Memories of the old days
Comrade Burchett was a party hack
January 07, 2006
FOLLOWING the collapse 16 years ago of the Soviet Union and of the communist world it led, Western communist parties eventually disbanded and former party members and supporters were left high and dry.
The enormous human cost of communism has scarcely registered in Western consciousness, including in Australia.
The estimated victims in each country are mind-boggling: USSR, 20 million deaths; China, 65 million; Vietnam, one million; North Korea, two million; Cambodia, two million; Eastern Europe, one million; Latin America, 150,000; Africa, 1.7 million; Afghanistan, 1.5 million. The international communist movement and parties not in power: about 10,000.
But there is an emerging nostalgia among former party members and supporters, apparent in recent efforts to rehabilitate communism. This is also happening in Australia and is reflected in the enthusiastic and nostalgic reception of a recently published book: Memoirs of a Rebel Journalist: The Autobiography of Wilfred Burchett. Co-editor of this "unabridged" book is son George Burchett.
Burchett was not a rebel journalist -- he was a faithful, conformist communist who never went against the party line despite claiming to be independent. He was one of the most famous and controversial Australian journalists of the Cold War, whose writing supported regimes which are notorious for killing. He spent the greater part of his life reporting from communist countries. 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. He died in then communist Bulgaria in 1983 at the age of 72.
As with the regimes he supported, the truth about Burchett has to be told and remembered. This is how Australian war correspondent, the late Pat Burgess, described the recollections of captured UN soldier Derek Kinne about Comrade Wilfred Burchett during the Korean war in his book Warco: Australian Reporters At War:
"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 then others took up the chorus and there were hundreds singing out, 'You'll hang, you bastard'. And then some of the Americans took off their webbing belts and made nooses of them and began swinging them, too.
"Burchett said the peace talks had broken down and we were just the lackeys of the Wall Street warmongers. And the more he talked, the angrier the people got and the more nooses came out. Then he really got pissed off and he said, 'OK, so you think that when the Americans come this way you'll be liberated. But I've got news for you, you won't, you'll go that way'. He meant into Manchuria.
"Then he started to put his papers together. I was in the front row and I was pretty furious, myself. I went around to him and asked him if he was biased. And he said he wasn't. Then I asked him why his side didn't bring in some dental treatment; prisoners were having their teeth extracted with ordinary pliers. 'And another thing,' I said, 'the POWs are dying like flies. The first day I was in this camp 39men went to Boot Hill'."
Later, Kinne said, he had been taken to company headquarters and the Chinese interrogators told him he had been very hostile to Burchett: "They took me into a room with my hands handcuffed behind my back. They tied a rope around the wrists at the back and pulled it down tight until just my toes were on the ground. Then they started to beat me all over with planks and rifle butts. They put a noose around my neck and the other end in a noose around my leg. So that if I put my leg down, the rope pulled down from the beam and strangled me. They said, 'Now, you wanted to hang Comrade Burchett, so now, if you let your leg go, you hang and it is your own fault'.
"So I said to myself: 'If I'm going to hang I'm going to hang all at once, not little by little'. So I pulled my leg down real fast, figuring to strangle myself. But they must have been watching because they rushed in and said, 'Confess'. So I said, 'Alright, I confess'."
Kinne was a British Northumberland Fusilier. He was later awarded the George Cross, ranking second only to the Victoria Cross, for bravery displayed as a POW in Korea. His torture, on Burchett's behalf, occurred in June 1952 in a prisoner-of-war camp where captured UN troops were imprisoned. UN troops were defending South Korea after an invasion by 90,000 North Korean troops and 150 Soviet T34 tanks on June 1950.
Burchett described the POW prisons as being like "Swiss holiday camps". In Korea, 58 per cent of allied POWs died in captivity. "The Korean and Chinese POW camps were no holiday resorts," Burgess said. "In World War II, of the American Army reported missing in action, 70 per cent came back as former prisoners of war, and 3 per cent died in captivity. In Korea, 30 per cent survived as prisoners of war and 60 per cent died behind enemy lines." Australian troops, as part of the UN force in Korea, suffered 339 dead, 1216 wounded and 29 were captured and became POWs, one dying in captivity, according to the Australian War Memorial.
(more at http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,17745968%255E28737,00.html)