Idiots utiles: Vous avez dit validé par l’histoire ? (Will Howard Zinn turn out to be to history what Wilfred Burchett was to journalism?)

Pour être corrompu par le totalitarisme, il n’est pas nécessaire de vivre dans un pays totalitaire. George Orwell
Les idées impopulaires peuvent être passées sous silence et les faits gênants rester dans l’ombre sans aucun besoin d’interdiction officielle. George Orwell
Le journalisme authentiquement objectif est le journalisme qui non seulement décrit exactement les faits, mais saisit la signification des événements. Persuasif aujourd’hui, il survit à l’épreuve du temps. Il est validé par des “sources fiables”, mais aussi par le déroulement de l’histoire. Dix, vingt, cinquante ans après les faits, il reflète encore une image intelligente et fidèle des événements. T. D. Allman
Many well-meaning liberals had been drawn into the CPUSA during the « Popular Front » era of the 1930s, when America was menaced by the Great Depression at home and the rising specter of fascism abroad. Misleading press accounts of the Soviet Union’s « progress » during those years helped convinced many idealists that the Bolshevik Revolution represented a hopeful future. By the late 1940s, however, those illusions had been shattered by the reality of Josef Stalin’s brutal totalitarianism. Stalin’s cynical 1939 treaty with Hitler — the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact — had sacrificed Poland to the Nazis, and the Red Army’s post-war occupation of Eastern Europe had crushed all democratic resistance. Even as Zinn’s wife was collecting signatures on Communist petitions in New York, Winston Churchill was decrying the « Iron Curtain » that had descended across Europe. The Communist Party that Zinn joined was already widely recognized as the agent of an aggressive tyranny, in thrall to the paranoid dictator Stalin. Zinn evidently pursued his CPUSA activism even after the Soviets exploded their first atomic weapon in 1949 and after the Cold War turned hot with the June 1950 outbreak of the Korean War. Robert Stacy McCain
There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people for a purpose which is unattainable. Howard Zinn
How could I be a communist? There were so many parties, each drawing on different circumstances, different conditions. Which one was I to choose? I chose none, because I wanted to remain just me … Wilfred Burchett (1983)
Rajk himself was an extraordinary character, cold as steel, a good actor, a political adventurer of the South American type, a man not fundamentally interested in politics or ideologies but very interested in power, a man without ideals and without loyalties to either causes or individuals … his smile was completely lacking in warmth … When the trail finally led to his flat and he was taken into custody, Rajk’s life cracked open like a rotten pumpkin. (…)Rajk and his gangs were disclosed as miserable, bloodthirsty adventurers who would not hesitate to plunge the country into a ferocious civil war, to destroy everything of the new life which had been so painfully built up, to hand the country over lock, stock and barrel to a foreign power, to restore those some (sic) forces the people have fought against for so long. There were no regrets except from a few of the dispossessed … when the chief culprits were condemned to death and speedily executed. Wilfred Burchett (description of Laszlo Rajk’s 1949 trial)
A nuclear war that killed half of humanity « should not be rejected outright as a bad thing » because « in the process imperialism would disappear altogether while socialism would become dominant all over the world ». William Burchett (November 1957)
L’écrivain Simon Louvish raconte la surprise d’un groupe de Soviétiques en voyage aux Etats-Unis au moment de la guerre froide. Après avoir lu la presse et regardé la télévision, ils se déclarèrent étonnés que tous les avis sur les questions essentielles étaient plus ou moins identiques. « Dans notre pays, s’interrogeaient-ils, pour obtenir ce résultat, nous avons une dictature, nous emprisonnons des gens, nous leur arrachons les ongles. Ici, vous n’avez rien de cela. Alors, quel est votre secret ? Comment faites-vous ? John Pilger
Vous savez, sous Bush, le conformisme et le silence parmi les journalistes sont pires que dans les années 1950. Rupert Murdoch est le magnat des médias le plus influent en Amérique ; il impose la norme, et il n’y a aucune discussion publique. Pourquoi la majorité du public américain croit-elle encore que Saddam Hussein était derrière les attentats du 11 septembre ? Parce que les médias n’ont eu de cesse de faire écho au discours du gouvernement. Charles Lewis
J’écris cela comme un avertissement au monde. (…) A Hiroshima, trente jours après la première bombe atomique qui détruisit la ville et fit trembler le monde, des gens, qui n’avaient pas été atteints pendant le cataclysme, sont encore aujourd’hui en train de mourir, mystérieusement, horriblement, d’un mal inconnu pour lequel je n’ai pas d’autre nom que celui de peste atomique [ … ]. Sans raison apparente, leur santé vacille. Ils perdent l’appétit. Leur cheveux tombent. Des taches bleuâtres apparaissent sur leur corps. Et puis ils se mettent à saigner, des oreilles, du nez, de la bouche. Wilfred Burchett (La peste atomique, le Daily Express de Londres, 5 septembre 1945 )
Aucune radioactivité dans les ruines d’Hiroshima. (…) Les Japonais prétendent que des gens sont morts du fait des radiations. Si cela est vrai, ils ont été très peu nombreux. Et s’il y a eu des radiations, elles ont été émises pendant l’explosion et pas après. Les Japonais poursuivent leur propagande pour créer l’impression que nous avons gagné la guerre de façon déloyale.  Sir William Laurence (le New York Times, le 13 septembre 1945)
Where do I stand politically? As a journalist, first of all I’m completely independent. I’m sure it’s true to say I’m more independent than anybody in this room. Wilfred Burchett (Sydney, 1973)
There is no one in the wide world that can tell me where to go and what to write; no editor or publisher, no political organisation, no government. Burchett (letter to Melbourne’s The Age on March 16, 1970)
Wilfred was a very conscientious journalist – conscientious in what he wrote, and also in what he left out of his stories. Tibor Méray
The [germ warfare lie] was ‘concocted’ at a much higher level than ours – Burchett’s or mine. It fulfilled the task, as it had provoked an anti-American hate campaign of an unprecedented intensity (…) During the 1970s and 1980s there was no reason left to continue with the old story. Realising this, Wilfred, having no desire to be the ‘last of the Mohicans’, dropped the subject. So it is poor [Gavan] McCormack who remained to be the last, or one of the last, of the Mohicans of the germ warfare issue. For him the germ warfare problem is still ‘contentious’, and he defends Burchett’s actions and pronouncements by all available means, including his role in the POW project. Tibor Méray
Unlike Meray, Burchett continued to defend communist atrocities even after communist parties themselves had ceased to defend them. Burchett never admitted he had helped condemn innocent people. He put it all down the memory hole, and blithely went on to similar pro-communist campaigns elsewhere, transferring his affections from a great mass murderer, Stalin, to an even greater one, Mao. Patrick Morgan
Comment s’interdire de songer à cette génération entière d’intellectuels et d’artistes en Europe, en France surtout, autoproclamée de gauche – au point que le mot ne fait plus sens –, qui n’ont cessé d’adopter des postures morales tout en illustrant des causes absolument immorales ? Comment ne pas voir surgir des spectres : ceux qui hier, ont aimé Staline et Mao et, bientôt, vont pleurer Castro ? Ceux qui n’ont rien vu à Moscou, Pékin, La Havane, Téhéran, Sarajevo, et Billancourt ? Ceux qui, maintenant, devinent dans l’islamisme une rédemption de l’0ccident ? Cette grande armée des spectres, de l’erreur absolue, dieu merci, elle n’a jamais cessé de se tromper d’avenir. (…) par-delà ce cas singulier, on ne se méfie pas assez du grand écrivain et de la star dès qu’ils abusent de leur séduction pour propager des opinions politiques, seulement politiques, mais déguisées autrement. (…) On se garde de l’homme politique, l’élu démocratique, beaucoup trop puisqu’il avance à découvert. On ne se garde pas assez, en revanche, de l’artiste quand son talent le dissimule, surtout quand le talent est grand : des magiciens, grimés en moralistes, on ne se méfie jamais assez. Guy Sorman

On ne se méfiera décidément jamais assez …

A l’heure où, avec la publication de nouvelles archives du FBI, les révélations commencent à sortir sur le passé de compagnon de route et membre actif du parti communiste du récemment disparu historien américain et héros de la gauche internationale Howard Zinn

Retour, dans notre série « Epouser toutes les mauvaises causes de sa génération sans en manquer aucune » …

Sur un autre héros de la gauche bien-pensante (de Beauvoir et Sartre à Mailer, Miller et Russell, lors notamment de la déchéance de sa nationalité par l’Etat australien pendant 17 ans) le célèbre journaliste australien et auteur du « scoop du siècle » (sur Hiroshima) mais également jusqu’à sa mort d’un cancer en 1983 (à Sofia auprès de son épouse bulgare!) sur la plupart des conflits de la guerre froide (Corée, Vietnam) …

A savoir Wilfred Burchett qui, malgré ses dénégations, se révélà lui aussi non seulement un fidèle compagnon de route mais un véritable traitre à sa patrie et au Monde libre …

Relayant, à la demande de ses mandants soviétiques ou chinois, les campagnes de désinformationles les plus échevelées (notamment les rumeurs de prétendue guerre bactériologique contre le général Ridgway en Corée à partir soi-disant d’interrogatoires de prisonniers de guerre alliés) tant contre le camp occidental que les dissidents d’Europe lors des tristement célèbres procès de Moscou …

Mais finissant par être démasqué à la fois par le témoignage de transfuges devant le Sénat américain en 1969 (son officier traitant du KGB Yuri Krotkov et les nord-Coréens Bui Cong Tuong et Ming Trung), puis lors d’un procès en diffamation en Australie contre un sénateur en 1974 qui fit témoigner nombre de soldats contre lui.

Avant la confirmation avec l’ouverture d’archives communistes dans les années 90 (Peter Hruby)  et surtout en 2008 le livre du journaliste hongrois Tibor Méray qui avait passé un an avec lui en Corée …

The Burchett Chronicles: new evidence from 1951

Crickey

4 February 2009

Peter Hruby, the author of the forthcoming Dangerous Dreamers: The Australian Anti-Democratic Left and Czechoslovak Agents, writes:

Below is a chapter on Wilfred Burchett taken from Peter Hruby’s forthcoming book entitled Dangerous Dreamers: The Australian Anti-Democratic Left and Czechoslovak Agents. It describes all five documents to be found in the Prague archives of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia attesting to Burchett’s membership of the CPA. According to Hruby, Czech secret services were much involved in the Soviet attempt to make out of Australia another of its satellites.

WILFRED BURCHETT: A DEVOTED SCRIBE FOR HIRE

Credibility is one of the major assets of a successful journalist; if he is not trusted, he will not be read. During the Cold War, for decades, Wilfred Burchett was the most widely read and influential Australian reporter and writer on international affairs. It was facilitated by his claim that although he sometimes sympathised with Communist causes, he did not belong to any Communist party. He repeatedly denied that he was a member of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA). He lied even under oath to the New South Wales Supreme Court in 1974 when he categorically denied he had ever been a member of the CPA. Many people believed him; those who did not had no proof of his deception.

Prague Documents

Research in October 1996 in the State Central Archive of the Czech Republic, then on Karmelitská ulice (a street) in Prague, put an end to the late Burchett’s credibility and to his defenders’ claims that he was an honorable man and victim of Cold War fabrications.

In the archive that houses documents from the history of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (CPCZ), I found five documentations of Burchett’s systematic lying. The oldest is from Decenber 27, 1950. Secretary H. Glaserová sent a “Note for Comrade Geminder.” Geminder was her boss, the head of the International Department of the Central Committee of the CPCZ, and allegedly the most important Soviet agent in Prague. Comrade Glaserová reported on the visit of Comrade Jack Hughes, Chairman of the Control Commission of the CPA:

Comrade Hughes talked about the case of the Australian journalist, Comrade Burchett, who after the war worked as a journalist in some countries of people’s democracy; also for a short time in Czechoslovakia. Recently, he was expelled and returned to Australia. The Australian Party is content with his work and is certain he is a good comrade. The Party would be glad if his name was cleared, as well as his wife’s whose nationality is of another people’s democracy, maybe Bulgaria.1

The second document is even more important since it was written and signed by G. W. Burchett himself on July 13, 1951 in room 314 in the Peking Hotel in China.

It was addressed to Ernie Thornton, former general secretary of the Federated Ironworkers Association and prominent member of the CPA, who was on his way from China to Czechoslovakia. In a very long letter, Burchett pleaded his innocence as a member of the CPA. He blamed two other comrades for his expulsion from Prague: Comrade Jakš, a former chief of Telepress who supposedly owed him some money for work done, and Dr. Popper of the Press Department of the Ministry of Information; they denounced him as a British and American agent respectively. As a result, his wife, whom he married in Sofia, was “suspended from the Bulgarian Communist Party.” In his letter, Burchett also claimed that “a number of Telepress agents protected by Jakš were later proved to be Titoists and Trotskyites.”

The early fifties were very dangerous times for members of Communist parties in Central and Eastern Europe. Stalin was purging his own and his satellite empire of alleged foreign spies. The era typified Lenin’s slogan “Kto Kogo” (Who Whom — who kills whom first). Those who wanted to survive kept denouncing their colleagues before their colleagues could denounce them.

Burchett seemed to be a good target because of his contacts with the British and American officials that he was working against, mainly in Berlin. In his defence, Burchett wrote, “Dear Comrade Thornton: I have never been expelled nor even disciplined by the CPA.” He then stressed:

I was not, nor could have been, expelled by the Russians from Berlin … I had the closest relations with Soviet colleagues in the Sovinform Buro. It was the latter who arranged the publication of my book Sonnenaufgang über Asien in the Soviet Sector of Berlin, after the time I was supposed to have been expelled.

Burchett supported his good credentials with Russian, Hungarian, and Bulgarian regimes by enumerating his long stays in Berlin, Budapest, and Bulgaria. “Only in Prague … did these most harmful rumours originate.” He then showed that cunning agents can also be extremely naive. He made an almost suicidal proposition: “I can be dealt with, extradited to Prague and charged.” Later we will look at parts of his autobiography which demonstrate what kind of harm could have been done to him in Prague which was then in the maelstrom of a vicious with-hunt of communists by Soviet executioners.

The letter to Thornton ended in a touching, comradely note:

My wife has been a loyal worker in the Bulgarian C.P. or in the illegal Youth League since the age of 16. Needless to say our only wish on getting married was to serve the party together by combining our talents and using them wherever they were needed. With comradely greetings, W.G. Burchett.2

The last paragraph of the letter shows how well its author absorbed the Stalinist attitudes of the times: Soviet and people’s democracies’ textbooks, newspapers, and journals were full of stories about girls falling in love with tractor drivers just because they managed to surpass the norm for deep plowing, and men being enraptured by milkmaids who doubled the amount of milk from their collectively owned cows. Eros was acceptable only in the service to the party. Dating was sanctioned only if it was to attend party meetings.

Ernie Thornton delivered Burchett’s letter as he was asked. We are able to read it thanks to its preservation in the State Central Archive in Prague. As a good comrade, Thornton did even more. On August 6, 1951, from the Czech hotel Paříž (Paris) in Prague, he forwarded to the International Department of the CPCZ a “confirmation” of Burchett´s good standing in the party: “It might interest Comrade Geminder because some time ago I talked with him about it.” He requested that a copy of the reference be sent to the Central Committee of the CP of Bulgaria, Sofia. It was sent on August 20, 1951, written in Russian.3

Finally, the fifth document should be reproduced in full:

The Communist Party of Australia Central Committee, 40 Market Street,

Sydney,

18.6.1951

Dear Comrade,

We obtained a request to confirm the status of comrade Wilfred Burchett.

The Party does not issue recommendations except in extraordinary circumstances and does not possess any form of recommendation nor a seal that could be used to documents of that kind. In the case in question, Comrade Burchett has the trust of the Australian Party. His work is considered to be satisfactory and we have no reason to doubt his loyalty. The situation of his wife is known to us and we would be grateful for any help that would be offered to him . Since the entry into the Party, he has been its member without interruption.

R. Dixon, Chairman L.L. Sharkey

Secretary General.4

Wilfred Burchett was not a pathological liar, but a Leninist-Stalinist operative who as such was convinced that in the war against bourgeois capitalism, in order to achieve the hoped-for Communist future, he had the right, even the duty to deceive the enemy. In Burchett’s mind, there was no doubt that for achieving the ideal result, he had to use less than ideal methods, because the bourgeois enemy also lied.

Nevertheless, his books are always less than truthful, even when the bourgeois enemy is hard to see. For instance, in his autobiography published in 1981, he alleged that he had learned about the suspicion of his being a British intelligence agent “only ten years later,” even though he obviously defended himself against such an accusation in 1951.5 Therefore, it is difficult to believe his statement in the same memoir that early in his adult life he filled an application to join the CPA, but “There was no follow up to my application.”6

From Australia to Berlin and Budapest

Burchett became a Communist fighter for the usual reasons: he grew up during the depression and shared the assumption that the class war and its injustices, the crises of capitalism, international wars, and colonialism could only be abolished by revolution and the establishment of communism. His view of the world was Manichean; he hated the enemy, and he believed, or sometimes pretended to believe, that everything was great on his side of the barricades. The fact that for thirty years he was well paid and provided for by Communist regimes was probably also a factor.

Burchett’s books are painful to read. They are loathsome, full of propaganda clichés that are all too familiar to someone who for long years had to read Soviet prose whose tactics and techniques Burchett adopted one hundred percent. Although he obviously kept distorting the truth, it is surprising how many people believed his slanted reportage. One finds believable what one wants to believe.

He himself had to admit that he often falsified the truth with the excuse that at the time he believed it. After articles and books about his daring and adventurous trips to New Caledonia, China, Burma, and the Pacific during World War II, he established his popularity with the anti-American Left when in 1945 he managed to get to Hiroshima soon after the atomic bomb devastated the city. Allegedly against American wishes, he reported on the damage done to people by the radiation.

However, according to Pat Burgess, this fame was unearned, since the report was actually written by Henry Keys who used “a mass of information from the Domei files and had interviewed a lot of people including some eye witnesses.” Out of some two or three thousand words that Burchett wrote on the subject, the press agency released only two hundred, and even those were not used. Some Americans who came back from Hiroshima were surprised that Burchett had not asked them to take back his report which they would have gladly done. Keye sent the copy under the Burchett byline to the Express. “When Wilfred got back he said, ‘Oh no! Don´t tell me!‘“7

From 1946 to 1949, Burchett continued to send his reports to the British press from Berlin. According to his book Cold War in Germany, the Americans were then planning a Third World War and were provoking the Cold War against the peaceful Soviet Union that was interested only in safeguarding its own security. The creation of the Soviet satellite empire and brutal suppression of democracy and freedom in Central Europe was therefore good. He even blamed the Western allies for slow denazification in Germany and the Swiss for hoarding Nazi gold. He weakened his case with hateful exaggerations.

In his “Report of the Committee of the Judiciary, United States Senate” of the sixth and tenth of November, 1969, Soviet defector and former NKVD-KGB operative Yuri Krotkov testified that he cooperated with Burchett in Berlin from 1947 to 1949. The Australian journalist had access to Soviet funds and worked as a typical Soviet propagandist.

According to Burchett, “The Western Powers acted as did Hitler and Mussolini, using the same language as Goebbels.” 8 East Germany remained occupied by Soviet armed forces until 1989; in spite of this fact, Burchett claimed that “the republic was given real powers immediately after it was founded, in contrast to the illusory powers vested in the Bonn regime … the republic started life politically and economically independent.”9

Soviet soldiers in Central and Eastern Europe committed many violent crimes. Historian John Lewis Gaddiss emphasized “the mass rape of some two million German women by Soviet soldiers as the war ended.”10 They were feared not only in Germany but also in countries supposedly liberated by them, such as Czechoslovakia. They raped women and used trucks for stealing all that could be removed from private, including workers’, homes. Burchett found a way to exculpate them: “Many crimes of violence were being committed by criminals in Soviet uniforms.”11

According to Burchett, there was a basic difference between puppets installed in East Germany by Soviet authorities and democratically elected West German politicians:

Prime Minister Grotewohl is a clear-thinking, highly intelligent man who has won the confidence of the workers, farmers and lower middle-class in the Soviet Zone, and his influence extends far into the Western Zone as well. His speeches are models of clarity, and like those of Pieck, devoid of any trace of demagogy. His quiet demeanor is in sharp contrast to the antics of the West German politicians, especially the Social Democrat leaders, who have copied emotional ranting and shouting of the Nazis.12

Burchett’s readers were not told about East German or Hungarian elections in which the communists were so badly beaten that no free elections were ever allowed again. On the last page of his book Cold War in Germany, published in 1950, Burchett wrote prophetically:

History will one day pass its verdict on who best served the interests of world peace and human happiness, the Allies who built in the West or the Soviet Union who built in the East.13

The prophecy was as wrong as can be. East German workers attempted a revolution in 1953; millions of East Germans fled to the West before the Berlin Wall was erected, to be finally destroyed by rebelling East Germans in 1989.

Burchett’s Cold War in Germany became popular in Australia. The year of its publication, a second printing was issued. To achieve even wider distribution, World Unity Publications began a series of pamphlets based on the book by editing 64 out of its 258 pages as Warmongers Unmasked.

Even more disgraceful than canvassed false propaganda from Berlin was Burchett’s reporting from his next place of residence, Budapest. He was completely fooled by Stalinist show trials in Hungary and Bulgaria. In his book Peoples’ Democracies, issued in 1951,14 he reproduced pages of the official Hungarian proceedings of Cardinal Mindszenty and praised the organizers of the infamous show trial: “There is a quality of brilliance and imagination (sic!) in the leadership in Hungary today.”15

The imaginary plot of one of the top Hungarian communists, Laszlo Rajk, invented and staged by secret services, was described by Burchett as carefully prepared conspiracy by Yugoslav and former fascist Horthy officers. Burchett embroidered Soviet secret police fabrications into his account: “Rajk and his gang were disclosed as miserable bloodthirsty adventurers.”16 Burchett thus helped to prepare the public for the intended Soviet invasion into Yugoslavia. The Hungarian General Kiraly later disclosed that he was in charge of Hungarian troops that were ready to put down Tito’s insubordination to Stalin in Yugoslavia. “What stopped the attack was America´s unexpectedly strong stand in Korea.”17

Similarly, the judicial murder of the Bulgarian Communist leader Traicho Kostov inspired Burchett to colorful reporting on “a Yugoslav plan for Bulgaria every whit as diabolical and bloodthirsty as that for Hungary.” Kostov “was a Bulgarian Trotsky.” 18 It is worth noting that Burchett fully adopted the Stalinist vocabulary and sloganeering that was obligatory for all Central and East European Communist scribblers. He was one of them.

In a chapter of his book Peoples’ Democracies, entitled “Liberty in Eastern Europe,” he revealed the vicious side of the revolutionary “idealists” when he compared Stalinist show trials with events after the French Revolution in 1789:

The French revolutionaries certainly had no intention to grant “liberty, eguality and fraternity” to the Royalists. They quite properly chopped their heads off.19

He followed the official Stalinist line that liberty in people’s democracies existed for ninety percent of the population and only “money-changers,” bankers, and kulaks had their liberty curtailed. In fact, liberty did not exist at all; nobody could enjoy it; even the bosses could not feel safe. Burchett extolled the liberty of “hundreds of thousands of youths” since “each of these youths can look forward to a full and creative life.” 20 That was written only five years before the Hungarian revolution, started by young people. Thousands of them disappeared in Siberian concentration camps. Tens of thousands ran away from their country into exile. Many of them emigrated to Australia.

In his autobiography, At the Barricades (1981), Burchett admitted that he was completely wrong:

In Belgrade [1956] … I apologized for some of my own confused writings during the period immediately after Tito´s expulsion.21 He also made a reversal concerning Bulgarian show trials: [Traicho] Kostov had done what his old comrade Giorgi Dimitrov had done sixteen years earlier at the Reichstag Fire Trial. He had knocked the stuffing out of the prosecution [by publicly denying his guilt]. I was considerably shaken by the Kostov trial. 22

Burchett did not mention this at the time in his book devoted to these trials, of course. That means that he consciously lied at one time or the other. In 1981, he added a new twist to his false propagandising: “Stalin was a dupe of [Allen] Dulles” who supposedly plotted the whole thing!23 Burchett’s readers were asked to believe that Stalin’s murderous show trials of his own agents were not meticulously planned for years and executed by his own secret services, but by the CIA!

Similarly, in 1981, he still blamed the Americans for the spontaneous nationwide Hungarian revolution of 1956, because, as he wrote:

Hungarian fascists expected Americans in June 1951. That was the state of mind induced by Radio Free Europe which hammered away implicitly on the theme “get the fighting started — anywhere — and the Free World forces will be at your side.” 24

Burchett’s analysis is a lie. Radio Free Europe began broadcasting in May 1951 to Czechoslovakia only, and much later to Hungary and other Soviet satellites. I worked for Radio Free Europe as an editor and writer for thirteen years starting before it began broadcasting; it never encouraged East Europeans to start a revolution; its American supervisors were very strict and cautious about that, and its East European employees were responsible people who did not feel that from their relatively safe position they had any right to risk their compatriots’ lives.

Notwithstanding his last assertion of CIA provocation of the revolting Hungarian fascists, Burchett expressly admitted in 1981 that “Hungarian workers at the time had good reasons to be in a rebellious mood.” 25

Although Burchett was obviously spreading false propaganda in the fifties, many people in England and Australia believed him. Goff McDonald pointed to that trust when he wrote:

The main authority in such cases [the treachery of Tito] was the Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett, whose books such as Peoples´ Democracy — together with his pamphlets and articles — echoed the voice of Stalin…

The communist press, in Australia and elsewhere, repeated the words of Pravda and material from Wilfred Burchett which explained the trial [of Rajk] was further proof of the plans of the Yugoslav Fascist clique of Tito. 26

In spite of the fact that Burchett lied about events in Central and Eastern Europe, those who did not mind being deceived, or rather preferred to be told what would confirm their prejudices, went on trusting his judgment. And Burchett was able to go on fooling his readers about what was really happening and further spread biased propaganda.

Role Model

In his previous review of his life, Passport: An Autobiography (1969),27 Burchett was not yet ready to admit his “mistakes.” However, in both books he revealed that throughout his political life Egon Erwin Kisch (with his name often misspelled) served as his model. He led his readers to believe that Kisch was not a communist in spite of the well established fact that Kisch was not only a communist but also one of the most important Soviet agents of the Comintern.

Kisch was a Czechoslovak citizen and an operative who was prominent in Stalin’s propaganda campaign against “war and Fascism” that helped to attract many people to Communist causes. (An excellent source, explaining and tracing the seduction of the “Innocents” — as they called them — is Stephen Koch’s book Double Lives: Spies and Writers in the Secret Soviet War of Ideas Against the West.28)

In 1934, Kisch was invited to the all-Australian Congress Against War and Fascism in Melbourne. When he was not allowed by the authorities to disembark, he jumped the ship and broke his leg. In the continuing scandal in which the Government proved to be quite incapable to handle the situation, the CPA managed to stage large demonstrations for this “victim of the Australian Right.” Burchett took part and decided to become an international journalist (and Communist agent) like his role model Kisch, who was a master of pro-Soviet propaganda carefully masked as one serving noble ideals. Both duped many people not acquainted with modern totalitarian underhanded methods.29

In his first autobiography, Passport, Burchett wrote:

The whole Kisch incident had a profound effect on me in many ways. I was impressed by the quality of the man himself, his physical and moral courage, and also the way in which he used his pen to uncover injustice and fight for life’s good causes. Subconsciously, I accepted him as the model of a progressive journalist.30

It is often interesting to compare Burchett’s two autobiographical books. In his Passport, he recalls:

Years after the Sydney Domain meeting I met Ergon (sic) Irwin (sic) Kisch in his own beloved Prague, a few months after the liberation of Czechoslovakia from the Nazis. Because I was Australian, and he had fallen completely in love with Australia, he escorted me for days on end to show me Prague.31

The same visit to the Czech capital city plays a different role in Burchett´s second autobiography, published twelve years later:

I had driven through Czechoslovakia from Vienna to Prague on the beautiful spring Sunday of May 26, 1946, when voters were going to the polls in the first general elections since 1935.

Kisch’s time with him shrank from several days to a single day: “Just because I was an Australian, Kisch devoted the entire second day of my visit to escorting me around the marvels of his beloved Prague.”32 Although he wrote “There must have been lots of Soviet troops around,” in fact there were none. However, much more truthfully he wrote:

I was approached by a compatriot and fellow journalist, John Fischer … He insisted on dragging me off to a house party where I would meet some “interesting blokes.” First was my idol of ten years earlier, Egon Irwin (sic) Kisch, who had survived Spain and French concentration camps… With him were another well-known Czech writer, Andre Simon [alias Otto Katz], the future Foreign Minister Vladimir Clementis, and the brother of Rudolf Slansky, general secretary of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party … almost all those in that room were later executed as “spies” and “traitors.”3

As far as I know, that is the only time Burchett, the biased “specialist” on show trials in Central and Eastern Europe, wrote about the worst of them which ended with eleven top Communist leaders of the CPCZ being hanged. In his autobiography, he added:

Mutual friends later commented that it was as well that he [Kisch] died a natural dath rather than see — and probably share — the humiliation and destruction of some of his closest comrades.34

Burchett did not mention what must have been on his mind: he himself might have shared the months-long tortures and humiliations suffered by Kisch’s “closest friends” had the Soviet specialists in “scientific” torture (as they themselves proudly boasted) accepted his offer – quoted from his letter to Thornton above — to be extradited to Prague and put on trial in the years of judicial murders.

As an Australian, he might have escaped hanging, but as with the similarly committed Communist agents, brothers Herman and Noel Field, who were used in the Prague and Budapest trials as star witnesses, he would have experienced some prolonged distress. He clearly was considered by the organizers of the murderous circus and was proposed for such a role by comrades Jakš and Popper. Burchett played with fire.

Luckily for him, the script-writers of the show trials preferred the Fields because as Hungarian-American Jews they could better serve the dual purpose of Stalin’s campaign against the alleged American and Jewish “Zionist” conspiracy.

After his close call, Burchett went to Australia to lecture on the benefits that Communist regimes provided to citizens of Stalinised countries. In his excellent study of Burchett, “He Chose Stalin,” Rober Manne described Burchett’s four month tour, from September 1950 to February 1951:

Burchett assured his Australian audiences that conditions in the people’s democracies were “paradise” in comparison to those prevailing before the coming of communist rule… The peoples and governments of the Soviet block were peace-loving; to return from there to the west was “like entering into a mad-house.”35

During his Australian lecture tour, Burchett obviously did not reveal the whole ugly truth as he knew it to be, which he later admitted.

China and Korea

The next attraction for his Communist enthusiasm — and upkeep — Burchett found in China. He essentially became employed by the Chinese Communist Party to serve as its propagandist. He was enchanted by the results of the revolution as shown in his book, published in Melbourne in 1952, China´s Feet Unbound. By then he was already engaged in Korea as more than just a paid political propagandist.

He took part in the brainwashing of the English-speaking captives. His contribution to the Soviet campaign, blaming the Americans for spreading germs over Korea in order to destroy crops, was far reaching. By writing articles on the invented germ warfare and actively “persuading” American pilots to sign false confessions that he himself often wrote for them, Burchett descended into the depths of an agent-torturer.36

In Passport, Burchett claimed that “in exposing American experiments in germ warfare, I was doing my duty as a journalist and a responsible member of human society.”37 Compare this with the testimony of a member of the Czechoslovak Department for Active Measures, Ladislav Bittman, who revealed the truth in his 1985 book The KGB and Soviet Disinformation:

During the Korean War (1950-1953), the KGB conducted a worldwide disinformation campaign accusing the United States of using bacteriological warfare. With the help of Western journalists like Wilfred Burchett, the Soviets publicized the forged evidence in Communist as well as Western newspapers.38

From documents recently published from Soviet archives, it is well established that Stalin resisted North Korean requests for an attack on South Korea for an entire year before he finally agreed and took part with large combat units of his own.39 He even suggested a provocation from the south by sending North Korean troops across the border in order to be pursued back, exactly the same way Hitler had “responded” to the Polish “invasion” simulated by his own soldiers in Polish uniforms. Burchett always lied about the supposed South Korean attack on the North thus beginning the war. Even as late as March 25, 1974, in a Stockholm lecture, he claimed:

According to my own, still incomplete investigation, the war started in fact in August-September, 1949, and not in June, 1950. Repeated attacks were made along key sections of the 38th parallel throughout the summer of 1949, by Rhee’s forces, aiming at securing jump-off positions for a full-scale invasion of the North.40

Apparently Nikita Khrushchev was not so well informed as Burchett. At the July 1955 CPSU Plenum, he declared, turning to Molotov, “We started the Korean War” and repeated, “We started the war.”41

While working for the Chinese, Soviet, and North Korean communists, Burchett “told Reuters that in 1952 he was offered $100,000 by the CIA ‘to come to the other side and write a few articles.’ He said he declined the offer.” Again, the truth is the other way around. As Manne learned from ASIO archives, Burchett himself approached the American military command in Korea in the first week of September 1953 “and let it be known that, in return for being offered an amnesty from the Australian government, he would be willing to give useful information to American military intelligence.” The Australians refused to accept such an offer when asked by the Americans and considered putting him on trial.42

Four nations were neutral members of the repatriation commission in Korea. However, the neutrality of the Czechoslovak and Polish group was very doubtful, as the other two, the Swiss and the Swedes, soon discovered. The two people’s democratic representatives consulted each other before departure from Central Europe. They reached Keson in Korea in the second half of 1953.

According to documents found in the Czech Republic’s Foreign Ministry archive, the Czechoslovak delegation numbered 365, although the Ministry acknowledged that only 250 were requested. It was led by Colonel Vrba. Minutes of a meeting on the twenty-sixth of June, 1954, marked “Strictly Secret!” reveal that Chu En-lai addressed them. The Polish delegate Krzemiew declared, “Our job is to fulfill the instructions of the Chinese and Korean governments.” Li San-Cho said that “the speech of the Swiss delegate on the 23rd of June was unfavorable, equally the Swedish declaration; it would be difficult to reach any agreement with them.” A Czech delegate commented, “The Swedes and the Swiss, we know what they are: svolotch.” The Russian word used can be translated as “scoundrels.”43 But its meaning isworse.

For his services to North Korean communists, Burchett received a medal from Kill Il Sung, but he knew that in Australia he would have been put on trial. In 1955, in order to avoid flying to Hanoi through Singapore or Hong Kong where he could have been arrested, his “friend” (as he often claimed) Chu En-Lai transported Burchett in his own plane.44

The question of Burchett’s treachery or innocence provoked a long and heated debate in Australia. His harshest critic was the Australian Professor and refugee from Communist Czechoslovakia, Frank Knopfelmacher, who wrote:

The ancient Common Law definition of high treason — giving aid and comfort to Sovereign enemies; or Australia’s enemies…clearly applied to Burchett, and he ought to have been tried, sentenced and executed, if found guilty of the felony of high treason.45

The severest punishment the Australian authorities bestowed on Burchett was their refusal to grant him a new passport when his old one was lost. That made him a victim in the eyes of the international brigade of Anti-American and anti-capitalist stars such as Jane Fonda and Graham Greene.

Vietnam Between Moscow and Peking

After his Chinese employers, the Vietnamese communists took over Burchett’s upkeep between 1954 and 1957. They provided him with money, a house, a car, a cook, a secretary, and military bodyguards whenever he visited the front of the war to take over the whole of Vietnam.

However, Burchett wanted to move to Moscow. In 1956, he again contacted KGB agent Yuri Krotkov. Burchett told Krotkov that he was an illegal, underground member of the CPA and “asked for money from the Soviet Communist Party.”46 He was hired and in 1957 settled in Moscow with his family. He wrote in his autobiography:

Suddenly space was available in the posh Vissotni Dom (“skyscraper”) overlooking the Moscow river, half a mile downstream from the Kremlin… Stalin himself, it was said, had chosen the original list of occupants.47

Burchett stayed there with the highest Soviet elite in the luxury apartment for more than five years, writing for the London conservative Daily Express under a pseudonym.

During Burchett’s employment by the Soviet secret service, his shifting alliances became gradually more pronounced. In the developing conflict between the Soviet and Chinese Communist parties, he moved almost completely to Mao’s side (and with him most of the Australian Communist apparatchiks).

Several times during the early sixties he went to see the former states of Indochina and began to prefer Vietnam which had closer ties with Moscow than with Peking. Although he publicly supported Mao Tse-tung’s Cultural Revolution, he later admitted that he was nonplussed by it. In April 1967, he saw in Peking the violent infighting between various Communist groups denouncing each other. He was told, as he wrote, by the stauch supporter of revolutionary struggles — Anna Louise Strong:

“Mao has let the genie out of the bottle, and I’m not sure he’s going to be able to get it back in!”

She also told him that Chou En-lai, who was then “stamping out fires,” was more important than Mao.48

For years, in his press reports and books on the Vietnamese conflict, Burchett claimed that there was no coordination between the North Vietnamese Government and revolutionaries in the South. There would be no reunification. His autobiography confirms that he was systematically lying:

In truth, there was one single revolutionary strategy for the military, political, and diplomatic fronts of Vietnam and one united leadership of that strategy, but it was still secret.49

He was thus far receiving his stipend from Moscow as was witnessed in 1969 at the Pnomh Penh airport by his film-maker friend Edwin Morrisby and reported in Morrisby’s Memoir in 1985. Morrisby also revealed that the large amount of money in American Express Travellers’ checks was delivered to him by a North Vietnamese. Morrisby knew that Burchett was a KGB agent and that his wife worked for the Bulgarian branch of the KGB.50

Since his close connection with Asian Communist parties was well known, he was often asked for inside information by journalists in Korea and later even by Averell Harriman at the Paris peace talks and in Washington, D.C. by Henry Kissinger, as he proudly reported in his autobiography.51 They knew that he could speak for the communists.

Burchett’s work for the Vietnamese Communist Party was probably the most sincere and closest to his heart as well as most successful at obtaining results. As usual, he exaggerated, pretended, lied, but the “American capitalists and militarists” were obviously involved in a controversial war. Viet Minh fighter Hinh Truong testified to Burchett”s importance to the cause: “Mr Burchett was a Communist, an international Communist soldier.”52 Burchett´s friend Morrisby wrote:

Wilfred proudly told me that the Vietnamese High command did not think that the war could be won on the ground and had to be won at the public relations level.53

Santamaria concluded his chapter devoted to him: “Burchett was a paid Soviet agent, who operated as a ‘combattant’ in support of forces fighting Australian soldiers in the field.”54

Imitating Kisch

In 1970, Burchett, following the example of his model Kisch, flew to Australia without a passport or visa in a private plane provided by the millionaire Gordon Barton.55 Once again, Australian authorities did not know how to handle him without making an even bigger martyr out of him. Burchett was able to entitle a chapter of his second memoir “Prodigal’s Return.”56 In spite of a long history of lying and working actively for enemies of Australia and world democracies, he was still very popular with Leftist and “liberal” people.

Kisch’s legend was still very much on Burchett‘s mind:

Telegrams started pouring in from trade unions, student organizations, personalities, some of them known to me, others not, pledging support and urging me to continue the Fight. My mind could not but go back to Egon Erwin Kisch and his fight thirty-six years earlier. But travel methods had changed. I could not jump out of a plane somewhere in Australia.57

Burchett felt great that he could imitate — minus the jumping — the other Soviet agent, but in his biography — as we will see — only forty pages separate this “triumph” from expressions of desperation from the movement whose cause he served for decades.

Chinese Miracles

Burchett managed to praise Mao Tse-tung’s disastrous experimentation with huge anthill human communes. His book China: The Quality of Life (1976) was based on his visit in the summer of 1973. According to Burchett, “Mao’s Gratest Leap,” as he called the first chapter, did not produce a famine costing millions of Chinese lives, as was later admitted by the Chinese Communist Party, but was an enormous success: “Within four months… China’s more than a billion farmers were reorganized without any interruption in production.”58

The communization was not ordered from above, not at all: “As the initiative for forming the communes came from the grassroots, there was no standard set of rules. Members made their own.”59 The Marxist spirit so moved peasants that — miracle of miracles — all made their own rules exactly the same way, as if ordered and enforced militarily from above: “A striking aspect was the general uniformity of the way things worked.”60 The credulity of intellectuals in the new Holy Spirit who wanted to be fooled is almost unbelievable. (I myself witnessed a colleague of mine in Perth extolling the virtues of the communes. He was believed by many. My objections were ignored.)

In the second chapter, “Fifty Thousand Police-less States,” Burchett admired the decentralization of the strictly centralized police dictatorship:

The communes have a certain degree of autonomy… They represent almost the ultimate of decentralization of state power – short of the actual withering away of the state – which is essential to Mao Tse-tung’s philosophy.61

In the slaughterhouse that China was becoming, almost everything was ideal:

Although there is a People’s Militia, there is no army, [only four or five million soldiers!] no police and no courts or gaols…62 Crime? … It’s practically non-existent.63

In this Marxist paradise, “wherever we looked the picture was the same — of people running their own lives … without interference from the outside and progressing steadily towards prosperity.”64 [All while millions of Chinese were dying of starvation!]

Here Burchett surely reaches the apogee of his deception.

Another disaster, the closing of all universities and colleges, depriving a whole generation of Chinese students of higher education, was celebrated by Burchett:

Since the Cultural Revolution, everyone in China from kindergarten onwards has studied Marxist theory at some level or another …65

The achievements of the Great Leap Forward were consolidated during the Cultural Revolution.66

Burchett was enthusiastic about the alleged privileges obtained by ethnic minorities, especially the Tibetans: “The national minority peoples have been helped in every imaginable way to … run their own affairs.”67 Why then did so many try to run away? Why were so many massacred?

It took years before the rest of the world was allowed to hear from Chinese communists themselves about Mao’s catastrophic policies and the incredible suffering imposed on the Chinese people, so several books devoted to Vietnam by the professional Communist enthusiast Burchett were avidly read and trusted. A copy of Grasshopers and Elephants: Why Viet Nam Fell that I saw in a university library was so heavily underlined by students on every page that I wondered how much damage such reckless readers could do in the guerrilla war for which many students in Australia were then being trained.

The Godot That Failed

Burchett’s career of highly compensated admiration for everything done by Communist regimes was coming to an end. His only reward was to live in a private hell, as he truthfully — finally telling the truth — admitted in his memoirs:

Regardless of rights or wrongs in the China-Vietnam-Kampuchea confrontation, the main part of “my” world, in terms of reporting and engagement, was falling about my ears… Now my Asian friends were at each other’s throats — each waving the banner of socialism and revolution – and I was again in the thick of it. It was a shattering blow to a vision of things acquired during the previous four decades, including my certainty as to the superior wisdom and morality of Asian revolutionaries.68

Burchett planned to write a book of praise for Pol Pot’s Red revolution, imitating Mao’s Cultural Revolution, when he himself joined the invasion of his Vietnamese friends into Kampuchea. He finally became disgusted by the butchery that was just a little faster and more brutal than usual. He wrote:

How to explain to my left-wing readers and supporters all over the world… that the foulest barbarities were being committed in the name of “socialism” and “revolution”? … How this oasis of peace has been transformed into a slave-labor concentration camp and slaughterhouse?69

Didn’t he ever see, or at least know of, concentration camps in all the Communist countries he ever lived in and celebrated?

Burchett’s left-wing friends must have been shocked indeed — if they believed him — reading his report on Pol Pot’s and Teng Sary’s massacres. These two Kampuchean dictators were, as he now wrote, “passionate advocates of the Great proletarian Cultural Revolution,” just as Burchett was. They just went a little too far. He felt their extremism justified his Vietnamese friends’ invasion into Kampuchea:

Who but madmen would have uprooted an entire people. … Who but homicidal maniacs could have massacred 40 percent — up to 3 million — of their compatriots and deliberately conditioned a whole generation of children to regard the most barbarous forms of torture and murder as a great joke?70

Two years after the publication of his memoirs, Burchett, a heavy drinker, died in Bulgaria of liver failure.

Attempts at Burchett’s Resurrection

The nostalgia of incorrigible and dangerous dreamers is so great in Australia that at the end of 2005 some of them tried to raise from the dead the journalist who was the most successful at preaching the gospel of their political messiahs. Wilfred Burchett’s son, George Burchett, together with his late father’s friend, Nick Shimmin, published in 2005 a luxurious 785 page edition of Memoirs of a Rebel Journalist: The Autobiography of Wilfred Burchett.71 The editors claim that it is an unabridged version of his Memoirs originally published in 1981. Nick Shimmin wrote that W. Burchett was “the greatest journalist Australia has ever produced, and one of the best foreign correspondents the world has ever seen.” Such unmerited praise for a vicious traitor to Australia naturally provoked a lively exchange of opinions.

Under the title “Comrade Burchett was a party hack,” Peter Kelly wrote in the main Australian newspaper:

Burchett was not a rebel journalist — he was a faithful, conformist communist who never went against the party line despite claiming to be independent…

During two wars in which Australian troops fought and were killed — Korea and Vietnam — Burchett worked on the other side and reported from behind the enemy’s lines with its support and agreement. In both of these wars he was paid by those enemies, China and North Vietnam respectively.72

Kelly then reminded his readers of a story published by Pat Burgess who described the recollections of captured UN soldier Derek Kinne, veteran of the Korean war, of his captivity:

We´d been in the Chongsam South camp, and were told Wilfred Burchett was going to give us a lecture in the football field. We all marched up, the British in front and the Americans behind. There were about 600 Brits and 800 Americans. A lot of the British carried little nooses and about 60 called out when he started his lecture, ‘You’ll hang, you bastard’. And others took up the chorus and were hundreds singing out, ‘You’ll hang, you bastard’…. Burchett said the peace talks had broken down and we were just the lackeys of the Wall Street warmongers.

When Burchett was about to leave, Kinne asked Burchett if he was biased. He told him that “the POWs are dying like flies. The first day I was in this camp 39 men went to Boot Hill.” Because he was “hostile” to Burchett, he was later beaten and tortured.73

Reviewing the new edition of Wilfred Burchett’s Memoirs, Brigadier General Greville wrote:

During the Korean War, Burchett worked directly for the Chinese Army, which clothed, fed and housed him, in addition to paying him. Throughout this period he was under the control of a Chinese press officer, Shen Chen-tu, who edited every item Burchett wrote and instructed him on what to reveal to Western journalists during the Truce negotiations and what information he should try to exact from them. Working alongside were two other journalists, Tibor Meray from Hungary and Lucien Prachi from Poland.74

Since in his article Peter Kelly also repeated my own discovery in 1996 in the Prague archives of five documents testifying to Wilfred Burchett’s admission that he was a secret member of the Communist Party of Australia, but the admirers of the treasonable journalist claimed that they were fabrications by the Czechoslovak secret service, I had to supply my testimony that I consider them to be genuine. My letter was published in The Weekend Australian.75

Such a nostalgia, however, is not limited to family members and close friends of the lying reporter Burchett. A thesis accepted in 2007 and rewarded by a medal, unfortunately, proves that at least part of The University of Sydney is still suffering from the contagious malady of Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism-Maoism.

Jamie Miller entitled his thesis “Without Raising Problems of Proof or Refutation”: Wilfred Burchett and Australian Anti-communism.

He succeeds in his detailed documentation of the problem the Australian Government was facing when it would have liked, repeatedly, to put Burchett on trial for treason: “The Government had promoted the image of the treacherous Burchett, while simultaneously refusing to publicly substantiate any charges.”76 The Government faced legal difficulties, as Miller himself admits.77 Also it was extremely difficult to prove Burchett’s treason due to Communist secret services’ well hidden agenda. It was hard to find solid proofs that would not expose those who managed to infiltrate them. Miller is therefore able to criticise at length the Government’s refusal to renew Burchett’s passport. In support of his arguments Miller very often quotes Burchett himself.

However, Miller in his thesis attempts to do much more. He tries to condemn everybody who dared to point out Burchett’s treasonable activities and his systematic lying. He defends him as a ‘victim’ of an anti-Communist ‘obsession’.78 Although he had access not only to Burchett’s books [“some thirty-five books translated into myriad {!} languages”79] and autobiographies [he never quotes from them their author’s admissions of lying], as well as to books and articles criticizing his services to his Communist employees, but also to voluminous reports in Australian archives, including ASIO’s, he uses all this material for the almost exclusive purpose of defending Burchett as a victim of the Cold War.

In order to achieve that he invents a “pervasive and unquestionned ideology” of “anti-communism … adhered to zealously” …”founded on suspect premises” … by the “Establishment political and ideological circles in Australia” … “his ideological anemies”.80 Contrasting with it was allegedly Burchett’s “unquestionably a unique professional ethos”!81

While authors critical of Burchett’s systematic lies and treasonable activities were decent and honest people who could not stand Communist regimes that were murdering millions of their own people, Miller is able to see in them only “red-baiters”, “a cabal of anti-communist intellectuals’, their “hysteria and intellectual dishonesty”, “fused with a smear campaign”.82 According to Miller, Burchett’s “ideological enemies” acted as a “lynch mob”.83 He writes about “the institutionalisation of anti-communism”, “a personal fixation masqueraded as detailed knowledge”, “extraneous slurs” concerning his love of liquor, “partisan scholarship at its worst” by the “vicious anti-communism” … “distinctively Australian”.84

Testimony of an Eye-wittness in Korea

The Hungarian writer Timor Méray, who spent fourteen months in Korea during the armistice talks in 1951-53 together with Burchett in Kaesong and Panmunjom, wrote an important book on his experiences.85 He was sent there by the Communist newspaper Szabad Nép, where he worked as cultural editor. First, he liked Burchett and like him kept sending reports completely in agreement with Chinese and Korean propaganda. However, after the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian revolution in 1956, he fled and settled in Paris where he tried to come to terms with his foolish youthful beliefs in communism. Among other publications, this is his attempt to understand Burchett, but at the same time, after meticulous research, to rebuff him as a systematic liar.

He writes: “For me two things were never in doubt. First of all, I always knew that Burchett was a communist. He told me so without delay, right after we first met. He added that ‘this was a secret as far as non-communists were concerned and the outside world should know him as an independent.’”86 Another things was clear to Méray: “Now to the second point… Burchett – just like Winnington – was a man ‘attached to the Chinese’”87Alan Winnington represented the British Communist Party; both of them were used by the Chinese for spreading their propaganda to Western journalists, but Burchett was trusted much more for his supposed independence:

The most regularly occurring scene taking place on the Panmunjom road was Burchett and Winnington, together or separately, in the centre of a circle of eight or ten American or Western pressmen, carrying on lively discussions, providing them with information, talking over controversial issues… He found many old friends among the American pressmen… This, of course, increased his trustworthiness.88

Burchett was also screening Western journalists for the Chinese, supplying them with their personal data, always valued by secret services, informing them about positions of the other side. He was also used for testing new proposals that the Chinese intended to submit.89 Burchett was not an independent non-Communist journalist. Méray testifies:

He told me that he and Winnington were employed by the Chinese state. They receive their pay not from Ce Soir and the Daily Worker but from the Chinese… He told me that he and Winnington worked as “propagamda advisers” to the Chinese delegation at Keasong… The Chinese described Burchett and Winnington as parts of their army…Burchett and Winnington had their lodgings and full board.

For more than two years they had no need to draw their actual pay. How much money awaited them in Peking, after the Korean War ended, as their undrawn salaries, only the Chinese government could tell.90

Burchett’ s reports on the Korean War and on the armistice talks had benefitted only from his English language, style and trustworthiness: “Every single report by Burchett on the armistice talks were instigated by Shen Chen-tu and he was also Burchett’s censor… Shen was appointed by the Chinese goverment.”91

On Burchett’s crucial participation in the false Korean and Chinese accusations of American bacteriological warfare, Méray has this to say:

When he visited the camps he went there for no other reason but to serve the germ warfare campaign…It was the Chinese who sent Burchett to the camps…

Burchett toured the camps between April and June of 1952 and it was immediately after his visits that the confessions made by the American pilots were published.92

When a war correspondent and his old friend, Marguerite Higgins, met him in Panmunjom and called to his attention to “mass executions currently conducted by the Chinese communists,… Burchett replied with some contempt: ‘Well, Marguerite, you seem to have forgotten an elementary fact: that the purpose of terror is to terrorise.’”93

On his reporting on Cardinal Mindszenty’s trial Méray after careful analysis comes to this conclusion: “Burchett knew very well that he was not telling the truth,”94

Essentially, everything Burchett had reported from the communist countries in Eastern Europe to the leading British papers was a lie, from the Mindszenty trial and the Rajk trial to the Kostov trial.95

Méray is appalled by Burchett’s eulogies of the Chief Public Prosecutor during the Stalinist show trials, Andrei Vyshinsky, and of all “the most hard-handed dictators of the second half of the twentieth centuray,” Kim Il Sung, Khrushchev, Mao Tse-tung, Castro and, at the beginning, even of Pol Pot: “His concern became to serve his bosses as well as he could, and to sing their praises, in order to earn his keep. There is no other journalist, not even in the Eastern camp, who can match Burchett being a servant of the ‘cult of the personality’ on such a wide scale… He remained constantly in the service of any one of the various communist governments and parties.”96

“Cut to size by the force of history”

That’s the way a previous communist, Mark Aarons, the son of the last leader of the CPA, Laurie Aarons, entitled his review of Méray’s book. His subtitle expresses how at least some of the communists and ex-communists now, with the mounting evidence of his lying, view Burchett: “The truth is undeniable: much of Wilfred Burchett’s journalism is explicable only as unalloyed communist propaganda.” I will further quote only the first sentence of his his substantial review, since it mentions the vital discussion that the book once more provoked: “Wilfred Burchett died 25 years ago this September but the fierce debate about his life’s work continues unabated.”97

James Jeffrey in the Weekend Australian’s review under the title “Red between the lines” especially stressed Burchett’s “icy ruthlessness” and that he “as an energetic servant of totalitarian regimes … betrayed himself and his own ideals.”98

Bob Gould, praising Mark Aarons’ review, is still defended Burchett: “During the Vietnam antiwar agitation, as an ostensibly independent journalist, Burchett captured the imagination of antiwar activists throughout the world.” Gould for seven years was then himself “fairly prominent in Sydney, against the imperialist war,” and he adds: “We were correct.” Now he is willing to express his “scepticism about Burchett, or more properly my sadness about him.” He sees “Burchett’s political crime against the socialist project in the 20th century… that when the facts became clear he didn’t draw up an objective balance sheet of Stalinism.” Gould is still “deeply committed to rebuilding the socialist project.”99

The most substantial and judicious review from several others was published by Robert Manne under the title “Agent of Influence: Reassessing Wilfred Burchett.”100 He writes: “At present two Australians, Ross Fitzgerald and Simon Nasht, are reported to be making films on Burchett.” Then he lists some of “leading left-wing Australian academics… and journalists” who are still supporting Burchett, “despite everything they know about the human catastrophe of communism, … despite the pyramids of corpses.” He talks about the “post-Cold War intellectual inertia, an unwillingness to reexamine judgements made during the Cold War.”101 Toward the end of his summary Manne comes to this conclusion: “In the end, Wilfred Burchett, despite his very considerable talent and his genuine instinct for human equality, based his life on a false faith … All his books written after 1945 were spoiled by grotesque political misjudgement and propagandistic intent.”102

Conclusion

Burchett was not just a traitor to his countrymen. As a very influential writer, he used his pen to fight for Communist causes and regimes. He helped to mislead many people around the world about the fraudulent and murderous movement. How was it possible that so many people insisted on believing him? Unfortunately, people are gullible. Once they decide to believe in some political [or religious] ideology, it is difficult, if not impossible, to persuade them of the truth. It is possible to lie and misrepresent and still be trusted, as Burchett and others proved again and again. Reason is a rarely used quality. Not only children love fairy tales. Many people prefer believing patent nonsense, hoping for a savior, be it an individual or a movement. Lying professionally can be a good career.

In a way, Burchett’s career was successful. For a country boy who left school at fourteen, he did incredibly well. He learned several languages, drank a lot of liquor, met many important people and considered some of them — Chu En-lai, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro — as his friends; he published many books that were influential, as well as innumerable reports for both Communist and non-Communist newspapers; he was well paid and provided for by a succession of Communist regimes and was highly valued for services rendered to their propaganda machine. However, how worthy of admiration was the cause for which he lied so often, and for whose hoped-for victory did the regimes he glorified murder so many millions of their own people? He was a systematic liar for an unworthy program. For the cause of human reason it is humiliating that even such liars and traitors as Burchett can be celebrated with admiration years after their death, in spite of the fact that the ugly truth has been well established and documented.

——————————————————————————–

1 State Central Archive (SCA), Fond 100/3, file 25, item 91; I/6-66.

2 Ibid., I/6-8651.

3 Ibid., I/6-8651.

4 Ibid.

5 W|ilfred Burchett, At the Barricades (Macmillan, Australia, 1981), p. 153.

6 Ibid., pp. 47-48.

7 Pat Burgess, WARCO: Australian Reporters at War (Hawthorn, Vic.: William Heinemann Australia, 1986), pp. 182-83.

8 W|ilfred Burchett, Cold War in Germany (Melbourne: World Unity Publications, 1950), p. 7.

9 Ibid., p. 257.

10 See Neal Ascherson´s review of Gaddis´ We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History (Oxford, 1997), entitled “Khruschev´s Secret,” London Review of Books, October 16, 1997, p. 26.

11 Burchett, Cold War in Germany, p. 109.

12 Ibid., p. 254.

13 Ibid., p. 258.

14 Burchett, Peoples´ Democracies (Melbourne: World Unity Publications, 1951).

15 Ibid., p. 149.

16 Ibid., p. 253.

17 Richard Krygier, “Yalta and Its Aftermath,” Quadrant, September 1985, p. 31.

18 People’s Democracies, op. cit., p. 254.

19 Ibid., p. 278.

20 Ibid., p. 281.

21 At the Barricades, op. cit., p. 191.

22 Ibid., p. 146.

23 Ibid., p. 147.

24 Ibid.

25 Ibid., p. 192.

26 Geoff McDonald, Australia at Stake (North Melbourne: Peelprint, 1977), pp. 14 and 39.

27 Wilfred Burchett, Passport: AnAutobiography (Melbourne: Nelson, 1969).

28 New York: Free Press, 1994, pp. 75-76.

29 For Kisch‘s Melbourne adventure see Egon Erwin Kisch, Landung in Australien (Berlin, 1973); Robin Golan, Communism and the Australian Labour Mo vement 1920-1955 (Canberra: Australian National University Press,1975), pp.44-48; and Josef Polacek, “Zu Egon Erwin Kischs Sprung nach Australien,” Exil: Forschung, Erkenntnisse, Ergebnisse (Frankfurt, Vol. VII, 1987, No. 2), pp. 17-33; also Julian Smith, On the Pacific Front: The Adventures of Egon Kisch in Australia (Sydney, 1936). Australian documentation, the basis of Polacek’s study written in German, is available in the State Central Archive in Prague. It was sent there in April 1962 by the Czechoslovak Consul in Sydney, Jaroslav Kafka. A. Keasing, the director of the publishing house Current Books which distributed books and journals sent in by Communist states, gave Kafka the complete archive, including the judicial protocol, worried that it could be seized by his own country’s authorities. Proofs were found in the archive of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Prague. The file also contains two interviews with Kisch in Fremantle and Melbourne as well as clippings from the Australian press. Polacek’s study concludes with them in English. According to Arthur Koestler, “in his attitude to politics, Kisch was a complete cynic. He always avoided getting involved in argument with the stock phrase ‘I don’t think; Stalin thinks for me’ delivered with a straight face… Hidden behind the mask of the humorous cynic was a tired, disenchanted man, who had no illusions about the Party, but even fewer about the world outside the Party.” The Invisible Writing (New York: Stein and Day, 1984), p. 284.

30 Passport, op. cit., p. 83.

31 Ibid., pp. 83-84.

32 At the Barricades, op. cit., p. 133.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid., p. 134.

35 The Shadow of 1917: Cold war Conflict in Australia (Melbourne: Text, 1991), p. 38.

36 For details see Manne’s book Cold War…, p. 39-66. Peter Kelly, in his unpublished study, “Burchett – Last Time,” reveals how Burchett perjured himself at least three times in the New South Wales Supreme Court in 1974 and how he himself helped to search for witnesses of Burchett’s brainwashing and participation in tortures in Korean prisoners’ Communist camps for the trial of Burchett in New South Wales.

37 Burchett, Passport, op. cit., p. 285.

38 Washington, DC: Petgamon-Brassey´s, 1985 p. 38. see also Laurence Jolidon, “Soviet Interrogation of U.S. POWs in the Korean War,” Washinton, D.C.: Cold War International History Project BULLETIN, Nos. 6-7, Winter 1995/1996, pp. 123-25.

39 Ibidem, pp. 4-122.

40 Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1974, p. 11.

41 Quoted in Cold War International History Project Bulletin, Issue 10, March 1998, p. 6.

42 The Shadow of 1917, op. Cit., pp. 6-66.

43 CzMFA Archive, No 424-801/55.

44 Manne, op. cit., pp. 64-65; and Burchett, At the Barricades, op. cit., p. 281.

45 “Wilfred Burchett´s Treason,” Quadrant, Vol. XXIX, No. 215(9), September 1985, p. 32.

46 Manne, op. cit., p. 68; and Santamaria, Australia at the Crossroads: Reflections of an Outsider (Melbourne University Press, 1987), p. 159.

47 At the barricades, op. cit., p. 197.

48 Ibid., pp. 241-42.

49 Ibid., p. 242.

50 “Wilfred Burchett of the KGB?,” Quadrant, October 1985, pp. 28-32.

51 At the Barricades, op. cit., pp. 255 and 278.

52 Santamaria, op. cit., pp. 166-67.

53 Morrisby, op. cit., p. 29.

54 Santamaria, op. cit., p. 169.

55 David McKnight, Australia´s Spies and Their Secrets (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1994), p. 263.

56 At the Barricades, op. cit., pp. 259-71.

57 Ibid., p. 264.

58 Penguin Books, 1976, p. 16.

59 Ibid., p. 23.

60 Ibid., p. 29.

61 Ibid., p. 33.

62 Ibid., p. 34.

63 Ibid., p. 47.

64 Ibid.

65 Ibid., p. 99.

66 Ibid., p. 172.

67 Ibid., p. 302.

68 At the Barricades, op. cit., p. 12.

69 Ibid.

70 Ibid., p. 307.

71 Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2005.

72 The Weekend Australian, January 7, 2006.

73 Ibidem.

74 Gold Coast Bulletin.

75 The Weekend Australian, February 11, 2006.

76 Jamie Miller, ‘Without Raising Problems of Proof or Refutation’: Wilfred Burchett and Australian Anti-communism, Thesis, The University of Sydney, 2007, p. 42. I am quoting from an e-mail attachment of the thesis sent to me from Australia. The copy looks as if the pages could correspond to the actual thesis format and pages.

77 Ibid., p.2.

78 Ibid., pp. 15 and 49.

79 Ibid., p.9.

80 Ibid., pp. 12, 17 and 47. Italics by Méray.

81 Ibid., p. 14. Italics by Méray.

82 Ibid., pp. 12, 77, 73 and 23.

83 Ibid., p. 50.

84 Ibis., pp. 60, 61, 65 and 76.

85 Tibor Méray, On Burchett [Kallista, Vic., Australia: Callistemon, 2008].

86 Ibid., p. 89.

87 Ibid., p. 90.

88 Ibid., pp. 45-46.

89 Ibid., pp. 46-48.

90 Ibid., p. 93 and 97. Burchett’s emphasis.

91 Ibid., pp. 99-100.

92 Ibid., p. 81. Italics in the original.

93 Ibid., p. 54.

94 Ibid., p. 145.

95 Ibid., p. 159.

96 Ibid., 231 and 234. James Jeffrey interviewed the author after the publication of his book. Tibor Méray said that he discovered “the icy ruthlessness in him…. In Hungary he knew very well indeed the best hotels, restaurants, bars, entertainment places, wines and brandies… He also knew one or two, perhaps three, middle-ranking functionaries of the totalitarian regime. But he had not the faintest idea about the country or the people.” Weekend Australian, March 22-23 2008.

97 The Australian Literary Review, June 4, 2008, pp. 4 and 12.

98 March 22-23, 2008.

99 Ozleft: An independent voice on the left, June 4, 2008.

100 The Monthly, June 2008, No. 35, The Monthly Essays, pp. 1-12.

101 Ibid., p. 1.

102 Ibid., pp. 11-12.

Voir aussi:

BOOKS: ON BURCHETT, by Tibor Méray

by Joseph Poprzeczny (reviewer)

 13 September 2008

Epitaph for an Australian traitor

ON BURCHETT

by Tibor Méray

(Melbourne: Callistemon Publications)

Paperback: 269 pages

Rec. price: AUD$24.95

Figuratively speaking, the closest I’ve come to Wilfred Burchett was during a long conversation about him with Australia’s legendary war correspondent, Denis Warner, who told me, amongst other things, that Burchett attended his engagement party in either 1944 or 1945 on a Pacific island recently liberated by the Americans.

I seem to recall our conversation was in 1975, so it was either during, or just after, the defamation trial in which Burchett defended himself against former Democratic Labor Party (DLP) Senator Jack Kane’s accusation that he (Burchett) was a serial pro-communist propagandist.

That Sydney trial, in which Burchett was described as « a petty, conniving communist propaganda hack », prompted me to telephone Warner, who invited me to his home in Mount Eliza, Victoria, for a chat. After this, I had no need to inquire any further into this propagandist’s career.

Heroic figure?

I most certainly never bothered reading Gavan McCormack’s 1986 apologia, Burchett: Reporting the Other Side of the World, 1939-1983, which, amongst other things, ridiculously claimed he was  » an heroic Australian figure ».

Nor have I bothered with Burchett’s autobiography, Memoirs of a Rebel Journalist, edited by his son George and Nick Shimmin, who lionised Burchett as « the greatest journalist Australia has ever produced ».

Without any doubt, Gippsland-raised Burchett dedicated himself during his journalistic career to promoting communist canards and causes under the guise of fair and objective reporting.

Thirty-three years on, Tibor Méray’s recently published study On Burchett fully confirms conclusions I arrived at in the mid-1970s.

Australia has had many traitors and dedicated pro-communist proselytisers, but most of them are all too quickly forgotten.

Who, for instance, recognises names such as union leader Ernie Thornton; Walter Clayton (Soviet codename Klod/Claude), who headed an important Soviet spy ring in Canberra; and high-ranking officers in Australia’s Department of External Affairs, Jim Hill (codename Khill/Tourist) and Ian Milner (codename, Bur/Dvorak), the so-called Rhodes Scholar spy?

The only communist operative whom some may recall- and probably only because she, like Burchett, was a writer – is Katharine Susannah Prichard (codenamed Academician), who was a founder-member of the Australian Communist Party and a red propagandist, not to mention talent-spotter and courier for Soviet intelligence.

Burchett stands out because he worked for the Soviet Union and its various satellite states as a Western-based roving reporter assessing, informing and propagandising, from various Cold War flashpoints – Berlin, Korea, Vietnam. He also covered the various post-war Stalinist rigged « show trials » and faithfully parroted the official party line that those on trial, such as Hungary’s Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty and Laszlo Rajk, were genuinely guilty of treason.

Tibor Méray’s book is important for many reasons, not least because he spent a year with Burchett in Korea reporting, during the 1953 armistice negotiations, for Hungary’s communist daily Szabad Nép.

They became friends. Méray, a communist, was genuinely fond of Burchett. However, unlike Burchett, Méray eventually rejected that particular cause. After the 1956 Hungarian Uprising, which was brutally crushed by the Soviets, he fled to Paris and devoted himself to denouncing, through his writings, Soviet repression.

Méray’s book is not a vindictive indictment of a person who sided with those who crushed Méray’s homeland and so many other people’s homelands.

On the contrary, he says of Burchett in his foreword: « After all, we were friends and what is more, good friends.

« One cannot simply erase from the memory so many pleasant shared moments, the conversations, glass in hand, lasting into the early hours of the morning, the dangers and the joys experienced together. These things are simply unforgettable….

« We both helped the [communist] movement which rewarded us with decorations. Politically we were in complete accord. When our ways did part, some of your fellow Australians urged me to write about you – to write against you – more than once. »

In fact, because of his regard for his old friend, Méray held off writing On Burchett for many decades, until well after the end of the Cold War.

Historical record

However, its eventual appearance has ensured that the historical record is forever set right.

So, what do we learn? Many things.

Méray observed that Burchett, although a long-time hard-core communist, constantly showed signs of shame or guilt about his incriminating communist associations. But this incorrigible scoop-hunter – to use Méray’s term – nevertheless pressed on as a kept man accepting communist assistance.

At a famous 1973 Sydney press conference, a reporter asked Burchett, « You say you’re not a communist. Where exactly do you stand politically? »

« Where do I stand politically? » replied Burchett. « As a journalist, first of all I’m completely independent. I’m sure it’s true to say I’m more independent than anybody in this room. »

Thus he dodged declaring his true political allegiance and deceitfully claimed to be independent.

He was quite capable of performing cynical political about-turns. For instance, in 1976, a year after the murderous communist Khmer Rouge had come to power in Cambodia, Burchett declared that, under its ruler Pol Pot, the country « had become a worker-peasant-soldier state » with a constitution guaranteeing that « everyone has the right to work and a fair standard of living » and which was « one of the most democratic and revolutionary constitutions in existence anywhere ».

Burchett waited until 1979, when communist Vietnam attacked Cambodia and overthrew Pol Pot, before he finally reversed his 1976 assessment, despite the fact that, by then, Pol Pot’s genocide of nearly two million people was a well-attested fact.

Méray highlights other earlier examples of hypocrisy and sheer dishonesty. At the 1953 Korean armistice negotiations, Burchett was assigned a Chinese briefing officer.

Followed directives

Writes Méray: « It was Shen Chen-tu, the Chinese government official, who told Burchett what to write, and he supervised it every day. Burchett followed his directives without fail. Shen was Burchett’s boss and he was Shen’s subordinate. » (p.27)

Yet, as Méray points out, Burchett, in a letter to Melbourne’s The Age on March 16, 1970, boasted, as if it was his professional journalistic credo: « There is no one in the wide world that can tell me where to go and what to write; no editor or publisher, no political organisation, no government. » (p.27)

Burchett’s reticence about his clandestine life was evident in two of his books, Passport (1969) and At the Barricades (1981), in neither of which was Shen named. Méray writes: « Wilfred had the opportunity to write Shen’s name, to honour his close friend’s memory, [but] Shen remained nameless….

« Wilfred was a very conscientious journalist – conscientious in what he wrote, and also in what he left out of his stories. There must have been a reason for this omission. » (p.23).

Minor details, perhaps, but surely significant ones.

There are many similar easy-to-overlook but telling insights which make Méray’s account of Burchett’s communist fellow-travelling and his modus operandi helpful to our better understanding of other such chameleon agents of influence.

Burchett was certainly a jovial and gregarious comrade, one who even enjoyed singing Waltzing Matilda at parties. Writes Méray: « His repertoire included another song too, ‘Les Cuatros Generales’, which he said was one of the favourites with the International Brigade…. Wilfred wanted to demonstrate that we were not simply the sons of different nations but also members of a super-national world movement. »

However, underlying all his foibles, reporting and joviality was an ingrained conniving dedication to the 20th century’s biggest murderous machine, communism.

This dated back to at least 1937 when, according to Denis Warner, Burchett was helped by Stalin’s ambassador to Britain, Ivan Maisky, to set-up a London-based travel agency for the Soviets.

In 1953, at the Korean armistice talks, Méray saw Burchett cultivate, assess, brief and report on Western reporters. Manipulating the news was part of a familiar strategy employed by communists in the course of negotiations. By influencing the perceptions of – in fact, deceiving – their avowed enemies in the West, they thereby hoped to influence their behaviour at the negotiation table.

Burchett was thus a far more crucial cog in the Korean War than even his many other nefarious deeds might suggest – such deeds as reporting on prisoners-of-war and fabricating accusations that the US was engaging in germ warfare, both of which Méray treats incisively in separate chapters.

On the germ warfare canard, Méray disagrees with many critics of Burchett who have credited him with having « concocted » the germ warfare canard.

Hate campaign

Says Méray: « The [germ warfare lie] was ‘concocted’ at a much higher level than ours – Burchett’s or mine. It fulfilled the task, as it had provoked an anti-American hate campaign of an unprecedented intensity.

« During the 1970s and 1980s there was no reason left to continue with the old story. Realising this, Wilfred, having no desire to be the ‘last of the Mohicans’, dropped the subject.

« So it is poor [Gavan] McCormack who remained to be the last, or one of the last, of the Mohicans of the germ warfare issue. For him the germ warfare problem is still ‘contentious’, and he defends Burchett’s actions and pronouncements by all available means, including his role in the POW project. » (p.86)

Méray’s book On Burchett has rightly been acclaimed by Australian Korean War POW, Brigadier P.J. Grenville, CBE, as a study that « destroys many of the myths developed over 40 years by Burchett and his friends ».

Voir aussi:

Criticism

On Burchett by Tibor Meray

Patrick Morgan

Quadrant Online

September 2008

This book by the well-known Hungarian author Tibor Meray has an unusual genesis. Meray and Wilfred Burchett worked together as propaganda journalists behind the communist lines during the Korean War. Meray was spreading germ warfare allegations, and Burchett interrogating allied prisoners of war, activities of which neither could be proud. But soon afterwards, their paths diverged. Burchett went on to report communist show trials in Eastern Europe, where he agreed with the implausible accusations of the government prosecutors. Many people were executed for no reason. Meray, up till then a fervent communist apparatchik, began to have doubts about the show trials, and became a dissident communist in Hungary.

Out of this came the incident which caused Meray to write this book. Meray asked Burchett to his home in Budapest to meet some surviving victims of the show trials, hoping Burchett would be moved by their fate, and report this in the West. Burchett declined. But Meray was shocked to read some decades afterwards in Burchett’s autobiography that Burchett described this gathering as the beginnings of a counter-revolutionary plot, which led to the Hungarian revolution. Burchett slandered Meray and his colleagues as cowards and illegal gun-runners, even though some had been executed after the uprising failed. Burchett was retrospectively damning the victims. This breach of hospitality, to put it mildly, was too much for Meray, it stuck in his craw, and he decided to investigate Burchett’s whole career in the light of this incident. If Burchett could treat Meray and his friends this way, what had he done to others?

Meray analyses key incidents in Burchett’s career, producing detailed arguments demonstrating Burchett’s unreliability as a witness. This is an important book because Meray himself was not a cleanskin—he shared many of Burchett’s original weaknesses. So in writing this book Meray has had to admit guilt in many things he and Burchett were complicit in. But, unlike Meray, Burchett continued to defend communist atrocities even after communist parties themselves had ceased to defend them. Burchett never admitted he had helped condemn innocent people. He put it all down the memory hole, and blithely went on to similar pro-communist campaigns elsewhere, transferring his affections from a great mass murderer, Stalin, to an even greater one, Mao.

Meray makes some general points about Burchett. Communism began with the noble aim of supporting the oppressed against the powerful, but Burchett anomalously ended up supporting the strong battalions, powerful governments, against defenceless individuals. Meray quotes Burchett saying that, if a journalist sees a bully bashing a child, he should drop his objective role as a journalist, and go and help the child. All very well, but how often in his own life did Burchett go and help the bully?

There is not much left now of Burchett’s reputation as a political ideologue. A few lone supporters soldier on against damning recent evidence, unearthed by Peter Hruby from Soviet bloc files and published in the Australian, confirming Burchett’s Communist Party membership.

Perhaps, though Burchett’s support of communism may repel us, he was at least a good, even an outstanding journalist? Meray has his doubts. Burchett never came to a situation and simply reported it; he imposed his own ideological preconceptions on it. Is this good journalism? His little pen portraits are ludicrous and childish. All the baddies, the anticommunists, those supporting the West, are depicted as scowling, cynical, and so on, whereas citizens in communist countries are in Burchett’s writings contented, cheerful, industrious folk happy with their lot. About a show trial defendant, Burchett wrote that László Rajk had “a smile, but a smile with no warmth in it”—this facile impression was enough to condemn a man already on his way to the gallows. Burchett admitted his aim was not just to report history, but to change it.

Here Meray points out a fact I had never realised. There was something equally important to Burchett as communism, or even more important, and that was himself. Meray shows that Burchett always put himself at the centre of attention, at the centre of the picture—he saw himself as the real mover and shaker. He depicted himself as a crucial negotiator at various stages between India and China, and between the North Vietnamese and the Americans, but Meray shows that Burchett’s role was not important. Burchett was big-notinghimself. He claimed to have been present when the Hungarian revolution was being hatched, the gathering at Meray’s place, but this meeting was about reparation for the show trials.

Burchett’s main narrative came to be about himself: “I was there when great events happened”, was Burchett’s boast, and his sub-text was: “I was an actor in them, a crucial player”, always on one side. He was a great self-promoter. Many world-travelling polemical journalists have since unfortunately imitated him, unfailingly putting themselves at the centre of their stories.

Interestingly, Tibor Meray came to Melbourne in 1959 to speak at the Peace Congress here. His presence embarrassed the local Stalinist organisers, who refused to condemn the Soviet invasion of Hungary.

The reading public is indebted to Bill Hyde, a Hungarian who has lived in Australia for many decades, for arranging the publication of this important book. On Burchett is a book by a distinguished and truthful journalist, Tibor Meray, on a fellow journalist who does not deserve those epithets.

In the Australian of June 28-29 the English philosopher A.C. Grayling described present-day Marxist ideologues as “a sort of antediluvian breed of self-describing hairy mastodons”. Communism is discredited and gone, and Burchett’s dwindling band of supporters can’t openly praise communism, so support of Burchett has been the next best thing. The publication of Meray’s book has provided a great service—its detailed exposure of his career has finally shredded what little reputation Burchett had left. Mark Aarons’ long review of the book in the Australian Literary Review was crucial, as an acceptance from the Left side of politics of the full case against Burchett.

Burchett’s apologists now have nowhere to go. They admit Burchett was a member of the Communist Party, that his germ war allegations were untrue, that his support of the show trials is indefensible, that he followed the communist line, that he was poor journalist, and so on. The only thing left for them is to complain that the Australian government took away his passport. Poor Wilfred the victim. They lamely turn their scorn on their own government for giving him a slap over the wrist with a feather, rather than condemning Burchett for all the infamous things he did during his long career.

Voir de même:

Cut to size by the force of history

The truth is undeniable: much of Wilfred Burchett’s journalism is explicable only as unalloyed communist propaganda, writes Mark Aarons

The Australian

June 04, 2008

On Burchett By Tibor Meray Callistemon Publications, 273pp, $24.95 WILFRED Burchett died 25 years ago this September but the fierce debate about his life’s work continues unabated.

To his critics, Burchett was a KGB agent and communist propagandist in Korea and Vietnam, where Australians fought and died in protracted wars. Even worse, he betrayed his country by giving « aid and comfort » to the enemy in Korea. This position was reiterated by Bruce Watson in the March 2008 Sydney Institute Quarterly.

To Burchett’s admirers, he was an independent investigative reporter, beholden to no government, who fearlessly covered anti-colonial struggles at the height of the Cold War. An unabridged version of his autobiography, Memoirs of a Rebel Journalist, appeared in 2005, followed by Tom Heenan’s flawed defence of Burchett, Traveller to Traitor (2006), and an anthology of Burchett’s work co-edited by his son George, Rebel Journalism (2007), in which he is described as « perhaps the greatest journalist and war correspondent Australia has ever produced ».

Into this polarised debate comes Hungarian journalist Tibor Meray with On Burchett, written 20 years ago but only published this year. By any standards, Meray had an extraordinary career. He should be a hero to the Left, although anti-communists have admired him for 50 years. Meray joined the Communist Party after Stalin liberated Hungary from Hitler, substituting his own brutal regime.

As a reporter for Hungary’s communist daily newspaper, Szabad Nep, Meray covered the Korean armistice talks, living and working with Burchett for more than a year and writing extensive notebooks that contain important insights into Burchett’s journalism. They are contemporaneous observations, written by a convinced communist who shared a warm friendship with Burchett.

From Meray’s notebooks and recollections a picture emerges of Burchett as a committed communist propagandist who was neither independent nor investigative. Meray’s account demonstrates that Burchett worked for, was paid by, and was under the discipline of the Chinese army, which instructed him about how to influence Western correspondents and what to write in his articles. Burchett submitted his drafts to Chinese officials for vetting and censorship before transmission to the French communist newspaper Ce Soir.

foreword to Rebel Journalism, John Pilger reported Burchett’s statement shortly before he died in 1983: « How could I be a communist? There were so many parties, each drawing on different circumstances, different conditions. Which one was I to choose? I chose none, because I wanted to remain just me … « 

However, evidence contradicting this account emerged a decade ago. In the ’90s, Czech author Peter Hruby discovered documents in the Czechoslovak Communist Party’s archives confirming Burchett’s CPA membership. This is critical to understanding Burchett’s history, work, political outlook and personal life.

In late 1949 Burchett married a Bulgarian communist, Vessa Ossikovska. This was a dangerous period in Stalin’s empire, with show trials and purges under way, in which many loyal communists were murdered. Yugoslavia had broken with Stalin and Tito’s spies were supposedly undermining the « people’s democracies » in league with the West. Ironically, given Burchett’s uncritical reporting of these purges, the shadow of suspicion fell on him. When his Bulgarian visa expired it was not extended, but Ossikovska was refused permission to leave. He falsely claimed in 1981 that he only learned 10 years later that their problem arose because he had been accused as a British spy.

In September 1950 Burchett toured Australia, lecturing against nuclear warfare and the government’s banning of the CPA, and in praise of Stalinist Europe. During this visit he almost certainly raised with the CPA leadership his desire to get Ossikovska out of Bulgaria. The Hruby documents support this: by December 1950, Jack Hughes had discussed Burchett with senior Czech communists in Prague. Head of the CPA’s control commission (responsible for security), Hughes sought assistance to clear Burchett and Ossikovska, stating that the CPA was content with Burchett’s work « and is certain that he is a good comrade ». This intervention could not have occurred without Burchett enlisting the CPA’s support.

Hruby also located a letter dated July 13, 1951, from Burchett to CPA leader and ex-Federated Ironworkers Association national secretary Ernie Thornton, outlining numerous allegations against Burchett, including that he was a British and American agent. Thornton worked in Beijing for the communist World Federation of Trade Unions. Burchett was leaving Beijing that day for Korea, but knew that Thornton would soon travel to Europe so he asked him to clear things up to enable Ossikovska to leave Bulgaria, ending his appeal by noting that « our only wish on getting married was to serve the party together by combining our talents and using them wherever they were needed ».

Some have claimed these documents are forgeries. ASIO, however, located Thornton in Beijing at this time and soon after in Prague. ASIO determined that a senior Chinese unionist telegrammed Thornton from Prague on July 10, 1951 (three days before Burchett’s letter), directing him to join him in Prague at the conclusion of a conference then under way in Beijing. ASIO also confirmed Thornton’s arrival in Czechoslovakia nine days later.

In Prague, Thornton received a letter dated June 18, 1951, signed by CPA leaders Richard Dixon and Lance Sharkey that confirmed Burchett « has the trust of the Australian party », which considered his work satisfactory and did not doubt his loyalty. They specifically asked for assistance in resolving Ossikovska’s problem. Thornton dispatched their letter to the Czechs on August 6, 1951, who sent it to Bulgaria a fortnight later. By April 1952, Ossikovska had her exit visa.

These documents fit the known facts of Burchett’s and Ossikovska’s histories; forging them would have involved an improbable conspiracy. The pattern of contact between the CPA and Burchett has been confirmed by one of the younger generation of leaders, who recalled carrying a secret envelope to Burchett in Moscow from Dixon and Hughes in 1958.

But why does this matter? Beyond establishing the truth, Burchett’s CPA membership does make his journalism « explicable » (Lockhart’s term). In the early ’50s he published several books in Australia, which were, in effect, communist propaganda but written by an « independent » journalist. In this way the CPA line was disseminated, ostensibly as arm’s-length accounts of developments in Germany (Cold War in Germany, 1951), Soviet-occupied Europe (People’s Democracies, 1951), Mao’s China (China’s Feet Unbound, 1952) and Korea (This Monstrous War, 1953).

The CPA at that time was thoroughly Stalinist and Burchett’s propaganda was entirely consistent. Lockhart claimed « that, like almost everyone on the Left in about 1950, Burchett did accept the Stalinist line in relation to eastern Europe. But this did not necessarily mean his thinking remained tied to it. » This is very dubious history, and is untrue about Burchett’s thinking. In his foreword to Rebel Journalism Pilger wrote:

In his eulogy to Wilfred, T.D. Allman posed the question, « What is objectivity? » He answered this by saying that objective journalism « not only gets the facts right, it gets the meaning of events right and is validated not only by ‘reliable sources’ but by the unfolding of history ».

How should Burchett’s journalism be judged against these tests?

In People’s Democracies Burchett uncritically presented the Soviet world view on Stalinist Europe. Andrei Vishinsky, the infamous prosecutor of the ’30s Moscow show trials, was akin to « a Presbyterian moderator », while traitorous Tito was a decadent show-off. All aspects of Soviet-dominated Europe were excellent, from collectivisation of agriculture, through the program of heavy industrialisation, to the glowing happiness of ordinary people. Tito’s « National Communism », which rejected Soviet domination, « was regarded by most communists as having as much to do with communism as Hitler’s national socialism had to do with socialism ». Significantly, Burchett’s reporting, and politics, never altered: it was the same whether covering Stalinist Europe in the ’40s or Maoist China in the ’70s.

Burchett’s reports of the Stalinist show trials, however, plumbed the depths. His objectivity can be judged from this description of Laszlo Rajk’s 1949 trial:

Rajk himself was an extraordinary character, cold as steel, a good actor, a political adventurer of the South American type, a man not fundamentally interested in politics or ideologies but very interested in power, a man without ideals and without loyalties to either causes or individuals … his smile was completely lacking in warmth … When the trail finally led to his flat and he was taken into custody, Rajk’s life cracked open like a rotten pumpkin.

There is no evidence in Burchett’s account of objective journalism. He simply accepted Rajk’s « confession » that he was a police spy who led a Tito-inspired conspiracy to overthrow Hungary’s government. He was a « fascist » and Western claims that he was a « nationalist-minded » communist advocating independence from Stalin were nonsense:

Rajk and his gangs were disclosed as miserable, bloodthirsty adventurers who would not hesitate to plunge the country into a ferocious civil war, to destroy everything of the new life which had been so painfully built up, to hand the country over lock, stock and barrel to a foreign power, to restore those some (sic) forces the people have fought against for so long. There were no regrets except from a few of the dispossessed … when the chief culprits were condemned to death and speedily executed.

Burchett’s version endured for five years. Shortly before the Hungarian uprising (October-November 1956) Rajk and his co-accused were exonerated and his belated funeral drew more than 100,000 people. Rajk was innocent and his confession had been extracted by torture; Burchett’s reports were utterly false. The CPA labelled Rajk’s execution unjust, while supporting the suppression of the uprising. Burchett, however, retracted nothing. Concerning his slander of Tito, the best he could do (in 1981) was to report that in 1956 he had apologised to one of his Yugoslav friends for his « confused writings ». He qualified this, claiming that the « Tito conspiracy » was still « plausible », 25 years after it had been exposed as a lie.

Meray took a very different course. Home from Korea, he threw himself behind the anti-Stalinist wing of the Hungarian Communist Party led by Imre Nagy, who advocated political and economic liberalisation. Meray’s support for Nagy cost him his job, but Burchett remained a committed Stalinist. In the mid-’80s Meray was posted some pages of Burchett’s 1981 autobiography, containing Burchett’s version of a dinner party at Meray’s home shortly before the 1956 uprising. It shocked Meray to the core; Burchett did not even mention him by name, but worse, the dinner was presented as an attempt to draw Burchett into a group of conspirators irresponsibly plotting to lure Hungary’s working class into a revolt that could only end in bloodshed.

The main target of Burchett’s condemnation was Meray’s journalist friend, Miklos Gimes, who was hanged in 1958 along with Nagy and other heroes. Meray had arranged the evening to introduce Burchett to ex-political prisoners who gave him eyewitness accounts of the brutal methods behind the show trials but, unmoved, Burchett declared to Meray that US imperialism remained the main enemy.

Twenty-five years later, when history had already unfolded, Burchett still clung to a twisted version. Meray meticulously shows how Burchett’s 1981 account contains not one shred of truth; it is a devastating demolition of this « great Australian reporter », demonstrating that his journalism could not survive the force of history and he could not face up to his own dreadful errors. That same year, the CPA’s newspaper published a detailed re-evaluation of the 1956 uprising. This, too, condemns Burchett’s lack of courage: if his old party could publish a reappraisal that restored Nagy and his supporters to their rightful place in history, why could not Burchett? In 1989 the communist Hungarian government invited Meray to speak to several hundred thousand people when Nagy was rehabilitated and reburied with honour.

Burchett’s revision of the Rajk trial was even worse. While begrudgingly acknowledging Rajk’s innocence in 1981, rather than recant his role in justifying his murder, Burchett explained the show trials by citing a book that concocted a US intelligence conspiracy to explain Stalin’s murder of innocent communists. There were real anti-communist Western conspiracies, as I have documented in several books, but they did not resemble Burchett’s. Nor did they explain the show trials, which clearly resulted from Stalinist, not Western, conspiracies. Rather than admit his errors, however, Burchett still blamed US imperialism.

Burchett did some good things: helping Jews escaping Hitler’s Germany; reporting on the A-bomb’s devastation of Hiroshima; marching through Vietnam’s jungles to expose American crimes. These took courage. Nor should it be forgotten that some Western journalists covertly worked as propagandists for their governments during the Cold War.

Burchett was the typical Depression-era communist, who personally experienced capitalism’s failures. Like my father, Laurie Aarons, he saw the West’s failures in the ’30s in Spain, Czechoslovakia, Ethiopia and China as proof that only socialism could bring world peace and ensure human progress. Both, however, were blind to Stalin’s crimes. The real test of courage is how communists of that era dealt with this.

Nikita Khrushchev’s 1956 revelations of Stalin’s crimes posed stark choices for communists. After the Hungarian uprising Meray went into exile, visiting Australia on behalf of anti-communists but retaining personal warmth for Burchett. Laurie Aarons remained a communist, but together with other, younger, leaders began a 20-year evolution of the CPA towards a democratic road, especially after he became national secretary in 1965.

Their first test was the Beijing-Moscow split. Many Australian communists had studied in China in the ’50s and were attracted to Mao’s politics, but his fanatical Stalinism undermined this, demonstrated by his November 1957 speech arguing that a nuclear war that killed half of humanity « should not be rejected outright as a bad thing » because « in the process imperialism would disappear altogether while socialism would become dominant all over the world ».

Burchett, the anti-nuclear war campaigner, was not repelled and in 1963 took Mao’s side, declaring him « 100 per cent right. The fact that some high-ranking Australians have been paid to think otherwise only confirms what I have thought for a long time », by which he meant the CPA leadership. Stripped of Marxist rhetoric, the Sino-Soviet split was about Stalinism: Mao condemned Khrushchev for revisionism, code for his repeated denunciations of Stalin’s policies and crimes; Mao reaffirmed, and practised, Stalinism.

In 1962 Burchett criticised Stalinism’s « personality cult » without reflecting on his own wholehearted support for it. Instead, he secretly switched to Maoism. In 1976 he publicly declared his position in China: The Quality of Life (with Rewi Alley), which picked up where his 1952 book on China had left off. Twenty-five years after People’s Democracies, it was the same story. Contrary to Lockhart’s view, « his thinking remained tied » to the Stalinist line, even though he had witnessed mass repression during the Cultural Revolution. Everything in Mao’s China was excellent, from the people’s communes established during the Great Leap Forward in which « more than half a billion farmers were reorganised without any interruption in production », through the fact « that serious crime was virtually non-existent », to the people’s joyous response « to Chairman Mao’s call during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution to go into production in a big way ». The basis for these huge strides was « the study of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin in addition to Mao », whose opponents deserved their cruel fate as « capitalist roaders ».

Burchett’s Maoist propaganda immediately crumbled. In September 1976 Mao died and the Gang of Four, who had overseen the Cultural Revolution’s political terror, mass killings and economic disasters, were themselves purged. As history has further unfolded, the Great Leap Forward, described by Burchett as Mao’s « master strategic mainspring », has emerged as an unprecedented disaster responsible for mass starvation, claiming the lives of 40million Chinese, dwarfing Stalin’s Ukrainian famine.

I agree with Meray and Lockhart that it is unlikely that Burchett was a paid KGB agent. The treason charge from Korea was not pursued and we cannot know whether he would have been convicted. Whether due to inadequacies in the law, or lack of evidence, the issue is one for historical debate. As Meray and Lockhart point out, the refusal to grant him a new passport between 1955 and 1972 violated Burchett’s civil rights. It made him a martyr supported by Simone de Beauvoir, Mary McCarthy, Norman Mailer, Melina Mercouri, Arthur Miller, Iris Murdoch, Linus Pauling, Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre, among many others.

In 1985 Laurie Aarons defended Burchett against a Robert Manne article published in Quadrant, which outlined the case that Burchett had committed treason in Korea, worked for the KGB and was a committed Stalinist throughout his life. This is a pity, in light of the part Aarons played in transforming the CPA from a Stalinist organisation by rejecting Mao’s rehabilitation of Stalin, attacking Leonid Brezhnev’s mid-’60s crackdown, embracing Alexander Dubcek’s Prague Spring, condemning the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia and speaking forthrightly at the 1969 international communist meeting in Moscow. By contrast, Burchett never retracted his support for Stalin, Mao, Kim Il-Sung or Vietnamese re-education camps, or embraced « socialism with a human face ». He eventually repudiated the Khmer Rouge, but only when evidence of their crimes was irrefutable, having earlier labelled them « US-inspired slanders ».

Aarons was wrong to argue that Burchett’s « work is in itself an effective answer » to Manne’s article. The stands my father took were bitterly opposed by Maoists and Stalinists, within the CPA and the wider Left, and it is a shame that he defended Burchett, who lacked the ultimate courage: to admit that he got many things wrong and to publicly rectify his mistakes. His journalism has not stood history’s test and should be studied not as the work of « perhaps the greatest journalist and war correspondent Australia has ever produced », but rather to illustrate what went wrong in the Australian Left during communism’s failed experiment.

Meray’s book should be compulsory reading for those too young to have lived through the battles against Stalinism.

On Burchett is available by mail order for $30.95 (postage included): PO Box 293, Belgrave, Victoria 3160.

Voir également :

Wilfred Burchett’s Memoirs of a Rebel Journalist

Stuart Macintyre

Z Net

November 04, 2005

[Introduction by Ben Kiernan: The New York Times revealed on October 31, 2005 that an in-house historian of the US National Security Agency has investigated the August 4, 1964 ‘Tonkin Gulf Incident’ that the US government used to escalate the Vietnam War. According to this official U.S. historian, what happened that fateful day was deliberately misrepresented by officials who quickly discovered important mistakes in their agency’s real-time reporting but immediately covered them up. A non-existent ‘attack’ then became a lie that took the United States into a new war against North Vietnam, at a cost of 58,000 American lives and over a million Vietnamese. It now seems clear that not one but both of the most disastrous conflicts in U.S. history, those in Vietnam and Iraq, were sparked by US officials disseminating lies and convincing the American public to go to war. Indeed, according to the New York Times, the NSA historian’s extensive analysis of the official dishonesty was scheduled for publication in 2002-03, but the work was withheld from the public once the case then being disseminated to take the US into war against Iraq (its ‘weapons of mass destruction’) was itself already becoming controversial.

Among the earliest and most prominent Western opponents of the Vietnam War was the Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett, who died in 1983. Having first opposed US involvement in the Korean War, in which Australian troops also participated, Burchett had by then become the target of a decades-long official witchhunt which saw him barred from his home country for twenty years. Only with the election in 1972 of an Australian Labor government did Canberra finally restore his Australian passport, at the same time withdrawing the country’s forces from Vietnam. In a right-wing political vendetta, even Burchett’s children were long denied their Australian birthright. Some of the conservative criticism of Burchett’s pro-communist views was sincere and correct, but inadequate in the eyes of his personal and political enemies. They waged a long campaign to blacken his name with lies while preventing him from returning to Australia.

Only after Burchett’s death in exile did much of the truth come out, in a series of studies written by Gavan McCormack, a leading Australian historian of Japan and Korea. These included McCormack’s seminal articles, « An Australian Dreyfus? » and « Burchett in Korea » in the monthly Australian Society (August 1984 and September 1985), and « The New Right and Human Rights: ‘Cultural Freedom’ and the Burchett Affair » (Meanjin 3, 1986), as well as a 50-page chapter entitled « Korea: Wilfred Burchett’s Thirty Years’ War, » in my 1986 anthology Burchett: Reporting the Other Side of the World, 1939-1983. Recent Australian research in British and US archives has since vindicated much of what McCormack wrote twenty years ago, highlighting the scandalous official mistreatment of Burchett and his family throughout the 1950s and 1960s. This mistreatment helped not only to silence Burchett’s on-the-spot war reporting but also to mislead the Australian and American publics, at great human cost

As a youthful traveler in inter-war Europe, Burchett had helped rescue German Jews from Hitler, and had then covered the Pacific War for British newspapers. But it may have been his experience as the first Western reporter into Hiroshima after the A-bomb, and the first to break the story of radiation, that turned him into a dissident. Horrified at what he saw of the human and physical destruction of the Japanese city, and also at its censorship by US officials, Burchett soon commenced his career-long opposition to several American wars in Asia. He entitled one of his last books Shadows of Hiroshima.

Yet there was also an important Australian dimension to his writing. Burchett’s son George, an artist now living in Sydney, has co-edited a long-lost work, his father’s unpublished autobiography, covering his early life as well as his world-wide career. At the Melbourne launch of Memoirs of a Rebel Journalist, published in 2005 by the University of New South Wales Press, the distinguished Australian historian Stuart McIntyre, Dean of the Arts Faculty at Melbourne University, stressed Burchett’s youthful upbringing in an independent Australian farming family as an important influence on Burchett’s inimitable style of reporting against the grain in a series of international crises.

Nick Shimmin explains in the preface to this book how Wilfred Burchett’s son George obtained the typescript of Wilfred’s autobiography: it was kept, along with other papers, by his widow Vessa, who lived in Bulgaria, and brought back to Australia two years ago by George’s wife Ilza.

Despite its length, George read the entire book in one weekend — and so did I, last weekend.

It’s difficult to put it down because it is written with the freshness and immediacy of an outstanding reporter who was there when history was made: in Germany on the eve of World War Two assisting Jewish refugees, with Wingate on the Burma Road, in China as the Red Army struggled against the Japanese and Kuomintang forces, in Hiroshima after the bomb was dropped (despite attempts to prevent his access), and then in Germany after the war, in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, China, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, and many other arenas of contestation and conflict.

He was not only there, he had first-hand knowledge and personal dealings with the decision-makers: Macarthur, Harriman and Kissinger, Zhou Enlai, Ho Chi Minh and Sihanouk.

But this book is something more than an eye-witness record of contemporary history. It’s also the story of a remarkable man. Wilfred Burchett reported events for a large number of news outlets, and he also wrote some 35 books, which were translated into as many languages.

The story he tells of himself is of a largely self-educated man (he taught himself a number of languages simultaneously and by rote while labouring on the land) who came from a strong, close family background of nonconformity, perseverance and industry, and practised all the family characteristics.

The Burchetts came to Australia from south-east England in the 1850s and were pioneers in southern Gippsland in the 1870s, enterprising builders in Melbourne during the 1880s, then forced back onto the land by the depression of the 1890s. Wilfred’s father similarly went into the building industry but was ruined by the depression of the 1930s, and Wilfred (the younger son) went onto the track, experiencing the hardship and exploitation and mateship of an itinerant adventurer.

He was in Sydney in 1934 when a Methodist minister and family friend died at the Domain when speaking out against the refusal to permit Egon Kisch to enter Australia. Kisch, a flamboyant roving reporter and publicist for left causes, clearly inspired Wilfred’s career. Burchett remembers him here as a champion of noble causes, ‘the world was his beat’. And Kisch was also the victim of official surveillance and vilification.

Wilfred Burchett made the world his beat, championed noble causes and also incurred victimisation. He became a marked man in Japan after the Second World War when he defied the American control of information to publicise the effects of atomic radiation.

He lost the support of his Fleet Street editors as the Cold War gripped Europe. He was accused of aiding the enemy in Korea, and of interrogating or even brainwashing American and Australian prisoners of war. He was subsequently accused of working for the KGB, and living in luxury, while he plied his trade, always at the front line, surviving danger and sickness, hammering out stories on his typewriter.

He was persecuted by another Australian journalist, Denis Warner, who himself had close links with ASIO. When I googled Wilfred Burchett, the entry for Denis Warner’s papers in the National Library was close to the top because they contain an extensive Burchett file.

Wilfred’s passport was stolen in the mid-1950s and he was refused entry back into his own country and threatened with violence when eventually he did return by light plane from Noumea.

The autobiography concludes with his subsequent and unsuccessful suit against the DLP’s former Senator Pat Kane, his failure to gain justice and the ruinous award of costs that effectively kept him out of his homeland for the rest of his life.

As early as 1953 Wilfred Burchett was the subject of a book published by the Australasian Book Society, He Chose Truth. In 1986 Ben Kiernan edited a collection of essays that appraised his work. His own memoirs appeared in two previous versions, Passport in 1969, and then the bowdlerised and heavily reduced version of this one, At the Barricades, which appeared in 1981. The Memoirs conclude with the libel suit and omit a final chapter from At the Barricades.

There has been a hostile life of Wilfred by the ineffable Roland Perry, a far less distinguished journalist, who then turned his attention to John Monash and Don Bradman; there are security files in Canberra and other places, and there have been countless spiteful and derogatory articles.

Burchett’s journalistic career was always something more than reportage, it was a commitment to a cause. That cause for Burchett was the liberation of humanity from oppression, the defeat of fascism, the success of national liberation movements and the building up of an alternative political, economic and social order.

He insisted that he was not a member of the Communist Party, and non of his critics have ever shown that he was. But he was a supporter of the communist movement in a period when the bipolar logic of the Cold War interpreted that support as treachery. His very ability to work on the other side (despite western attempts to prevent his doing so) allowed him to report world events with knowledge and insights denied to others.

Burchett repeatedly broke stories. He was the man on the spot who did not rely on official briefing and handouts, but went and saw for himself. He drew not just on his interviews with leading figures in China, Korea, Vietnam and elsewhere but intimate contact with other participants.

As Ben Kiernan has observed, he was at his best when a story was breaking and he could take the reader behind the scenes, or in challenging and rebutting the spurious allegations that were part of the Cold War propaganda battle.

He was less successful in his judgement of communist regimes. As Ben Kiernan has observed, he was no analyst and he could not assess the direction of slow historical changes. He praised the achievements of Stalinism and downplayed its repression.

He was a crusading journalist who almost instinctively took a contrary line to Western news and news commentary. Hence he was gullible at best in his reports on the show trials in Eastern Europe after the Second World War; and he was slow to see the murderous character of the Khmer Rouge regime, or recognise the plight of boatpeople who fled Indochina.

But to suggest he simply hoed the party line is to ignore the fact that he had to and did take sides in the conflict within the communist bloc. He supported the Soviet Union against Tito, China against the Soviet Union, Vietnam against China.

Moreover, his informed knowledge was respected by conservative diplomats such as Frederic Eggleston and Keith Waller.

We are indebted to George Burchett and Nick Shimmin for preparing the memoirs for publication. It is perhaps inevitable that there are some slips Chris Wallace-Crabbe’s journalist father appears in the index as Crabbe, Wallace, but such are the hazards of a double-barrelled surname. Zelman Cowan lacks an e in his surname, Gregory Clark gets a superfluous one in his.

These are minor flaws in the remarkable life-story of a remarkable Australian.

Stuart McIntyre, a Laureate Professor and Dean of the Arts Faculty at the University of Melbourne, is author of The History Wars and editor of The Oxford History of Australia, 1901-1942.

Ben Kiernan, author of The Pol Pot Regime, is the A. Whitney Griswold Professor of History and Professor of International and Area Studies at Yale University, and editor of Burchett: Reporting the Other Side of the World, 1939-1983.

George Burchett and Nick Shimmin, eds., Memoirs of a Rebel Journalist. The Autobiography of Wilfred Burchett.

Written for Japan Focus.

Voir de plus:

Quand les mots font écran à l’histoire

John Pilger

Le Monde diplomatique

Octobre 2004

Attirer un « temps de cerveau disponible » pour le livrer aux marchands : l’ambition de certains grands médias vient d’être dévoilée franchement par le patron de TF1, Patrick Le Lay. Agressions inventées, mises en cause injustifiées, armes imaginaires… Depuis quelques mois, la presse paraît peu soucieuse de son devoir d’informer. Et les responsables politiques, quand ils ne se taisent pas par peur du pouvoir qu’ils ont concédé aux médias, font affaire avec les barons de presse.

« Quiconque connaît l’histoire sait que la désobéissance est la vertu originale de l’homme. » (Oscar Wilde)

Une de mes citations favorites est celle du journaliste américain T. D. Allman : « Le journalisme authentiquement objectif est le journalisme qui non seulement décrit exactement les faits, mais saisit la signification des événements. Persuasif aujourd’hui, il survit à l’épreuve du temps. Il est validé par des “sources fiables”, mais aussi par le déroulement de l’histoire. Dix, vingt, cinquante ans après les faits, il reflète encore une image intelligente et fidèle des événements. »

Allman a écrit ce texte en hommage à Wilfred Burchett, décédé en 1983, dont la carrière extraordinaire et souvent mouvementée comporte ce qui a été décrit comme le « scoop du siècle ». Tandis que, en 1945, des centaines de « journalistes embarqués » par les forces alliées d’occupation au Japon étaient emmenés en troupeaux à la théâtrale cérémonie de capitulation, Burchett détachait sa laisse, selon sa propre expression, pour entreprendre un voyage périlleux à destination d’un lieu désormais gravé dans les consciences humaines : Hiroshima. Premier journaliste occidental à entrer dans la ville après le bombardement, son reportage de première page dans le Daily Express de Londres portait ce titre prophétique : « J’écris cela comme un avertissement au monde. »

L’avertissement concernait les effets néfastes de la radioactivité, dont l’existence était alors niée par les autorités d’occupation. Burchett fut dénoncé, notamment par certains de ses confrères qui prenaient part à la propagande et aux attaques orchestrées contre lui. Indépendant et courageux, il avait exposé la guerre nucléaire dans toute son horreur. Le « déroulement de l’histoire » lui donna raison.

Pourquoi ce type de journalisme est-il si précieux ? C’est que, sans lui, nous n’aurions plus de mots pour exprimer le sentiment d’injustice et que nul ne disposerait des armes de l’information pour combattre cette injustice. L’énoncé d’Orwell selon lequel, « pour être corrompu par le totalitarisme, il n’est pas nécessaire de vivre dans un pays totalitaire » s’appliquerait alors.

En 2003, lorsque le Parlement turc a voté contre les exigences de Washington et des généraux turcs, il tint compte de l’opposition écrasante de la population à la participation de la Turquie à l’invasion de l’Irak. Cela représenta une manifestation sans précédent de réelle démocratie dans un pays aux ombres meurtrières. Ce fut aussi, pour une bonne part, le fruit du travail de ces journalistes qui avaient ouvert la voie en dévoilant les crimes de l’Etat, en particulier la répression à l’égard des Kurdes. L’éditeur de Ozgur Gundem (Agenda libre), Ocar Isik Yurtcu, purge par exemple quinze ans de prison pour avoir enfreint une loi en vertu de laquelle tous les reportages sur la répression et la rébellion en Turquie constituent de la propagande ou de l’« incitation à la haine raciale ». Il est la victime typique des lois utilisées contre ceux qui défient l’Etat et les militaires.

En Europe, aux Etats-Unis, au Canada et en Australie, les journalistes ne risquent pas souvent leur vie. L’écrivain Simon Louvish raconte la surprise d’un groupe de Soviétiques en voyage aux Etats-Unis au moment de la guerre froide. Après avoir lu la presse et regardé la télévision, ils se déclarèrent étonnés que tous les avis sur les questions essentielles étaient plus ou moins identiques. « Dans notre pays, s’interrogeaient-ils, pour obtenir ce résultat, nous avons une dictature, nous emprisonnons des gens, nous leur arrachons les ongles. Ici, vous n’avez rien de cela. Alors, quel est votre secret ? Comment faites-vous ? »

Dans une introduction de La Ferme des animaux, Orwell décrit comment la censure dans les sociétés libres est infiniment plus sophistiquée et minutieuse que dans les dictatures : « Les idées impopulaires peuvent être passées sous silence et les faits gênants rester dans l’ombre sans aucun besoin d’interdiction officielle. » Un demi-siècle a passé, et le message n’a rien perdu de sa justesse.

Rien de cela ne suggère une « conspiration ». Elle n’est nullement nécessaire. Les journalistes et les présentateurs de télévision ne sont pas différents des historiens et des professeurs : ils intériorisent les priorités, les modes et les bienséances du pouvoir établi. Comme certains responsables dans les hautes sphères du pouvoir, ils sont dressés ou façonnés pour écarter les doutes trop dévastateurs. Quand le scepticisme est encouragé, ce n’est pas vis-à-vis du système, mais de la compétence de ceux qui le dirigent, ou des réactions populaires telles que les journalistes les perçoivent.

Langage équivoque et omissions

De la presse de M. Robert Murdoch à la BBC, les règles non déclarées du club des médias modernes ne varient pas beaucoup. Les limites invisibles des « infos » permettent à de fausses prémisses de passer pour du bon sens ou à des duperies officielles d’être diffusées et amplifiées. Le sort de sociétés entières est rapporté selon leur utilité pour « nous », terme fréquemment utilisé par le pouvoir occidental, et qui véhicule son lot de narcissisme, de langage équivoque et d’omissions ouvertes. Bons et mauvais terroristes, victimes dignes ou non d’intérêt. Cette orthodoxie, explique Richard Falk, professeur de relations internationales à l’université de Princeton, est transmise « à travers un écran moral et légal à sens unique. Une image positive des valeurs occidentales et d’une innocence menacée justifie une campagne de violence politique sans limite ».

Les Britanniques vivront bientôt l’expérience australienne si la concentration des médias se poursuit chez eux aussi, au rythme d’une déréglementation de l’audiovisuel invoquant la « compétitivité » internationale. La mainmise du gouvernement de M. Anthony Blair sur la BBC s’inscrit dans ce cadre. Le pouvoir de la BBC repose sur son double rôle de média public et d’entreprise multinationale, dont les revenus dépassent les 5 milliards de dollars. Davantage d’Américains regardent BBC World que de Britanniques la principale chaîne de la BBC. M. Murdoch et les autres barons des médias, pour la plupart américains, recherchent depuis longtemps la dislocation et la privatisation de la BBC pour que leur échoient ses vastes « parts de marché ». Tels des parrains convoitant un territoire, ils se montrent impatients.

En 2003, les ministres de M. Blair ont menacé de « revoir » le financement de la BBC par la redevance télé. Sans ces recettes, la chaîne britannique serait réduite à une variante de l’Australian Broadcasting Corporation, laquelle, dépendant des subventions directes du gouvernement, est fréquemment intimidée.

La genèse de tout cela se retrace sans effort. En 1995, M. et Mme Blair voyageaient en première classe, aux frais de M. Rupert Murdoch, direction l’île Hayman, au large de la côte de Queensland. Sous un soleil tropical et debout derrière le pupitre de News Corp., le futur premier ministre britannique s’épancha sur sa « volonté d’une nouvelle morale en politique » et promit une transition des médias d’un univers de « réglementation pesante » à celui de « l’entreprise ». Son hôte applaudit et lui serra chaleureusement la main. Le lendemain, à Londres, le Sun de M. Murdoch commentait : « Blair voit loin, il est déterminé et il parle le même langage que nous concernant la moralité et les valeurs de la famille. »

Récemment encore, ces sujets étaient rarement discutés dans les pages médias des journaux britanniques, qui préféraient les manœuvres secrètes des cadres de la presse et leur habileté à s’octroyer de généreuses récompenses. Les intrusions des tabloïds dans la vie privée des gens riches et célèbres étaient l’objet de désapprobations hypocrites. Des idées critiques sur le journalisme étaient évoquées en passant, ou pas du tout. La publication, en janvier 2004, du rapport de Lord Hutton, attaquant la BBC et absolvant le gouvernement dans l’affaire Gilligan a porté la question sur la place publique (1). Un lord accourant au service de l’establishment pour étouffer une affaire gênante pour le pouvoir présente l’une des menaces les plus directes pesant sur le journalisme libre.

Aux Etats-Unis, où constitutionnellement les médias sont les plus libres du monde, l’idée même d’une humanité aux droits universels est couramment mise en cause. Comme les Vietnamiens avant eux, les Irakiens seraient impurs, bons à être traqués. « Pour chaque GI tué, disait une lettre de lecteur publiée par le Daily News de New York, vingt Irakiens doivent être exécutés. » Le New York Times et le Washington Post n’auraient peut-être pas publié une telle correspondance, mais, à leur manière, ils ont aussi soutenu la fiction d’un arsenal d’armes de destruction massive en Irak.

Bien avant l’invasion, les deux quotidiens criaient au loup pour le compte de la Maison Blanche. A la « une » du New York Times, on pouvait lire les titres suivants : « Arsenal secret [de l’Irak]  : la chasse aux bactéries de la guerre », « Un déserteur décrit les progrès de la bombe atomique en Irak », « Un Irakien parle des rénovations de sites d’armes chimiques et nucléaires » et « Des déserteurs confortent le dossier américain contre l’Irak, disent des officiels ». Tous ces articles se sont révélés de la propagande pure. Dans un courrier électronique interne (publié par le Washington Post), la journaliste du New York Times Judith Miller admit que sa source principale était M. Ahmed Chalabi, un exilé irakien et un prévaricateur condamné par les tribunaux, qui avait dirigé le Congrès national irakien (CNI) basé à Washington et financé par la CIA. Une enquête du Congrès conclut que presque toute l’information fournie par M. Chalabi et d’autres exilés du CNI était sans valeur.

En juillet 2003, alors que l’occupation battait son plein, le Times et le Post consacraient leur « une » au retour chez elle de Jessica Lynch, 20 ans, soigneusement mis en scène par l’administration Bush. Pendant l’invasion, la jeune fille avait été blessée lors d’un accident de la route et capturée. Des médecins irakiens avaient pris soin d’elle, lui sauvant probablement la vie – et risquant la leur – en la remettant aux forces américaines. La version officielle, selon laquelle elle avait courageusement combattu les agresseurs irakiens, n’était qu’un tissu de mensonges, tout comme son « sauvetage » dans un hôpital presque déserté, filmé à l’aide de caméras infrarouges par un metteur en scène de Hollywood  (2).

Cela ne dissuada pas la crème du journalisme américain de s’unir pour soutenir la mise en scène du retour béatifique de Lynch à Elizabeth, en Virginie-occidentale, images d’Epinal à l’appui, et les gens du coin disant combien ils se sentaient fiers. Le Post regretta que l’affaire ait été « rendue confuse par les récits contradictoires des médias ». Déjà Orwell évoquait les « mots tombant sur les faits comme de la neige, brouillant leurs contours et recouvrant tous les détails ».

A Washington, j’ai interrogé à ce sujet Charles Lewis, ancienne vedette du « 60 minutes » de CBS. Lewis, qui dirige maintenant une unité d’enquête, le Centre pour l’intégrité publique, expliqua : « Vous savez, sous Bush, le conformisme et le silence parmi les journalistes sont pires que dans les années 1950. Rupert Murdoch est le magnat des médias le plus influent en Amérique ; il impose la norme, et il n’y a aucune discussion publique. Pourquoi la majorité du public américain croit-elle encore que Saddam Hussein était derrière les attentats du 11 septembre ? Parce que les médias n’ont eu de cesse de faire écho au discours du gouvernement. »

Je lui ai demandé ce qui se serait passé si les médias « les plus libres du monde » avaient mis en cause M. Bush et M. Donald Rumsfeld et avaient vérifié l’authenticité de leurs déclarations, au lieu de diffuser ce qui se révéla pure propagande ? Sa réponse : « Si les médias avaient été plus pugnaces dans leur quête de la vérité, il est fort possible que nous ne serions jamais partis en guerre contre l’Irak. »

« Jamais, déclara M. Anthony Blair dans son discours devant le Congrès des Etats-Unis en 2003, le pouvoir de l’Amérique n’a été si nécessaire ou si incompris. Jamais une étude de l’histoire ne nous a aussi peu aidés à comprendre le présent. » Il s’agissait en l’occurrence de nous alerter contre l’étude de l’impérialisme, par crainte qu’elle ne nous conduise à refuser le « destin manifeste » des Etats-Unis et leur offrande à la Grande-Bretagne d’un rôle impérial durable, bien que subordonné.

Bien sûr, le premier ministre britannique ne peut mettre personne en garde de manière efficace s’il ne bénéficie pas de l’appui des « unes » des journaux, de la télévision et de la radio, qui se font l’écho de ses paroles et qui les amplifient. En abandonnant son rôle de « brouillon » d’une histoire qu’on écrira plus tard, le journalisme encourage, directement et par défaut, un impérialisme dont les véritables intentions sont peu souvent dévoilées. En lieu et place, les mots et les concepts nobles tels que « démocratie », « liberté » et « libération », vidés de leur sens réel, sont mis au service de la conquête. Lorsque les journalistes autorisent cette corruption du langage et des idées, ils désorientent, ils n’informent pas. Mieux, comme l’a dit Edward S. Herman, ils « normalisent l’impensable dans l’opinion publique ».

En juin 2002, devant un public de cadets militaires de West Point remontés comme des robots pour l’acclamer, George W. Bush désavouait la politique de « dissuasion » de la guerre froide et annonçait que dorénavant les Etats-Unis lanceraient une action préventive contre tout ennemi potentiel. Quelques mois plus tôt, une fuite du Pentagone avait dévoilé les plans d’urgence de l’administration relatifs à l’utilisation de l’arme nucléaire contre l’Iran, la Corée du Nord, la Syrie et la Chine. Suite logique, la Grande-Bretagne annonçait alors pour la première fois que, « si nécessaire », elle attaquerait à l’arme nucléaire des Etats dépourvus de cette capacité. L’information n’a pratiquement pas été reprise dans la presse, et elle n’a provoqué aucune discussion. Un peu comme il y a cinquante ans, lorsque les services de renseignement britanniques alertaient le gouvernement des intentions américaines de partir en guerre atomique « préventive » contre l’Union soviétique, et que le public n’en savait rien.

D’après les dossiers officiels rendus publics à partir de 1968, il n’a pas su davantage que les principaux stratèges britanniques étaient persuadés que les Russes n’avaient aucune intention d’attaquer l’Occident. « L’Union soviétique ne va pas déclencher une guerre générale ou même limitée en Europe », notaient-ils en décrivant la politique soviétique comme « prudente et réaliste ». La vérité privée contrastait du tout au tout avec ce qu’on disait à l’époque à la presse et au public.

Toujours plus de bruit

« Quand la vérité est remplacée par le silence, disait le poète soviétique Evgeni Evtouchenko, le silence est un mensonge. » Il règne aujourd’hui un silence surréaliste, empli du bruit des petites phrases d’hommes politiques qui se mordent et s’empoignent pour justifier leur fourberie et leur violence. Là où on nous parle d’actualité, il n’y a que parodie au diapason des voix criardes de journalistes proclamant tous à peu près la même chose. Jamais nous n’avons connu un tel volume d’« infos » répétitives ni une telle mainmise de la part de ceux qui les contrôlent. Depuis les années 1980, les conglomérats de médias américains se sont dégagés peu à peu de leurs dernières contraintes de service public en même temps qu’ils s’en sont pris à toute réglementation internationale.

En 1983, les principaux médias appartenaient à cinquante sociétés. En 2002, on ne comptait plus que neuf conglomérats transnationaux. Dirigée par le fils du secrétaire d’Etat Colin Powell, la Commission fédérale des communications (FCC) s’emploie à faciliter le contrôle de 90 % de l’audience américaine par la Fox de M. Murdoch et quatre autres conglomérats (3). M. Murdoch a prévu que, d’ici à trois ans, il n’y aurait plus que trois grosses sociétés de médias, au nombre desquelles la sienne. Les vingt sites les plus visités sur Internet appartiennent à des sociétés telles que Fox, Disney, AOL Time Warner, Viacom et une poignée de géants de ce genre ; les quatorze plus gros absorbent 60 % du temps que les Américains passent sur la Toile. Une ambition leur est commune : fabriquer des citoyens mal informés et bien-pensants. Des consommateurs obéissants.

John Pilger vient de publier Tell me no lies, Random House, Londres, octobre 2004. Ce livre rassemble une série d’articles de journalistes qui ont mis en cause le pouvoir, y compris médiatique. Nous publions un extrait de la présentation qu’en fait John Pilger.

(1) Au cours d’un reportage radio, le journaliste Andrew Gilligan avait dévoilé la manière employée par le gouvernement dans la manipulation des preuves et des rapports des services secrets pour donner crédit à l’existence d’une menace créée par les armes de destruction massives qu’auraient détenues M. Saddam Hussein.

(2) Lire, sur cette affaire, Ignacio Ramonet, « Mensonges d’Etat », Le Monde diplomatique, juillet 2003.

(3) Cf. Eric Klinenberg, « Révolte contre l’ordre médiatique », Manière de voir, n° 77, « Les Etats-Unis en campagnes », octobre-novembre 2004.

Voir également:

L’homme qui défia la censure

F. M.,

Sciences et Avenir n°582

août 1995

« Je n’ai rien vu de tel en 4 ans de guerre. Le regard peut porter sur 30 kilomètres carrés sans accrocher un bâtiment « , écrit Wilfred Burchett à Hiroshima.

Sans Wilfred Burchett, premier journaliste à être entré à Hiroshima, le monde aurait sans doute longtemps ignoré les ravages des radiations. Ravages immédiatement niés par l’état-major américain.

Dans les derniers jours du mois d’août 1945, deux semaines après les bombardements atomiques de Hiroshima et de Nagasaki qui ont entraîné, en quelques jours, la capitulation du Japon, les premiers marines débarquent dans le sud de l’archipel sans tirer un seul coup de feu. Parmi les vétérans qui descendent du Millette, un cargo reconverti en transport de troupes, un journaliste, qui n’a qu’une seule idée en tête: gagner au plus vite Hiroshima.

A 34 ans, Wilfred Burchett a couvert toute la guerre du Pacifique pour le Daily Express, le plus grand quotidien britannique de l’époque. Cet Australien, plusieurs fois blessé, se trouve encore dans l’île d’Okinawa, l’une des conquêtes les plus coûteuses de l’armée américaine (82 jours de combat, 12000 morts américains, 131000 japonais) lorsqu’il entend un speaker annoncer à la radio qu’une seule bombe, d’une puissance énorme a rasé une ville entière du Japon. Sa réaction est immédiate: « Je notais mentalement que ce serait mon premier objectif si je parvenais à mettre le pied au Japon. « 

Arrivé à Tokyo, Wilfred Burchett retrouve tous les correspondants de guerre, réunis pour ce qui doit être le dernier acte d’une tragédie qui aura duré quatre ans: la signature de la reddition japonaise à bord du cuirassé Missouri. Le 2 septembre au matin, ils sont plus de six cents à y assister, en rade de Tokyo, quand Wilfred Burchett, seul, non accrédité par les autorités d’occupation, monte dans un train qui doit l’emmener jusqu’à Hiroshima, la ville n’étant pas encore sous contrôle américain. « Les huit premières heures comptèrent parmi les plus hasardeuses de mon expédition. Le train était plein à craquer d’officiers et de soldats fraîchement démobilisés. Des officiers portaient encore leur long sabre [ … ], et il me semblait qu’ils avaient une furieuse envie de passer aux actes ». Après vingt heures de voyage, il saute du train, en pleine nuit, dans ce qu’il reste de la gare d’Hiroshima. Immédiatement arrêté par la police japonaise, il ne découvre la cité qu’au petit matin. Il est le premier journaliste occidental à contempler ce champ de ruines mais surtout à visiter les hôpitaux où des gens meurent d’une façon inconnue: « A Hiroshima, trente jours après la première bombe atomique qui détruisit la ville et fit trembler le monde, des gens, qui n’avaient pas été atteints pendant le cataclysme, sont encore aujourd’hui en train de mourir, mystérieusement, horriblement, d’un mal inconnu pour lequel je n’ai pas d’autre nom que celui de peste atomique [ … ]. Sans raison apparente, leur santé vacille. Ils perdent l’appétit. Leur cheveux tombent. Des taches bleuâtres apparaissent sur leur corps. Et puis ils se mettent à saigner, des oreilles, du nez, de la bouche.  » Ce long article que Wilfred Burchett tape assis sur des gravats au point de l’épicentre, en maltraitant sa vieille machine Baby Hermes, est transmis en morse jusqu’à Tokyo. Publié le 5 septembre à la une du Daily Express et diffusé gratuitement aux autres journaux, il fera le tour du monde.

La une du Dally Express du 5 septembre 1945.  » La peste atomique. Ce que j’écris doit servir d’avertissement au monde entier. « 

Car personne n’a encore parlé des ravages des radiations. Pour l’opinion mondiale, les deux bombes jetées par les Américains sont simplement des engins de guerre plus puissants que les autres: qu’elles aient contenu de quoi continuer à tuer longtemps après la fin de la guerre est impensable. L’état-major américain, qui ne pouvait imaginer qu’un correspondant non accrédité se rende aussi vite sur place, accuse le coup. Sa réponse vient le 13 septembre, dans le New York Times, sous la plume de William Laurence, éminent chroniqueur scientifique, qui révèle alors son appartenance au projet Manhattan, débuté en 1942 pour construire l’arme atomique. Il en est le chef des relations publiques. Le titre de son article? « Aucune radioactivité dans les ruines d’Hiroshima.  » Et il réfute la version de Burchett. « Les Japonais prétendent que des gens sont morts du fait des radiations. Si cela est vrai, ils ont été très peu nombreux. Et s’il y a eu des radiations, elles ont été émises pendant l’explosion et pas après. Les Japonais poursuivent leur propagande pour créer l’impression que nous avons gagné la guerre de façon déloyale. « 

L’attitude de l’état-major américain ne variera pas. Il continuera à minimiser l’existence des radiations. La polémique, dans l’euphorie de la victoire, ne durera pas. La censure s’abat sur le Japon, la guerre froide s’installe. Mais personne ne peut plus ignorer ce qu’est réellement l’arme atomique. A quelques heures près, l’information est passée. Wilfred Burchett continuera à barouder, assurant la couverture de la plupart des conflits de la guerre froide, jusqu’à sa mort, en 1983, d’un cancer.

Voir enfin:

The Case Against Howard Zinn

Robert Stacy McCain

The American Spectator

02.08.10

Howard Zinn was teaching a class, but he wasn’t yet a professor and his classroom wasn’t at a university. It was late 1951, and the students who gathered for Zinn’s lessons in Brooklyn were his fellow members of the Communist Party USA.

One of Zinn’s comrades described him as « a person with some authority » within the local CPUSA section and said that Zinn’s class was on « basic Marxism, » the theme being « that the basic teachings of Marx and Lenin were sound and should be adhered to by those present. »

That description, furnished to the Federal Bureau of Investigation by a former Communist in 1957, is included in more than 400 pages of Zinn’s FBI file made public last week.

The FBI files demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that Zinn — author of A People’s History of the United States, widely used as a textbook or supplement in many of our nation’s high schools and universities — was a card-carrying Communist at a time when the Soviet Union was America’s most dreaded enemy.

File No. 100-360217 was begun in March 1949 in response to an order from FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to Edward Scheidt, special agent in charge of the Bureau’s New York office. Zinn’s name had previously surfaced in connection with other FBI investigations of Communist Party activities, but a new report from an unnamed agent marked Zinn as a subject of special interest.

In 1948, an FBI confidential informant had spoken to Zinn at a protest in front of the White House and reported that, during the course of their conversation, « Zinn indicated that he is a member of the Communist Party and that he attends Party meetings five nights a week in Brooklyn. » Zinn, who was then a 26-year-old Army Air Force veteran attending New York University, expressed to the informant his support for Henry Wallace’s third-party « Progressive » presidential campaign, « indicating that the Communist Party was 100% behind this Movement, » according to the FBI file.

Additional investigation showed that Zinn was active in several Communist-dominated « front groups, » and that in 1947 Zinn was a delegate to a conference of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee, which had been designated a subversive organization by the Attorney General pursuant to a 1947 executive order of President Truman. Furthermore, according to another informant, Zinn’s Brooklyn address « appeared on a list of addressograph stencils at Communist Party Headquarters » in New York.

In response to this report, Hoover directed the New York office to develop a « Security Index » file on Zinn. Scheidt was « requested to conduct further investigation in an effort to obtain additional information concerning this subject’s membership in the Communist Party or concerning his activities in behalf of the party, » Hoover wrote on March 30, 1949. « Particular emphasis should be placed on obtaining admissible evidence. »

Continuing investigation determined that in 1946, Zinn’s wife had solicited petition signatures for the New York Communist Party, and that Zinn and his wife had both joined the International Workers Order, another designated subversive group. An FBI informant had reported in 1948 that « Howie Zinn was believed to be one of a group of individuals selected from the 6th [Assembly District], Kings County Communist Party as a fraternal delegate to the New York State Convention of the Communist Party. »

No further agency action followed until November 1953, when two agents from the New York FBI office interviewed Zinn as part of the bureau’s Security Informant Program and filed a detailed report: « Zinn stated that he was not now or was he ever a member of the [Communist Party]. He acknowledged that perhaps his activities in the past had opened him to charges that he was associated with the CP as a member; however, he was not…. He stated that he was a liberal and perhaps some people would consider him to be a ‘leftist.’… According to Zinn, he was not ashamed of his past activities and did not believe that he or his activities constituted a threat to the security of this country or our government. »

Zinn’s denial of Communist Party membership during this interview (which the agents duly reported as having been conducted « between Fifth and Sixth Streets and Avenue D » in Manhattan) is problematic. Multiple informants had already identified Zinn as a CPUSA member, and he was involved in several different Communist front groups, as well as Communist-infiltrated groups such as the American Veterans Committee and the American Peace Mobilization. His address was reportedly on the mailing list at the party’s headquarters, and he had helped lead a 1948 protest against the so-called Nixon-Mundt Bill which, eventually incorporated into the McCarran Act, required members of the Communist Party to register with the attorney general.

A few weeks later, in February 1954, FBI agents again interviewed Zinn, informing him that they « were giving him an opportunity to further discuss his former activity with certain subversive organizations. » Whereas previously Zinn had flatly denied attending the New York Communist Party convention, in the second interview « he could not recall » attending, nor could he recall attending the 1947 Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee conference. More to the point, Zinn « stated that under no circumstances would he testify or furnish information concerning the political opinions of others. »

Zinn’s non-cooperation duly noted, his FBI file remained fairly dormant for three years, as he completed his Ph.D. at Columbia University. But a report from the New York office in June 1957, in response to an inquiry from the bureau’s Atlanta office (Zinn was then teaching at Atlanta’s Spelman College), contained details indicating that Zinn’s earlier denials were false.

The FBI’s unnamed informant had joined the CPUSA in 1948 and remained a member for five years. The party was divided into « sections » and « branches » and the informant told the FBI that he had been transferred to the party’s section in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn in 1949.

« At that time, Howard Zinn was already a member of that section, » the informant said in 1957, according to the report by FBI Special Agent Edward P. Grigalus. « Informant stated it was his impression that Zinn was not a new member, but had been in the CP for some time.… Informant stated he attended numerous section meetings with the subject between about 1949 and about the summer of 1953.… The meetings were held either at the section headquarters or at the home of one of the members. Informant recalled that some meetings were held at [Zinn’s] home or at the home of one George Kirshner on Lafayette Street in Brooklyn. »

According to the FBI, this informant gave the agency a photo of Zinn teaching his 1951 « basic Marxism » class to fellow CPUSA members in Brooklyn. That photo wasn’t included in the documents released last week, but details of the 1957 report are certainly intriguing. In the late 1940s, Zinn lived at 926 LaFayette Avenue (not « street ») in Brooklyn. George Kirschner (not « Kirshner ») was a union official at a Brooklyn brewery who, decades later, became a teacher and collaborated with Zinn on a 1995 wall-chart version of A People’s History of the United States. The informant’s account indicates that the association between Zinn and Kirschner (who died in 2008) began in the Communist Party in the late 1940s. Like Zinn, Kirschner was a World War II veteran, and they could have met through the Communist-infiltrated American Veterans Committee, in which Zinn was a ranking local official.

Given this further corroboration of Zinn’s CPUSA activities from a former comrade, the FBI evidently concluded that Zinn’s denials of party membership were lies. By 1964 — at which time Zinn was publicly denouncing Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy for allegedly being reluctant to protect civil-rights protesters — J. Edgar Hoover described Zinn as having « a background of known membership in the Communist Party. » While Zinn’s CPUSA membership seems to have lapsed in the early 1950s, Hoover noted that the professor « has continued to demonstrate procommunist and anti-United States sympathies, » including outspoken support for Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

Zinn was still a relatively obscure academic in 1964, but he gained national prominence for his subsequent anti-Vietnam War activism, leading « teach-ins » at Harvard, MIT, and other campuses, and traveling to Hanoi in 1968 with radical priest Daniel Berrigan. It was not until 1980 that Zinn published A People’s History of the United States, which gained pop-culture fame after Ben Affleck and Matt Damon featured it in their 1997 film Good Will Hunting. Zinn later became a prominent critic of the Bush administration’s foreign policy and, not long before his death in January, was lionized in a documentary called The People Speak, co-produced by Damon and starring Danny Glover, Sean Penn, and other luminaries of the Hollywood Left.

Zinn’s 21st-century influence takes on a new aspect in light of the FBI’s revelation of his Communist Party activities. Anyone might have innocently joined a Communist « front » group — indeed, during his New Deal years as a self-described « hemophiliac liberal, » Ronald Reagan had naively joined two such groups. But Zinn was implicated as a member of multiple Communist fronts and, tellingly, was a local officer of the American Veterans Committee at the very time when that group was identified as having been taken over by Communists. Given the preponderance of evidence, it is difficult to dispute J. Edgar Hoover’s conclusion that Zinn was no mere sympathizer or « fellow traveler, » but was indeed an active CPUSA member in the late 1940s and early ’50s.

The timing of Zinn’s Communist involvement is also important. Many well-meaning liberals had been drawn into the CPUSA during the « Popular Front » era of the 1930s, when America was menaced by the Great Depression at home and the rising specter of fascism abroad. Misleading press accounts of the Soviet Union’s « progress » during those years helped convinced many idealists that the Bolshevik Revolution represented a hopeful future.

By the late 1940s, however, those illusions had been shattered by the reality of Josef Stalin’s brutal totalitarianism. Stalin’s cynical 1939 treaty with Hitler — the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact — had sacrificed Poland to the Nazis, and the Red Army’s post-war occupation of Eastern Europe had crushed all democratic resistance. Even as Zinn’s wife was collecting signatures on Communist petitions in New York, Winston Churchill was decrying the « Iron Curtain » that had descended across Europe. The Communist Party that Zinn joined was already widely recognized as the agent of an aggressive tyranny, in thrall to the paranoid dictator Stalin. Zinn evidently pursued his CPUSA activism even after the Soviets exploded their first atomic weapon in 1949 and after the Cold War turned hot with the June 1950 outbreak of the Korean War.

Revelation of Zinn’s support for Stalinism is unlikely to affect his standing with liberals, whose main response to the FBI disclosures was to express shock that an official of Boston University tried to get Zinn fired in 1970. Zinn’s liberal admirers obviously share his anti-American perspective, in which the FBI poses a greater danger than any foreign enemy. It was that view Zinn meant to express when, in 1986, he condemned the U.S. bombing of Libya in response to a Libyan-sponsored terrorist attack in West Berlin. « There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people for a purpose which is unattainable, » Zinn wrote.

That such a condemnation could be applied more truthfully to Zinn’s communist heroes, who slaughtered millions of innocents in pursuit of an unattainable socialist paradise, is an irony the professor apparently never contemplated.

Un commentaire pour Idiots utiles: Vous avez dit validé par l’histoire ? (Will Howard Zinn turn out to be to history what Wilfred Burchett was to journalism?)

  1. jcdurbant dit :

    To my surprise, I realized rather soon that I had come to a country that was being systematically conditioned for a future takeover by communist conspirators and their fellow-travelers. Once when replacing a colleague who happened to be unavailable, to take part in a committee session selecting books for courses on China. I objected to the biased selection. All proposed sources were Communist or pro-Communist and pro-Mao. The other members looked at me askance. How did he get here? Nothing was changed. Indoctrination was to go on systematically.

    The Twentieth Century, the most murderous in human history, is shameful not only for the massacres of many millions of innocent victims by totalitarian dictators but also because so many intellectuals helped to support such villains and even admired them as saviours instead of unmasking them and combating them. Such wilful blindness helped diminish resistance to evil and political criminality of the highest order.

    Peter Hruby

    J'aime

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