Daily Archives: 13 June 2005

An Interfering Journalist in the Korean War

Executions for political reasons began when Seoul was recaptured by the allies [as if they never occurred when Seoul was first captured by the North!], and when the South became threatened again they increased at an alarming rate.

John Colless, an Australian working for AAP-Reuter, reported that the police shot fifty-six political prisoners alongside the Sariwon railway station and then watched American troops give first aid to those who had not died outright….

One correspondent took direct personal action to stop the executions. He was Alan Dower, of the Melbourne Herald. Dower, a former commando officer, was driving into Seoul with [the BBC’s Rene] Cutforth and a cameraman, Cyril Page, when they passed a column of women, many carrying babies, and wearing straw masks over their heads, being escorted by South Korean policemen. Dower stopped the jeep and asked what was happening. “These Communists,” a policeman said. “They go be shot, executed.” Dower said, “What? Babies Communist? Who say they Communist?” The policeman looked puzzled. “People say. People in street point and say that person Communist.” The three correspondents followed the column to a gaol on a hill at the outskirts of Seoul and watched the heavy gates clang behind it. Then Dower, who was armed, thudded on a peep-hole with the butt of his carbine. When a policeman’s face appeared, Dower pointed the gun at him and threatened to shoot him if he did not open the gates. Inside, the correspondents saw the column of women and children kneeling alongside a deep, freshly dug pit. On the other side were two machine guns. “Hell,” Dower said, “this is a bloody fine set-up to lose good Australian lives over. I’m going to do something about this.” The correspondents stormed into the office of the gaol’s governor and found him sitting behind his desk. Dower aimed his carbine and said, “If those machine guns fire I’ll shoot you between the eyes.” After the governor promised that the guns would not fire and that there would be no executions, Dower threatened that if he failed to keep his word Dower would seek him out and kill him.

In Seoul, Dower went to United Nations officials and told them what had happened. “They pleaded with me not to make an international incident out of it. I told them that I had sent my paper an outline of the story, but if there were any more executions, then I’d send a story that would rock the world. They promised to see that there would be no more women and children death marches and as far as I could find out there weren’t.” But what had already been published, by Dower and by a few other correspondents, mostly non-American, caused a wave of disillusionment with the South Korean regime and with the war in general. The British Sunday newspaper Reynolds News summed up this feeling: “Terrible things are being done in Korea in your name. They are being done by Syngman Rhee’s police sheltering behind US and British United Nations troops.”

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. 374-376

Leave a comment

Filed under Korea

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.

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….

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.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Korea