Tuesday, December 08, 2009

R.L. Dunn article about Jack London in Korea

I've written about the exploits of the three foreign correspondents who made it into Korea at the beginning of the Russo-Japanese War in these posts:

Part 1: From Japan to Korea
Part 2: In Seoul and Chemulpo
Part 3: Along the coast of Korea

I'll return to this eventually, but I recently discovered the existence of a useful article (via a footnote in a collection of Jack London's letters) and found out that the newspaper it appeared in - the San Francisco Examiner - could be found at the San Francisco Public Library. I emailed them to ask if they would photocopy it for a fee. Instead, the Magazines and Newspapers Center emailed me a pdf of the article, so a big thanks to them for doing that. Here's the article, from June 26, 1904.

Jack London knows not fear

R.L. Dunn, Commissioner to the Japanese War for “Collier’s Weekly,” Eulogizes the Daring of the Great Novelist.

He arrived in Korea with Frozen hands, ears, and feet, but physical ailments could not keep him from the front

By R.L. Dunn
Special Commissioner to the War in the Orient from “Collier’s Weekly.”

“I want to say that Jack London is one of the grittiest men that it has been my good fortune to meet. He is just as heroic as any of the characters in his novels. He is a man who will stay with you through thick and thin. He doesn’t know the meaning of fear and is willing to risk his life in the performance of his duty.

“I got to Korea one month before London. Immediately after my arrival at Chemulpo the port was closed. London knew that. So did the other correspondents who were at that time in Japan. They evidently decided that it would be useless to try to get into Chemulpo. London had another idea. He came over to Korea in a junk. From Fusan, where he landed, he came to Chemulpo in a sampan. A sampan is an open boat, big enough to carry three men. It is very similar to our rowboats. It took him seven days to make the trip from Fusan to Chemulpo.

“The weather during this trip was at the zero mark. When London arrived in Chemulpo I did not recognize him. He was a physical wreck. His ears were frozen; his fingers were frozen; his feet were frozen. He said that he didn’t mind his condition so long as he got to the front. He said his physical collapse counted for nothing. He had been sent to the front to do newspaper work and he wanted to do it.

“London was absolutely down and out, to use the slang expression. He had to undergo medical treatment for several days. As soon as he was able to move about he and I started for the front. The Japanese troops monopolized the regular roads. We had to make our way through the ice-crusted rice fields.

“Korea is a very mountainous country and traveling under the best conditions in winter is a tragedy. We had to beat the soldiers to a village in order to get a place to sleep. A village containing six houses would be utilized by a regiment of infantry.

“If we got to the village first we held a room against the soldiers. If they got there first we had no place to sleep.

“Our entire stay in Korea was a succession of hardships that is almost impossible for anyone who has not visited that country during the winter to realize. We were held at Ping Yang by the Japanese Consul for a week. Our forced stay at Ping Yang was the result of a complaint lodged with the Japanese Government by the correspondents in Tokio who did not have the grit or the enterprise to get anywhere near the field of action. Finally we reached Sunan, one of the most northern towns of Korea. There we were put in a military prison for four days. Then they sent us back to Seoul.”


K said...

I guess a rowboat to Incheon is today's equivalent of a bullet taxi to Busan. Wicked story.

Unknown said...

What did we learn today, children?

We learned that Jack London is a badass.

And we learned that even if you're met with every hardship on your journey, you don't make it to your destination, and you're finally sent packing after it all, you still have a decent story on your hands.