15: Korea: Once the Land of the Morning Calm
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February 5, 1919
All is not quiet along the Seine tonight. Trouble is brewing and it comes from the
experts of the Inquiry(1) who, to the number of two or
three score, came over on the George Washington with the President determined to put the
unruly peoples of Europe, Asia, and Africa in their proper places and make the world safe
for democracy. They have served formal complaint to the effect that they are not in the
close touch with the President, or with his lieutenant, House, to which they are entitled
and the critical world situation demands. Since the day they had the privilege of holding
"common council" with the chief of our delegation, our crusading President, on
the voyage to France they complain that they have only had one conference with him and
that it only lasted five minutes.
This morning, although it was raining cats and dogs, Mrs. House came into the office
and said. "I wish you would take my lamb for a walk, under the colonnades of the rue
de Rivoli so that he will not get wet to the skin, and tell him one of your stories about
life in Korea, which amuse him so much. They must be nice people - at least they are not
here squabbling and raising 'foreign issues,' which are so perplexing."
This gave me my cue. Mercifully, however, I did nor tell Mrs. House that while they had
not, as yet, arrived, at least two Korean delegations were on their way to Paris with
fully justified complaints against the arrogant Japanese supremacy under which they
In a few words the Colonel who now came in began to explain the quandary in which the
President found himself. "The men of the Inquiry point out that at least once a week
Lloyd George convokes the prime ministers from the Dominions, discusses with them the
progress of the negotiations, and outlines his plans for the next stage. Why should the
President not follow this example with the men of the Inquiry?
"I can only insist," continued the Colonel, "that the over-burdened
President would like to do this but has not the time for these meetings in 'common
council' of which he speaks so often but so rarely indulges in. But barring these
conferences, everything possible has been done for the members of the Inquiry. For the
most part they are lodged in the Crillon, they are close at hand for consultation, they
have a spacious conference room where they get together to discuss the ever-changing
situation, and their reports when they do arrive, nor I think as promptly as we could
wish, are carefully considered."
Here I thought to rush in with what I hoped would prove a consoling thought. "How
natural it is," I argued, "that the men of the Inquiry do not understand what
their function is. Like all of us they were totally unprepared for the unexpected war, and
now they are taken by surprise, as we all are, by the sudden peace. We are still in the
shirt-sleeved stage of our diplomacy. Now in Korea " here the Colonel pricked up his
ears; "Tell me about that," he said eagerly.
"Well in Korea," I went on, "while the government has not prospered, it
has survived for hundreds of years and its leaders have learned to manage some things
better than we do. For instance, in Seoul the high officials just naturally fall into two
categories. One is that of the Mandarins-Help-Discuss, the other is that of the
Mandarins-Help-Decide. When they are summoned to the palace, in a crown council over which
the king presides, the Mandarin-Help-Discuss make the welkin ring with their varied plans
and proposals for or against the solution of the pending problem that has been placed
before them. In the meantime, the Mandarins-Help-Decide just sit in silence and listen and
sweat. It would be a gross breach of etiquette for them to put in a word - even edgeways.
"When their voices have grown husky and their vocal chords are exhausted, the
Mandarins-Help-Discuss announce that their last word has been spoken and with great
ceremony they withdraw. These lucky fellows now go where their fancies lead them. Some to
a monastery to reflect on the possibilities of the future life; others go to some pleasant
mountain glade and enjoy a picnic with their lady friends leaving the
Mandarins-Help-Decide in the council chamber to face the grim business of decision. If the
men of the Inquiry could only be brought to appreciate how fortunate they are in being
expected to function simply as Mandarins-Help-Discuss, everybody would be happier and
things would move more smoothly. And," I added, "I certainly welcome the
advantages of my Mandarin-Help Discuss position."
The Colonel laughed and evidently told the story to the President for, several evenings
later when I was interpreting for him at the Covenant Commission, and was in a decidedly
light-hearted mood because M. Bourgeois was down with a cold and could not pontificate, he
said, "Mandarin-Help-Discuss! How wise it is for you to appreciate the advantages of
Unfortunately the yarn got about, and unfortunately not precisely in the form in which
I had related it. The men of the Inquiry quite distinctly were not amused, and at times
they assumed a somewhat sullen attitude toward those of us members of the Colonel s
"family" who inevitably are in closer touch with the kaleidoscopic changes of
the day-to-day situation than they are.
Speaking seriously, some of these experts were very competent and their services would
have been most valuable if the "rush" and creaking mechanism of the Conference
had made it possible to make fuller use of them. But truth compels me to admit that in
their number there were misfits as well, and the newspaper correspondents were inclined to
poke fun at them, fun which was not always good-natured. One of these mischievous fellows
brought out the fact (and fact it was) that while one of the experts had been for six
months in the troubled zone, to the elucidation of which he was assigned, these months had
been spent in the darkness of a cave where the picture writings of men of an era that even
preceded the blossoming of the Cro-Magnon race awaited interpretation. "What
enlightening facts as to present-day conditions can you expect from this sojourner in the
dark cave?" was the cynical inquiry at one of the Colonel's press conferences. Then,
as always, the Colonel loyally supported the Inquirers. "I seem to remember," he
countered, "that Diogenes, or some other great researcher, sought and found truth at
the bottom of a well. I have no reason to doubt that W... met with equal success in the
recesses of his cave."
February 6, 1919
"The beautiful, the halcyon days of Aranjuez are over," as the poet sang. A
delegate has arrived from what was once known as the Land of the Morning Calm, and so this
Naboth's vineyard of the Fast Asian coast must be classed with the other troubled zones
which present so many apparently insoluble problems. In any event it is no longer one of
the few sections of the globe to which I can lead my Colonel without the least danger of
becoming involved in the labyrinthine discussions of the Conference. The delegate is a Mr.
Kim, an authentic Korean if there ever was one. He does nor have a topknot or wear a rat
trap hat, but he can quote pages of that wonderful idyl of his native land, the
"Perfume of Spring." Indeed, he knows the author of this charming song of youth.
These credentials suffice for me, but as a matter of protocol neither Mr. Kim nor his
distressful country have any standing at the Great Assizes, nor will they have a look in
at the Conference. The subjugation of his people and the annexation of his land by
predatory Japan was formally, indeed it seemed to me at the time cheerfully, recognized by
President Theodore Roosevelt and later reaffirmed by President Taft. Indeed, the last
mentioned chief magistrate of the "land of the free and the home of the brave"
announced to Washington and to the world that the Tokyo government was in complete control
of Korean affairs both in the foreign and the domestic field.
These eminent gentlemen, whose power in the Far East was only exceeded by their
ignorance of the situation, "disremembered" a treaty of alliance, defensive and
even offensive, which was negotiated with the Seoul government forty-five years ago by one
of our roving sailor diplomats. It bound Washington to defend these unfortunate people
against all intruders, whatever might be the purpose with which they came. Doubtless this
formal instrument was placed in the "dead" files, but even before the
encroachments came from benevolent China and later ruthless aggression from predatory
Japan, it was regarded by the Koreans (it being among other things the first treaty they
had ever negotiated with the Western World) as the charter of their liberties and the
bulwark of their independence.
From this instrument, certainly lost sight of in Washington, flowed very distinct
personal advantages to a group of Americans with whom I had close contacts during my stay
at the Seoul Legation in the fall months of 1895.
It seems to me quite natural, and Mr. Kim assures me such is the case, that the people
of Korea should regard the assembly of this Parliament of Man, and the convening of this
High Court of world justice, as a heaven-sent opportunity (since Washington had always
turned a deaf ear to their pleas) to make known their wrongs to the world and to seek
redress. Leaving our of consideration the treaty of reassurance and of benevolent
guardianship which our government has long regarded as outmoded as nor even worth
denouncing there is another treaty and other engagements of quite recent date which it
should not be so easy to ignore, especially at a gathering where treaty-breakers are to be
pilloried and it is hoped punished.
In view of the fact that the war which has cost the world ten million of its best and
bravest was fought to maintain the sanctity of treaties and to bring to a strict
accounting those who failed to live up to their engagements, yet Japan, the great law- and
treaty-breaker in the Far East, sits in the Council of the Great Powers and is not even to
be interrogated as to her recent conduct.
Of course Korea is far away and few here know the facts of her situation. Still fewer
have any comprehension of them, and yet as a matter of fact it is all very simple. In
declaring war on Russia in 1904 Japan proclaimed to the world that she did so to defend
and preserve the integrity and the independence of Korea whence came in a large measure
her culture, now threatened by the advance of the Russian Colossus to the shores of the
Pacific. And after the war she reaffirmed her noble intention. When the treaty of peace
was, at the instigation of President Roosevelt, signed and sealed at Portsmouth, one of
its redeeming features was that once again Japan agreed to guarantee and to defend the
independence of Korea. But see what happened a scant six years later! When the treaty made
on American soil with its commitments approved and many think inspired by the American
President was thrown into the wastepaper basket by the men of Tokyo, nothing came from
Washington, not even a word of remonstrance.
When what they regarded as their opportunity came and the Great Assizes was summoned to
meet in Paris, the Koreans bestirred themselves and several delegations at least started
for Europe to explain their plight and ask for a fair deal. Of course passports and visas
to leave the country were refused by the Japanese overlords, and when mass meetings were
held to protest in Seoul and other cities, the unfortunate "agitators" were
machine-gunned by the army of occupation to the number of many thousands. It was under
these circumstances that the official delegations were prevented from leaving their former
kingdom. The result is that the delegation that has arrived, and two others that are on
the way, have but very informal accrediting documents and international lawyers are in
agreement that they are "stateless men." They, however, represent the two or
three million Koreans who have escaped from their oppressed country and found safety and
work in China or Eastern Siberia where they cannot be reached by the Japanese police. Mr.
Kim represents the refugees in China, while my old friend General Pak, who was my guide
and interpreter during my stay in Seoul, represents his countrymen living in Eastern
Siberia. Mr. Kim tells me that for lack of funds poor Pak is walking along the rails of
the Trans-Siberian and when last heard from was bogged down somewhere near Lake Baikal.
Kim, too, is practically without funds, but he faces this unpleasant situation with great
Later. I have done what I could for Kim. Unfortunately it is very little. It
is decided that the Korean case will not even be submitted to our High Court. Despite the
fact, the undoubted fact, that the Imperial Japanese minister, General Miura, instigated
the murder of the Min Queen (during my sojourn in Korea), and the undeniable fact that his
clerks in October, 1895, led the assassins who cut her to pieces, many think that I take a
too extreme view of the situation and certainly an impractical one. She was a gallant
little woman who would not be bullied or even browbeaten, and so the Japanese murdered
her. She may not have been the only "man" in Korea, as many disgusted foreigners
at the time asserted, but she was an outstanding one and put to shame the chicken-hearted
king, her husband.
Yesterday it was my unpleasant duty to tell Kim, as instructed, that the Korean problem
did nor come within the purview of the Conference, that its jurisdiction was not worldwide
as some had believed. My Colonel is sympathetic with my point of view, but he says we must
be practical that if we attempt too much we may fail to accomplish anything. One word of
comfort he offered and gave permission to pass on to Kim. If we deal our justice in Europe
and punish the criminals here it may prove a leaven of righteousness in other fields.
Perhaps later the League will be able to curb Japan when it has less pressing matters
nearer at hand to deal with. I hope so, but it was hard to have to tell Kim that there was
nor even a forlorn hope that he would have his day in court, that Japan, if not a Great
Power, is certainly a strong one. He took it very well and seems confident that later, on
some nor too distant day, the League will at least listen to the grievances of his
In some respects I fear the New Order is very like the Old. I recall (it is not a
comforting memory) what the Russian Ambassador Count Benkersdorff told me of his last talk
with that good man and outstanding liberal, Sir Edward Grey, at a critical moment in the
affairs of the world at which unfortunately this well-meaning man took the wrong turn.
Ignoring the provisions of the Treaty of Berlin, the Austro-Hungarian monarchy formally
annexed (1908) the Slav provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina of which she had accepted the
trusteeship twenty-five years before.
What are we going to do about it?" inquired the Russian Ambassador. Grey hemmed
and hawed and then said, "My dear Count, I agree with you wholeheartedly. It is an
outrageous breach of faith. But Britain will do nothing about it. Those provinces you have
just mentioned are too far away. They do not form a part of our life. Many of our people
have never heard of them and few know where they are."
That was quite true, but in those provinces which nobody knew, as a result of thwarted
racial aspirations, an explosion occurred, the heir to the treaty-breaking empire was
murdered, and a million men of Britain and her dominions died in the terrible war that
followed. Korea is far away too, many times farther than was Bosnia, but in it live some
twenty million people who are being oppressed and whose enslavement, ten times more severe
than anything the South Slavs suffered, may result in another explosion, another World
March 15, 1919
Mr. Kim, the unrecognized delegate from Korea, came in today to say good-by. He is
naturally very depressed and he has not had even a word from his fellow delegate, and my
old friend, General Pak, who apparently is still marooned in the waste places of Siberia.
I did my best to send him off with a word of cheer. While I have the lowest possible
opinion of the Yangbans, the official and gentry class of his country, the peasants (and
there are nearly twenty million of them) are fine, honest people. They hate the Japanese
with what I hold to be a holy hatred, and some day they may strike a blow for liberty and
come into their own again. It will not be much, as from what I saw on my last visit, in
1916, the Japanese have stripped the country of everything valuable.
Evidently Kim was comforted by the thought I gave him that unlike our present Peace
Conference the field of the League Assembly when it is convened next fall will embrace all
the troubled areas of the world. Then the Koreans will have their day in court.
"What a strange world it is," said Kim. "When the Japanese pilgrim, Kobo
Daishi, came to us from his volcanic islands hundreds of years ago we gladly opened to him
the wisdom of the ages. We taught him the Kingly Way of Life which we had followed for
forty centuries. Enlightened he went home and he taught his barbarians how to read and to
write. To this day they do him homage at the sanctuary of Koyasan, but it is only lip
service. Today these scamps and scalawags, these pirates and landgrabbers, are here and
they are accepted as representing a great power while we are excluded from the World
Congress. How can anyone in his senses imagine that these swashbucklers will help to make
the world safe for democracy?" I did not attempt to answer that one, but I did what I
could, perhaps more than the facts of the situation warrant.
"You will have your day in court; the world does not remain static. Do you recall
the old Chinese proverb, 'Fullness comes before waning?'"
"I do, I do," he said, "and also that 'waning precedes fullness,'"
and with a quick step and an eager eye Mr. Kim went on his way.
1. The Inquiry, organized in 1918 at the suggestion of Colonel
House, was composed of men drawn largely from the universities who were informed as to the
war aims and the problems that would have to be considered in shaping the peace. Dr.
Bowman of Johns Hopkins was the executive officer and Walter Lippmann, the able
journalist, acted as secretary. After the Armistice twenty-five members of the
organization came to Paris with President Wilson on the George Washington and
were given varied duties as here described.
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