Speaker 1:

Three weeks after Hiroshima, Wilfred Burchett landed in Japan with 250 other war correspondents to cover the surrender ceremony onboard the US Battleship Missouri. The rest of the country was placed off limits. It was just too dangerous. 249 correspondents obeyed that order, one man did not.

 

 

Dressed in American military fatigues, Wilfred Burchett secretly boarded a civilian train crowded with de-mobilized Japanese soldiers and headed 600 kilometres inland to Hiroshima. He carried his typewriter and hid a pistol in his haversack, which he intended to turn on himself rather than be tortured, if it came to it.

 

WilfredBurchett:

I saw somebody, he was obviously European. I smiled of course and shook hands, and he said, "Don't smile. These people with the big sticks between their legs are very, very angry and they're muttering about who you are." Of course the big sticks between the legs, these were the big swords all these officers were carrying, and it was obvious that they were extremely hostile towards me. They were glowering and looking at me and muttering. After that, it had gotten quite tense in the compartment. There was no lighting on the train, about half the time we were travelling through tunnels. It was absolutely pitch black. I could have done nothing at all if someone had decided to plunge his dagger into me.

 

 

Every time the train stopped, I kept repeating the question [foreign 00:02:24]. What is the name of this station? Eventually after 22 hours almost exactly after leaving Tokyo, the reply came, "Hiroshima."

 

 

There was no city left, it was just dust. It was a very strange, sinister, sulphurous smell and there were wisps of vapour coming up out of the ground. Very few people walking around, picking their way through the rubble, wearing masks over their nose and mouth. Nobody stopped to talk to anybody else.

 

 

I went to a hospital which had survived in the outskirts of the city. These people were all in various states of physical disintegration. They would all die, but they were giving them whatever comfort could be given until they died, and the doctor explained he didn't know why they were dying. The only symptoms they could isolate from a medical point of view was that of acute vitamin deficiency, so they started giving vitamin injections. Vitamin C and vitamin B, I think, and he explained that where they put the needle in, then the flesh started to rot.

 

 

Then, gradually the thing would develop this bleeding which they couldn't stop, and then the hair falling out. The hair falling out was more or less the last stage, and a number of the women were lying there with sort of halos of their black hair, which had already fallen out on the pillows.

 

 

The people looked at me, obviously, like I could feel the hate in their eyes, and at one point the doctor said, "Look, I must stop you, must stop this. I feel responsible for your safety, and you must leave." As we left he said, "I can't understand this. I'm American educated. I'm a Christian. I know what war is and certainly we have been guilty of all sorts of things in this war, but this is against civilian population. We don't know what the disease is. The Americans must send, I beg you, let them send scientists and doctors down here to tell us what to do, because our impression is that everybody will die.

 

 

I didn't know what name to give to this disease, so I called it Atomic Plague. What I'd seen was the end of World War II but it would be the fate of cities all over the world in the first hours of the first hours of a World War III. I felt staggered, really staggered by what I'd seen. Just where I sat down, I found some lump of concrete I remember that had not been pulverised, and I sat on that with my little Hermes typewriter and my first words were, I remember now, I write this as a warning to the world.

 

Speaker 1:

The enormity of Hiroshima made a profound impact upon Burchett. With the advent of the Cold War and America's initial monopoly of the atom bomb and it's threat to use it, Burchett crossed the lines and would never again return to report events from the allied side.

 

 

Back home in Burchett's native Australia, a long period of post war prosperity had begun. Not unlike the Australia of today, young Australians modelled themselves on sporting heroes, while just to their north men like Ho Chi Minh and Mao Tse-tung were inspiring young revolutionaries who had grown tired of Colonial rule. While still maintaining its traditional links with mother England, Australia firmly aligned itself with the American camp.

 

Speaker 3:

In recent years, a sinister force has appeared in our world. That sinister force is Communism. Today in Australia, Reds openly preach their gospel, flout our laws and form a growing menace to the future of this country. Does that disturb you? It should.

 

Speaker 1:

Burchett returned to Australia to take part in a campaign to ban the atom bomb, but a Reds under the bed hysteria had firmly seized the country, and Burchett found himself banned from speaking. White Australians were more worried about the Yellow hoards of Asian than the horrors of nuclear war.

 

 

In Korea, the first major conflict erupted between the United States and a Communist power. Convinced that Communism must be stopped, Australia dutifully sent a small contingent of troops. Wilfred Burchett covered the war from the Communist side. He knew that to understand Asia, you have to know what the Asians themselves were thinking, that many Australians regarded Burchett's actions as treason.

 

WilfredBurchett:

I felt that there should be a voice from, let's say the other side, an experienced Western journalist who could give the other side point of view. People were being kidded along, conned if you like, to go into a wider war, to extend the war to China, and once it had been extended to China it would have been extended to the Soviet Union. If a wider war did take place, then it was almost certain that atomic weapons would be used.

 

 

My experience in Hiroshima made me very, very sensitive to those sort of situations. So, I went down prepared to stay three or four weeks with just one change of clothing, and stayed in fact two and a half years. The Western journalists accredited to the UN side were being lied to by the American public relations authorities. The journalists knew this, so they used to come to me and ask, "Do you know what our side proposed today? What did the American side propose today? What did the North Korean, Chinese side propose today?"

 

 

I had access to the actual documents of what was being proposed, and very often these were completely contrary to what the journalists were being told.

 

Speaker 1:

Always sympathetic to the underdog, and acting with the instincts of a good journalist, Wilfred Burchett decided to visit Ho Chi Minh's forces in Vietnam on his way back home to Australia from Korea.

 

 

By this time, Burchett was so hated by the conservative governments back in Australia that when he lost his passport they refused to give him a new one.

 

WilfredBurchett:

In effect, this meant exiling me in Vietnam. I was often reproached afterwards by the Australian government, I stayed so long in Vietnam, I lived in Moscow, I lived in other Socialist countries, that in fact my options were limited by the fact that I didn't have a valid passport.

 

 

The Vietnamese issued me with a very magnificent document called a laissez passez, but this was recognised only within the Socialist world because at that time, Vietnam only had diplomatic relations with Socialist countries.

 

Speaker 1:

1963, the long nightmare of American involvement in Vietnam was about to begin. Once again, Australia sent troops to fight with the United States. Once again, Wilfred Burchett reported the war from the other side.

 

WilfredBurchett:

Enough people were covering that war from the other side, from the Saigon side, I felt the other side should be known and should be publicised. I was the only outsider who had ever visited. This was true also of the war against the French. No outside journalist had ever visited the south. Where I was, [inaudible 00:11:19], morale booster for them that somebody from the other side had come down to have a look and see what their struggle was all about and share some of their difficulties and hardships and dangers with them.

 

Speaker 1:

No longer a young man, Wilfred Burchett found himself at 52 years of age riding a bicycle along narrow jungle paths, living on a handful of rice, and ducking into the underground tunnels in the black pyjamas of the Viet Cong to avoid the massive bombing runs of the American B-52 bombers overhead.

 

WilfredBurchett:

On several occasions I had to go into the tunnel systems. These were provided for emergency situations. Might be some planes coming along, helicopter gun ships or an actual attack, and you don't fool around. You go into it quite quickly.

 

 

The tunnels themselves were rather narrow. They were big enough for the small Vietnamese to crouch and run along. I had to get onto hands and knees, very undignified. Once, I got stuck there and the Vietnamese were pulling my arms from ahead and pushing from behind. I got through but it destroyed that particular slot. They had to abandon that section.

 

Speaker 3:

There were more violent clashes between anti war demonstrators and police in the streets of Sydney and Melbourne today.

 

Speaker 1:

The Vietnam was split the Australian community in two. Burchett's reports were largely ignored by the conservative daily press, but his articles and books were read where they had the most effect, amongst the anti war activists, both in Australia and overseas. Wilfred Burchett was still the only Western journalist consistently covering the war from the Communist side.

 

WilfredBurchett:

I had come to believe over the years that my duties as a journalist go beyond my responsibilities to an editor or to a publisher, and that my duties as a citizen of the world go beyond my responsibilities only to my own country. In other words, I reject my country, right or wrong.

 

 

The Australian government went to extraordinary lengths to keep me out of the country. In 1969, for instance, my father was dying. He was 97, almost 97, and I asked to go back then on compassionate grounds, but it was refused.

 

Speaker 1:

Burchett decided to push the passport issue. In 1970, he flew back to Australia in a small private plane and presented himself to Australian customs with his birth certificate. The reception he received was less than welcoming.

 

Speaker 4:

Go back to Russia!

 

WilfredBurchett:

I have certainly not been a traitor to the allies. I have opposed policies in Vietnam. I oppose Australian's being killed on Vietnamese soil. If it were Vietnamese invading Australian soil, I'd be supporting Australia. I oppose Australians killing and being killed on Vietnamese soil.

 

Speaker 5:

Are you a member of the Communist party?

 

WilfredBurchett:

I am not a member of the Communist party, no.

 

Speaker 5:

Have you been a member of the-

 

WilfredBurchett:

I have not been a member of the Communist party, of any Communist party.

 

Speaker 5:

You haven't paid subscription dues-

 

WilfredBurchett:

I have not paid subscription dues.

 

Speaker 5:

You have not held office?

 

WilfredBurchett:

I have not held office.

 

 

It's usually assumed that I'm a Communist. In fact, of course, I'm not. I've never been a member of any political party, and it would be incompatible in fact for my sort of journalism of international reporting to be a member of a Communist party. To be a member of a Communist party means accepting the discipline of that party, loyalty to that party's line, and as we know in recent years, there have been many, many different lines. There's a US line, a Russian line, a Chinese line. It would limit reporting, if I had to think to report that way would be against my party discipline, would be quite impossible.

 

Speaker 1:

In 1975 after more than 30 years of continual fighting, the Vietnamese finally won their struggle, and it had been Wilfred Burchett's war for most of that time. At least, that chapter now seemed closed. The conservatives in Australia had finally lost government temporarily, so Burchett got his passport back, but still the accusations continued.

 

 

A right wing magazine described Burchett as a paid KGB agent, a traitor. In court, he proved it was defamatory but lost it on a technicality. Costs of more than $70,000 were awarded against him which he could not and did not pay. He left Australia unable to ever return.

 

 

Based in Paris with his wife and family, Burchett continued to report on events, including the collapse of old friendships in Asia. Before long, China invaded Vietnam, Vietnam invaded Cambodia, and the world saw the horrors of Socialism and the [inaudible 00:17:05].

 

WilfredBurchett:

I'd always thought that Hiroshima was the most horrific story I would ever have to report on. Later I realised, of course, that Cambodia was far worse. What happened in Hiroshima was to one city. What happened in Cambodia was to an entire nation.

 

Speaker 6:

[Foreign 00:17:37].

 

WilfredBurchett:

Somebody opened up, or some group opened up with light machine gun. Of course the driver was hit with almost the first burst. I could feel his blood coming out of my hands, but he's a terrific chap and he kept going and that's what saved us. If he had stopped we'd of been finished.

 

Speaker 6:

[Foreign 00:18:03].

 

Speaker 3:

[inaudible 00:18:05] attacked an Australian journalist and film crew on a major highway of [inaudible 00:18:11]-

 

Speaker 1:

Wilfred Burchett finished the last footnotes for his book on Hiroshima just before he quietly died in self-imposed exile in Bulgaria. His death passed without fanfare in his native Australia. That was 1983. One decade later, politicians and bureaucrats were tripping over each other to pay at least lip service to what Wilfred Burchett had been trying to tell them for 40 years, that Australia really was part of Asia. That our future and destiny lay with how many true friends we could count upon to our near north.

 

 

But for Wilfred Burchett, that recognition still denied to him today by his fellow countrymen, came too late.

 

 

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