Australian Citizenship – to Strip or not to Strip?
The Wilfred Burchett Story as an example
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Wilfred Graham Burchett (16 September 1911 - 27 September 1983) was an Australian journalist known for his reporting of conflicts in Asia and his Communist sympathies. He was the first foreign correspondent to enter Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped, and he attracted controversy for his activities during the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
Burchett was born in Melbourne in 1911 to George and Mary Burchett. He spent his youth in the south Gippsland town of Poowong. Poverty forced him to drop out of school at an early age and work at various odd jobs, including as a vacuum cleaner salesman and an agricultural labourer. In his free time he studied foreign languages.]
In 1963, two years after the Sino-Soviet split, Burchett wrote in a letter to his father that the Chinese were "one hundred per cent right", but asked him to keep his son's views confidential.
During the latter years of the Vietnam War (1955-1975), although Burchett was now over 60, he would travel hundreds of miles, huddling in tunnels with NVA and Viet Cong soldiers, while under attack by US forces. Burchett published numerous books about Vietnam and the war during these years, and later.
Passport controversy, 1955-1972
One of the controversies that dogged Burchett for much of his career concerned his Australian passport. In 1955 it went missing, believed stolen, and the Australian Government refused to issue a replacement. Matters came to a head in 1969 when Burchett was refused entry into Australia to attend his father's funeral. The following year his brother Clive died, and Burchett flew to Brisbane by a private plane, triggering a media sensation. An Australian passport was finally issued to Burchett by the incoming Whitlam Government in 1972.
In November 1969, Soviet defector Yuri Krotkov testified before the US Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security that Burchett had been his agent when he worked as a KGB controller. (Others he named as agents and contacts included Jean-Paul Sartre and John Kenneth Galbraith.) He claimed that Burchett had proposed a "special relationship" with the Soviets at their first meeting in Berlin in 1947. Krotkov also reported that Burchett had worked as an agent for both Vietnam and China and was a secret member of the Communist Party of Australia. For his part, Tibor Méray alleged that Burchett was an undercover Party member but not a KGB agent.
Burchett was always defensive about charges that he was a "communist propagandist" or "communist agent". In November 1974 he filed a one-million-dollar libel suit against Australian Democratic Labor Party politician Jack Kane, in part, over an article by Kane in his political newsletter detailing Yuri Krotkov's testimony.
During the trial, Kane's defence team not only presented Krotkov's 1969 testimony in the United States, but also put thirty former Korean War POWs on the stand. The former prisoners testified that Burchett had used threatening and insulting language against them and in some cases had been involved in their interrogations. North Vietnamese defectors, Bui Cong Tuong and To Ming Trung, also testified at the trial, claiming that Burchett was so highly regarded in Hanoi he was known as "Comrade Soldier", a title he shared only with Lenin and Ho Chi Minh.
Burchett denied all the allegations. The jury found Burchett had been defamed, but considered the article a fair report of a 1971 Senate speech by DLP leader Vince Gair and therefore protected by parliamentary privilege. Costs were awarded against Burchett. Burchett appealed and lost. In their judgement of 1976, the appeal court judges found that Kane's article was not a fair report of the Senate speech. The jury's verdict, however, they concluded, arose out of the failure of Burchett's lawyer to argue his client's case and was not an error of the court. It was also impractical to recall the international witnesses for a retrial.
Historian Gavan McCormack has argued in Burchett's defence that his only dealings with Australian POWs were "trivial incidents" in which he "helped" them. With regard to other POWs, McCormack has argued that their allegations were at variance with earlier statements which either explicitly cleared Burchett or blamed someone else.
The KGB application on Burchett's behalf in July 1957 in that same file referred (1) to Burchett's previous work for "bourgeois newspapers" The Daily Express and The Times (London); (2) his current appointment as Moscow correspondent of the radical US National Guardian; and (3) his open membership of the Communist Party before leaving Australia in the 1930s. The Central Committee approved the KGB request, but lowered the monthly allowance to be given to Burchett from 4,000 to 3,000 roubles. In 1979 Burchett resigned from The National Guardian when the newspaper, the voice of the US Progressive Party, took the side of Chinese and Cambodian communists against the Soviet and Vietnamese communists.
In 2013 Robert Manne used these documents to update "Agent of Influence: Reassessing Wilfred Burchett", his 2008 analysis of the reporter's special status with a succession of Communist regimes in Europe and Asia. "Every detail in the KGB memorandum is consistent with the Washington testimony of Yuri Krotkov," Manne concluded in 2013. The defector, in his judgement, "was not a liar and a perjurer, but a truth-teller."
Burchett moved to Bulgaria in 1982 and died of cancer in Sofia the following year, aged 72.
His legacy has continued to excite controversy to the present day. Journalist Denis Warner remarked: "he will be remembered by many as one of the more remarkable agents of influence of the times, but by his Australian and other admirers as a folk hero".
A documentary film entitled Public Enemy Number Oneby David Bradbury was released in 1981. The film showed how Burchett was vilified in Australia for his coverage of "the other side" in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and posed the questions: "Can a democracy tolerate opinions it considers subversive to its national interest? How far can freedom of the press be extended in wartime?"
In 2011 Vietnam celebrated Burchett's 100th birthday with an exhibition in the Ho Chi Minh Museum in Hanoi.