well-known in her field, consequently well-known to the faculty here,” Han said.