The writer’s stint as a war-correspondent in 1904 – Paul French
“I am disgusted! I’ll never go to a war between Orientals again. The vexations and delay are too great.”
– Jack London
He had sailed his broken down sloop, Razzle Dazzle, as an oyster pirate. He had crewed the sealing schooner Sophie Sutherland along the coast of Japan. He had served with Kelly’s Army and tramped the western United States. He had dropped out of UC Berkeley. He was just 19. He joined the Klondike Gold Rush; he became a socialist. In 1903, at just 27, he published The Call of the Wild and with it gained money and success (10,000 copies flew off the shelves in the first week of publication). Then, in early 1904, the San Francisco Examiner asked Jack London if he’d like to report on a war between Asia’s rising power, Japan, and Europe’s largest but crumbling monarchy, Russia. Though the war was between the armies of Tsar Alexander and the Meiji Emperor, it was to be fought largely on Korean and Chinese soil. London, in the midst of a protracted divorce from a four-year marriage, thought “why not”? He embarked for Yokohama.
London’s time as a war correspondent in Asia has slipped from his popular biography. The “big books” (The Call of the Wild, White Fang, The Sea-Wolf, The Iron Heel), his leftist politics, his man’s-man adventurer persona – these are what have come to dominate. The same goes for the conflagration he covered, the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05: it, too, has rather slipped from history. It shouldn’t have. Instead we mark anniversaries of World War I and, in some parts of Asia, the 1894-95 Sino-Japanese War. Yet we need to make room for the big event that fell halfway between the two, a war that not only shook the solidity of Western right and might (the first time an Asiatic power defeated a European one) but offered a first taste to the generals and politicians of Europe and America of what modern, mechanized war would look like.