One personal recollection of these last days before the war remains stamped on my memory. I was in Seoul and had been invited to an interview with Yi Yung-ik. Squatted on the ground in his apartment we discussed matters. I urged on him the necessity of reform, if Korea was to save herself from extinction. Yi quickly retorted that Korea was safe, for her independence was guaranteed by America and Europe.
“Don’t you understand,” I urged, “that treaties not backed by power are useless. If you wish the treaties to be respected, you must live up to them. You must reform or perish.”
“It does not matter what the other nations are doing,” declared the Minister. “We have this day sent out a statement that we are neutral and asking for our neutrality to be respected.”
“Why should they protect you, if you do not protect yourself?” I asked.
“We have the promise of America. She will be our friend whatever happens,” the Minister insisted.
From that position he would not budge.
Three days later, the Russian ships, the Variag and the Korietz, lay sunken wrecks in Chemulpo Harbour, broken by the guns of the Japanese fleet, and the Japanese soldiers had seized the Korean Emperor’s palace. M. Hayashi, the Japanese Minister, was dictating the terms he must accept. Korea’s independence was over, in deed if not in name, and Japan was at last about to realize her centuries’ old ambition to have Korea for her own.
THE NEW ERA
Japan was now in a position to enforce obedience. Russia could no longer interfere; England would not. A new treaty between Japan and Korea, drawn up in advance, was signed—the Emperor being ordered to assent without hesitation or alteration—and Japan began her work as the open protector of Korea. The Korean Government was to place full confidence in Japan and follow her lead; while Japan pledged herself “in a spirit of firm friendship, to secure the safety and repose” of the Imperial Korean House, and definitely guaranteed the independence and territorial integrity of the country. Japan was to be given every facility for military operations during the war.
The Japanese at first behaved with great moderation. Officials who had been hostile to them were not only left unpunished, but were, some of them, employed in the Japanese service. The troops marching northwards maintained rigid discipline and treated the people well. Food that was taken was purchased at fair prices, and the thousands of labourers who were pressed into the army service as carriers were rewarded with a liberality and promptitude that left them surprised. Mr. Hayashi did everything that he could to reassure the Korean Emperor, and repeatedly told him that Japan desired nothing but the good of Korea and the strengthening of the Korean nation. The Marquis Ito was soon afterwards sent on a special mission from the Mikado, and he repeated and emphasized the declarations of friendship and help.