Wilfred Burchett: Vietnam From the Other Side

Wilfred Burchett (16 September 1911–27 September 1983) was a controversial Australian journalist known for being the first western journalist to report from Hiroshima after the dropping of the atomic bomb, and for his reporting literally from “the other side” during the wars in Korea and Vietnam. During the Korean war Burchett investigated and confirmed claims by the North Korean government that the US had used germ warfare. In the United States his journalism has been effectively marginalized.

In November 1963, Burchett spent six months in southern Vietnam with National Liberation Front guerrillas, staying in their fortified hamlets and traveling underground in their network of narrow tunnels. When President Kennedy increased funding for the war in Vietnam, Burchett wrote: “No peasants anywhere in the world had so many dollars per capita lavished on their extermination.”

During his time in Vietnam Burchett had access to the North Vietnamese leadership and the South’s National Liberation Front. He tried to help the British and US governments in obtaining the release of captured American airmen. He played a role in trying to organize informal talks during the 1968 peace talks in Paris.

At times Burchett was grievously mistaken in his political and moral judgment. He praised Ho Chi Minh as a kind and gentle man. In fact Ho could be ruthless. Writing from Cambodia, Burchett initially lauded the genocidal Pol Pot and Khymer Rouge. Regarding China, he applauded Mao’s catastrophic Great Leap Forward and ruinous Cultural Revolution.

However, regarding Indochina, Bertrand Russell wrote that “If any one man is responsible for alerting Western opinion to the struggle of the people of Vietnam, it is Wilfred Burchett”.

The Australian journalist Denis Warner has stated: “[Burchett] 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.” Nick Shimmin, co-editor of Rebel Journalism: The Writings of Wilfred Burchett stated, “When he saw injustice and hardship, he criticised those he believed responsible for it.”

In 2011 Vietnam celebrated Burchett’s 100th birthday with an exhibition in the Ho Chi Minh Museum in Hanoi.

The documentary below, entitled Public Enemy Number One, by David Bradbury, was released in 1981. This excerpt focuses on Burchett’s coverage of the American war in Vietnam and his return to postwar Cambodia. Warning: graphic ending.


source: wikipedia

top photo: Wilfred Burchett (L) and Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap sit for an interview in Hanoi in 1964.