Given [the antagonistic attitude of the UN briefing officers], it is understandable that many United Nations correspondents began to turn to the two Western correspondents with the North Korean-Chinese delegation, Wilfred Burchett, now [in 1975] with Ce Soir, a Paris left-wing newspaper, and Alan Winnington of the London Daily Worker.... The UN correspondents soon discovered that Burchett and Winnington had the complete trust of the North Korean-Chinese delegation [to the truce talks] and had free access to all the documents, maps, and reports relating to the negotiations. The two became a regular source of information for the UN correspondents, and a cause of much annoyance to the UN briefing officers....SOURCE: The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero and Myth-maker from the Crimea to Kosovo, by Phillip Knightley, with an introduction by John Pilger (Johns Hopkins U. Press, 2000; first published in 1975), pp. 386-390
Many American newsmen disliked fraternising with Burchett and Winnington. There is no doubt both correspondents supported the communist side and made no secret of this fact. Burchett was later accused of going further, playing down North Korean atrocities [which Knightley also fails to mention], painting a false picture of conditions in North Korean POW camps [which Knightley duly repeats] and, worse, of assisting in the interrogation of UN POWs in these camps. Burchett vehemently denied this to me and various court actions in Australia later failed to resolve conclusively this accusation [only the last one, presumably]. But in Korea, the truth was that Burchett and Winnington were a better source of news than the UN information officers, and if the allied reporters did not see them they risked being beaten on stories....
As for the correspondents, one cannot escape the conclusion that, although they showed admirable professional courage on the battlefield, they failed to show equal moral courage in questioning what the war was all about.... Instead, too many correspondents became engrossed in describing the war in terms of military gains and losses, rather than standing back, as one or two British correspondents did, and trying to assess whether the intervention was justified, whether its aims were feasible, whether any long-term gains were worth the short-term cost....
So correspondents must accept some of the blame for the fact that 2 million civilians were killed in Korea, more than 100,000 children were left orphaned, and the whole peninsula, says Rene Cutforth "looked as if a gigantic wind had swept it clean of everything." All for what? It remains difficult to name a single positive thing the war achieved.
13 June 2005
Collaborating Journalists in the Korean War
Phillip Knightley's partisan bias gets more and more heavy-handed as he describes wars during his lifetime. He condemns journalistic collaboration with one side, but condones or even praises it on the other. He recognizes agitprop from one side, but not from the other. He feels compelled to foreground atrocities by one side, but to downplay or deny them on the other. He makes clear his assumption that no war is ever justified against a communist or revolutionary opponent, and that a war correspondent's primary duty is to convey the utter horror and futility of war to any public that enjoys the benefits of a relatively free press--which very often includes only one side in a conflict.