To mention here just the most shocking recent revelation, within the past month, South Korea’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission confirmed that during the first months of that war, in July 1950, “United Nations” forces had slaughtered about 100,000 Koreans, including around 5,000 taken from nearby prisons, massacred, and dumped in improvised mass graves outside the city of Daejeon (formerly written Taejon). The “Daejeon Massacre” has long been recognised and recorded in histories of the Korean War as its worst single atrocity. At the time the US Army deemed it “worthy of being recorded in the annals of history along with the Rape of Nanking, the Warsaw Ghetto” - but wrongly attributed it to North Korea.
Now, the South Korean Truth Commission has unambiguously attributed the massacre to South Korean forces operating under American direction (“Alleged communists massacred under the eyes of American soldiers,” Seoul, June 16, 2008, with photographs released on May 5, 2008 by US National Archives and Records Administration).
To criticise Burchett’s reporting of the Korean War, Robert Manne has to face the fact that among the worst atrocities of that war were those committed, and long covered up, by “our” side. Wilfred Burchett, who reported the Daejeon massacre at the time in his 1953 book, This Monstrous War (pp. 129-31), was the only Australian to do so. As of July 2008, Australian media have yet to report on these matters at all.
We believe that advances in the cause of human rights will come more easily without dividing scholars into "Left" and "Right", or into "pro-Burchett" or "anti-Burchett" parties.
These banal oppositions provide no explanatory power. There are plenty of fine people on both sides, and Burchett's long life displayed plenty of nuances and contradictions. Honest people can disagree about whether he should be honoured for some of the things he did, and criticised for others. But if the cause of human rights in Australia is to progress, there can be no ideological excuse for a government depriving a citizen of his rights, let alone depriving his children of theirs.
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About the Author
Tom Heenan, Lecturer, National Centre for Australian Studies, Monash University;
Ben Kiernan, Whitney Griswold Professor of History, Yale University;
Greg Lockhart, Sydney writer;
Stuart Macintyre, Ernest Scott Professor of History, University of Melbourne; and
Gavan McCormack, emeritus professor, Australian National University.