The Dec. 7 attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese armed forces caught not only the American military by surprise but also the Western community in Seoul. It appears that in the morning hours of Dec. 8, Horace and Ethel Underwood were the first to learn of the attack. The previous evening they had celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary and were up early listening to their radio. When they heard the horrific news Ethel began calling the other members of the Western community in hopes of finding out more information.
Harold Barlow Quarton, the American consul general, was one of the first she called. He, having been woken up by her phone call, knew nothing about the attack and immediately called Gerald Phipps, the British consul general, to see if he had any more information. Like Quarton, Phipps had been alerted to the incident by Ethel but had no further information.
Quarton was able to verify some of the information with his shortwave radio and this was augmented with a special notice presented to him by the Japanese that “the imperial army and navy fell into a state of war with Great Britain and the U.S.A.”
The British and American consulates’ staff spent the morning burning documents in anticipation of being raided by the Japanese authorities. They did not have to wait long. That afternoon several hundred Japanese soldiers stormed the consulates and searched for documents and contraband. “Radios, reports, account books, maps and firearms were confiscated” and, according to Quarton, even toothpaste was squeezed out of the tubes to verify nothing was hidden within.
The consulates were not the only places where document burning was taking place.
Albert Taylor, a businessman and reporter for The Associated Press, began to burn all documents related to his writing. Unbeknownst to him, his brother in China, William, who was a reporter for the New York Herald, was also doing the same.
Members of the Maryknoll Convent also began to burn documents and financial records. Missionaries, like journalists, were viewed with a great deal of suspicion by the Japanese authorities.
Missionaries throughout Korea found themselves under strict surveillance with every move monitored. But some suffered much worse treatment.
In his book “Living Dangerously in Korea,” Donald Clark notes that several Presbyterian missionaries were accused of various crimes including espionage and were severely beaten and tortured by the Japanese police or their Korean underlings during interrogation. E. H. Miller, an elderly missionary of nearly 70 years old, claimed to have been “beaten so severely over the head that, though he was never hit below the ears, he was black and blue down onto his chest.”
Edwin Wade Koons was one of the arrested missionaries and recalled the torture known as the “water cure.”
“My knees and hands were tied and I was strung up, head downward. Then a bucket of water was thrown into my face. I became unconscious but regained my senses when I was slapped with a rubber hose. A day later I was beaten again until I was black and blue.”
Quarton’s description of this torture was far more graphic. According to him, naked prisoners were tied up with their hands and knees drawn to their chests and then a large diameter rubber hose was forced into the victim’s mouth. Water, poured from five-gallon tea kettles, was forced down these tubes causing water to “spurt from the prisoner’s eyes, ears and nose.” When the prisoner lapsed into unconsciousness, he was beaten with rubber truncheons and hoses on the head, feet, shoulders, and back. Often the torture would be repeated five or six times.
The Westerners’ plight in Korea was finally alleviated in June 1942 when they were evacuated to Japan and then repatriated to the West soon afterwards.