Issue 8, September 2008 | Jamie Miller

Once Were Warriors: Wilfred Burchett, Robert Manne and the Forgotten History War

In July 2008, with little warning, a bitter historical controversy broke out in response to Robert Manne’s Monthly article ‘Agent of Influence: Reassessing Wilfred Burchett’.[1] A group of academics attacked him in caustic terms for nothing less than intellectual dishonesty[2]; Manne responded by accusing them of lying.[3] Onlookers could have been excused for wondering what had sparked such open and personal animosity. However, this latest skirmish, like a far-off border clash, was merely the most recent flare-up in a long-running feud over the enigmatic legacy of Australian foreign correspondent and alleged traitor Wilfred Burchett (1911-83).[4] This article will illuminate the history of heated ideological and personal clashes over the meaning of Burchett’s life, thereby providing the much-needed background to the recent dispute for both historians and lay readers alike. In doing so, it will reveal a scarcely believable discourse in which some of Australia’s Cold War historians, their methodologies corrupted by ideological imperatives, have waged vendettas, colluded with ASIO, utilised sophistry, misrepresented evidence, engaged in McCarthyism, and even committed intellectual fraud. All of this has taken place under the cover of intellectual inquiry, yet it has only obscured our understanding of Australia’s most prominent and controversial communist.[5]

Wilfred Burchett was one of the twentieth-century’s most important journalists. Amid official denials and conventional reports to the contrary, his were the first accurate accounts of nuclear fallout in Hiroshima[6] and American use of chemical warfare in Vietnam,[7] among many other scoops. But he was notorious for his unique access to, and prominent support for, communist regimes in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, China, North Korea and Indochina. For decades he reported from these nations, using his contacts with leaders like Chou En-lai, Ho Chi Minh and Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia to produce a vastly different picture of world affairs to that prevalent in the West. Consequently, he was reviled in Australia’s anti-communist circles. What distinguished Burchett from other Australian communists in their sights, however, was the widespread belief that he had committed treason while working as a journalist accredited to the communist side of the Korean War. He was suspected of interrogating and even brainwashing Allied soldiers, and of extracting and publicising their confessions to engaging in biological warfare, thereby acting as an enemy propagandist.[8] Burchett was even widely seen as an agent for the KGB and the numerous other communist countries in which he worked. In this way, ideological antipathy towards Burchett took root easily in a specific factual basis; the classic anti-communist fear of subversion from within found an intriguing counterpoint in Burchett’s subversion from without. From the Korean War until his death in 1983, he was, as the title of David Bradbury’s film aptly put it, the nation’s Public Enemy Number One.[9] Every aspect of his life was painstakingly recorded by ASIO. And from 1955, a succession of Coalition Governments refused to issue Burchett with an Australian passport for seventeen years – it would take the accession of the Whitlam Labor Government in 1972 to reverse the policy – and even refused to register his children as Australian citizens for fifteen.[10] Wilfred Burchett became, as the Australian put it, ‘Australia’s only political refugee’.[11]

Since Burchett’s death in 1983, it has emerged that having given ASIO Director-General Charles Spry free rein in the early 1950s to investigate Burchett’s conduct, the Menzies Government found that there was neither a legal nor evidentiary basis for a treason charge.[12] However, due to its hostility towards Burchett’s association with enemy forces and the political imperative not to appear to be “soft” on communism, the Government persecuted him anyway.[13] Its Coalition successors knew that the popular allegations against Burchett had limited merit, but fostered and perpetuated them to support the policy in the absence of a factual basis and thereby save face politically. Burchett made it all too easy for them, publishing numerous books on international politics evincing dogmatically “pro-communist” views.[14]

However, as Western public opinion on the Vietnam War began to align with what Burchett had been advocating for years, he saw an opportunity to rehabilitate his reputation at home. He dramatically flew into Australia by private plane in 1970, but still the Government remained intransigent. Even when Burchett challenged public perceptions of him by suing Democratic Labor Party Senator Jack Kane for defamation, collusion between the outgoing Coalition Government and Burchett’s personal and ideological enemies, playing on strong anti-communist public sentiment, meant those perceptions were only solidified when the case came to court in 1974.[15] In the event, Burchett was subject to an array of legal errors and abuses of the judicial system, details of which can be found elsewhere.[16] The appeals court even found that he had been the victim of ‘a serious miscarriage of justice’, but still declined to order a retrial.[17] Burchett’s inability to pay costs meant that he was forced to leave Australia once more and would die in exile.

Ever since, historians have struggled to transcend the bipolar Cold War mentality superimposed on Burchett’s life. In the historical arm-wrestle over, as Hayden White put it, ‘what certain events might mean for a given group, society, or culture’s conception of its present task and future prospects’,[18] Burchett’s lifelong ability to challenge unrepentantly in his work the tenets of liberal democracy, while simultaneously being one of its most prominent victims, rendered his legacy a hotly contested battleground for Australia’s intelligentsia. If Korea, where the seeds of the controversy that would engulf Burchett were sown, was Australia’s “forgotten war”, then the debate over him has been our Forgotten History War. Just as Keith Windschuttle and Stuart Macintyre, Geoffrey Blainey and Manning Clark fought over Aboriginal and settler conflict for an understanding of Australia’s national identity, so too have B. A. Santamaria and Ben Kiernan, Robert Manne and Gavan McCormack sparred over the truth and legacy of Burchett’s life for a conception of Australia’s role in the Cold War. For one side, Burchett animated fears of a communist takeover of the free world; for the other, his persecution typified the most illiberal tendencies of Cold War Australia. It was what he signified ideologically, as much as what he had or had not done in Korea, which in siren-like fashion drew historians to him and corrupted their historical processes. The result was often history of the most dubious merit, as historians’ ideological commitments rendered them wilfully blind to evidence which suggested that Burchett could be, or indeed could have done, anything other than what their doctrine dictated.

Defaming Burchett: Denis Warner

Any search for the source of this phenomenon leads inevitably back to Denis Warner. Burchett and Warner had been professional rivals ever since they worked together as war correspondents in the Pacific theatre of the Second World War. However, as both came to specialise in East Asian affairs in the post-war years, each on their own side of the Bamboo Curtain, their ideological incompatibility transformed into a deep mutual antipathy. Warner’s orthodox “downward thrust” and “red peril” thinking was anathema to Burchett’s blend of post-colonialism, Third World nationalism and communism. The situation ultimately disintegrated into what Burchett biographer Tom Heenan has labelled ‘Australian journalism’s most infamous feud.’[19] Exposing Burchett became a life-long obsession for Warner; the immense amount of material he collected on Burchett, including countless newspaper articles, intelligence reports, interview transcripts and classified documents, fills several large boxes in the National Library of Australia.[20] And it was Warner’s articles, culminating in 1967 with the landmark ‘Who is Wilfred Burchett?’,[21] which established in the public consciousness the image of Burchett as a traitor who had interrogated and brainwashed POWs during the Korean War.

There was, however, a significant disparity between the treason charge that Warner sought to make out over the years and historical reality. Consequently, not only were claims material to a charge of treason mixed extensively with claims pertaining to Burchett’s communist sympathies - logically problematic in itself - but claims which indicated neither but simply cast Burchett in a poor light featured prominently. For instance, Warner noted that as a war correspondent, Burchett ingratiated himself with Allied officers, behaviour which ‘paid off time and again in the speedy movement of his copy’.[22] On numerous other occasions, including to ASIO, he mentioned Burchett’s womanising.[23] In the same ASIO interview, he recounted that a US correspondent had repeatedly told him that Burchett and colleague Alan Winnington had a homosexual relationship. In the case for treason, such evidence – one way or the other – indicated little more than the intensity of Warner’s obsession. Little wonder that when the Gorton Government sought to formulate a statement justifying its denial of a passport to Burchett ‘without raising problems of proof or refutation’, it singled out Warner’s unique scholarship as the example to follow.[24]

In fact, Warner had been cooperating with Australian Governments long before Gorton was at the helm. It is now clear, as Burchett and his supporters believed at the time,[25] that Warner had close ties to ASIO.[26] As early as 1953, he assisted ASIO’s efforts to gather information on Burchett by volunteering material from his ‘Burchett file’, then just a few years old.[27] Seventeen years later, little had changed. A long essay by Warner on Burchett is found in the personal papers of short-serving Prime Minister John McEwen.[28] In exchange, Warner was supplied with classified information to support his attacks on Burchett in the press. In ‘Who is Wilfred Burchett?’, he drew upon (and misrepresented) the content of ASIO’s interviews with former Australian POWs about their experiences with Burchett in Korea even though these sensitive documents were not to be publicly available for another sixteen years.[29]

In this quid pro quo, Warner’s articles lent the Government's policy an illusory legitimacy while his professional prestige swelled due to a Government-sponsored smear campaign against the credibility of his rival. It remains darkly ironic that the man at the vanguard of the lynch mob was himself acting as little more than a government spokesperson, one of the very charges Warner levelled at Burchett in relation to his activities in Korea.[30] But at the same time, ASIO and Warner relied on each other for corroboration of Burchett’s guilt, even though there must have been considerable overlap in their material. Spry, when first broaching the possibility of pursuing Burchett for treason in October 1951, actually quoted Warner as an authoritative source in his attempt to sway Solicitor-General Kenneth Bailey.[31] Meanwhile, in his 1953 interview with ASIO, Warner related that ‘he had never heard of Burchett taking any part in the indoctrination of prisoners of war’,[32] though he would come to be the foremost proponent of that very accusation.[33] Each was reinforcing the other’s instinctive hostility towards Burchett.

This collusion was most effective, and Warner’s depiction of Burchett easily gained traction in a public sphere where there was little information available to the contrary.[34] At Burchett’s National Press Club address in 1970, the Sydney Morning Herald journalist proffered that this was Burchett’s first attempt to regain his passport when he had previously tried on no fewer than six occasions.[35] In Parliament three days later, Labor MP Albert James would say that he believed a passport ‘had been denied Burchett for eight or nine years’, dating back only to 1961.[36] The Melbourne Herald even ran a story entitled ‘Burchett a “Red Soldier”’[37] based on the account of a Vietnamese who maintained that the long-term exile was ‘known as a Communist soldier operating in Australia to influence the Australian Government to support the interests of the Republic of North Vietnam’.[38] The lack of basic knowledge about Burchett left a broad opening for the press’ stock-in-trade anti-communist sensationalism that Warner exploited masterfully. In 1974, he both persuaded his employer, Herald & Weekly Times, to underwrite Senator Kane’s legal expenses and used his ASIO connections to recruit witnesses from all over the world to give evidence against Burchett.[39] Headlines based on their testimony such as ‘Burchett should be shot, says ex-PoW’,[40] ‘US Pilot – I Feared Burchett: He stared like a snake would stare at a mouse’[41] and ‘He Had Soviet Elite Flat’[42] entrenched Warner’s depiction of Burchett in the public consciousness. The accuracy of that testimony, much of which has since been fatally undermined, was quite irrelevant. What mattered, as Kane himself would later conclude, was that:

In virtually losing [the case], as I have described, people might reasonably think Burchett was considered guilty of acts that fully justified the claims of those who, from the witness box, had called him a traitor to his face in a public court.[43]

In an atmosphere where perception and rumour trumped fact, that Warner’s articles seemingly coincidentally resonated with Canberra’s policy and the proceedings in court lent them a convincing veneer of authority. He became known as the expert on Burchett, his personal fixation masquerading as detailed knowledge.

Yet what ensured that Warner would dominate the historical debate on Burchett well into the 1980s was far more subtle than reputation alone. The reasoning of Warner’s articles was predicated upon the assumption that being a communist was self-evidently synonymous with being a traitor. The two labels were used interchangeably, evidence indicative of one repeatedly advanced in support of the other. The very conclusion of ‘Who is Wilfred Burchett?’, an article purporting to reveal Burchett’s treasonous conduct in Korea, was that he was ‘a clever, calculating Communist’.[44] However, while Warner subscribed to the “communist equals traitor” logic as gospel, others took umbrage at what they viewed as a non-sequitur. It was this irreconcilability which more than anything else gave Burchett’s life its broader ideological import and was responsible for the bifurcation of the Forgotten History War. What Burchett did, an empirical question, was forever yoked to what he represented in the Cold War context, an ideological and subjective one. By thus fusing adherence to a conclusion in an historical inquiry with adherence to an ideological position Warner sewed a remarkably durable intellectual straightjacket from which subsequent analysis of Burchett has struggled to break free. The result was that arguments from the other side of the divide, no matter how valid, would be ignored or rejected out of hand on ideological rather than intellectual grounds.

‘An Australian Dreyfus?’: Gavan McCormack

One of the pillars of Warner’s depiction of Burchett was his seeming monopoly on the facts. When a large amount of government material on Burchett was declassified in the mid-1980s and released into the hands of maverick academic Gavan McCormack, that pillar collapsed forever. In his ground-breaking ‘An Australian Dreyfus?’[45] and subsequent forays over the next two years,[46] McCormack systematically deconstructed the evidence underpinning Warner’s articles, the testimony given in court against Burchett, ASIO’s files, and the staple rumours on which the Australian press relied. The reverberations were so profound because the facts supporting each of these, due to Warner’s involvement at every turn, were much the same.

Some of the blows McCormack landed were devastating. His analysis of the declassified ASIO affidavits of Australian POWs, which Warner had been privilege to for years, revealed that the allegations that Burchett had interrogated Australian soldiers in Korea were unfounded.[47] The affidavits in fact showed that Burchett had deliberately sought out Australian POWs, discussed the war with them (even if they rarely saw eye to eye), wrote home to their families on their behalf, and even drunk whisky with them. As for British POWs, McCormack embarrassed Warner by revealing that the 1953 British Ministry of Defence report which Warner had cited as confirming that Burchett was involved in brainwashing[48] was actually published in 1955[49] and contained no such allegation, let alone the supporting quote that Burchett was ‘actively involved in brainwashing procedures’.[50] Santamaria had made the exact same claim, based on the same source, a year earlier.[51] The two were sharing misinformation,[52] yet it is easy to see how even the most informed Australian citizen would deduce from two seemingly independent accounts that the serious allegation was true.

Compounding Warner’s embarrassment, McCormack revealed that one of Warner’s main sources and a witness he had located for Kane,[53] British POW Derek Kinne, was discussed at length in the same report without any mention of his ever having met Burchett. What the report didshow was that Kinne’s dramatic claim in court, that Burchett had told him that he could have him shot, was actually said by British journalist Michael Shapiro.[54] Despite McCormack’s exposure, Warner would cite Kinne extensively in his autobiography fifteen years later, even repeating this discredited anecdote with Burchett as the protagonist.[55] Even in the post-Cold War era Warner was uninterested in what the evidence had to say.

McCormack even dismantled the evidence of Kane’s star witness, American Colonel Walker M. Mahurin.[56] McCormack revealed that Mahurin’s testimony differed markedly from how he had described his experiences with Burchett in his 1962 autobiography.[57] In 1974, Mahurin testified that he had met Burchett on two occasions. On the first, Burchett ‘stared at [him] like a snake staring at a mouse’,[58] and on the second, just prior to his release, Mahurin felt that Burchett ‘had control over [his] destiny’.[59] In 1962, however, he had not mentioned any first encounter, while as for the second, he had written: ‘I felt that Burchett… was going to try to get something from me. But he didn’t.’[60] Decisively, corroborating the 1962 version was an interview Mahurin gave the day after his release from his POW camp in 1953. In it Mahurin recounted that he ‘only met him last night and Burchett was very pleasant to me. Very pleasant’.[61] By all accounts Mahurin’s explosive testimony had a compelling effect upon the jury,[62] even though he was at best an unreliable witness. As new research reveals, both Warner and the Government knew this beforehand. Mahurin had told Warner in a private interview: ‘I couldn’t personally say I saw with my own eyes Burchett writing things for my confession’. [63] Meanwhile, a Government official admitted internally that:

[X] of ASIO told me that the affidavit which inculpated Burchett was that of Colonel Mahurin. But it seems to me that it does not involve Burchett directly… but only the journalist Alan Winnington… My impression is that these documents will be very disappointing.[64]

Both not only kept their information to themselves, but also actively helped to procure Mahurin’s services for Kane’s defence.[65]

The upshot of McCormack’s obsessive research was that a great deal of the evidence that the Government had disseminated through Warner to provide a justification for its passport policy was spectacularly discredited. Former POWs were using Burchett, a figure many remembered from the camps, as a scapegoat for their horrific wartime experiences. Their delusions gained validation both from each other and from Warner. The seemingly solid case against Burchett was in fact a house of cards, each piece of evidence supported by another. And after McCormack was through, it lay in tatters.

‘Doctoring History’: Robert Manne

Yet in his award-winning Quadrant essay, ‘The Fortunes of Wilfred Burchett: A New Assessment’,[66] Robert Manne simply shored up the image of the communist-traitor Burchett while largely avoiding the evidentiary concerns that McCormack had raised. This was unsurprising. Not only did Manne work in collaboration with Warner in writing the article, but he also at this time had a close relationship with Spry himself which arose in the writing of The Petrov Affair, even composing the ASIO chief’s obituary in the Age.[67] Furthermore, he and McCormack had already locked horns several years earlier and Manne had come off much the worse for wear.[68] Even so, it was not to be the last time that Manne responded to others’ research on Burchett by evading it.

Manne’s first move was indicative of the objectives of his essay. He denied the very legitimacy of McCormack’s criticisms by attempting to discredit McCormack himself. Manne accused him of ‘the doctoring of history’ and refused ‘to accede… to a neo-Stalinist reading of post-war Asian history being taught in our universities by academics like Dr McCormack’.[69] To this day it is unclear how McCormack’s history was ‘neo-Stalinist’, what that term means, or how this had any bearing on the empirical discrepancies McCormack had illuminated.[70] It was simply denigration by emotive ideological association.[71] The ad hominem quips were of course not restricted to McCormack. Manne referred to Burchett’s ‘Don Juan sexual adventures’,[72] noted that in Berlin Burchett sold automobiles, perhaps – he added darkly – even to Russian officers,[73] and claimed that ‘Soviet officials were also aware that Burchett was drinking like a fish’.[74] This incorporation of arbitrary slurs bore all the hallmarks of Warner, and indeed the footnote to the last cited him as the source. That Manne, like Warner, was happy to play the man rather than address McCormack’s revelations indicated that he was similarly engaged in a primarily ideological rather than scholarly endeavour. For all his self-declared ‘weariness... at the prospect of refighting the old battles of the Cold War’,[75] his analysis remained firmly situated within Warner’s straightjacket.

The problem Manne encountered, like Warner before him, was that he was ideologically beholden to a depiction of Burchett as a traitor that the evidence did not support. On the denial of Burchett’s passport, the logical gymnastics employed by Manne to arrive at the desired conclusion were especially tenuous:

The passport issue, on the other hand, presented [Burchett] with the possibility of risk-free martyrdom. The Australian Government had hoped to place Burchett in the dock on a charge of treason to his country; Burchett now hoped to place his country in the dock on a lesser charge of having deprived an honourable Australian of his passport and citizenship.[76]

According to Manne, Burchett deliberately orchestrated to have his passport kept away from him so as to enjoy a seventeen-year self-imposed exile from his family and homeland. Manne was not the only one to have made this bold but popular claim. [77] But he was the only one to have archival documents in front of him, in the very same files he relied upon in his essay, which revealed it to be as fanciful as it sounds.[78]

On other points, Manne's extensive research was cited only insofar as it buttressed his preconceptions. One salient example of this was his use of correspondent Lachie McDonald’s post-Korean War statement to ASIO. Manne cited McDonald’s account that Burchett and colleague Alan Winnington ‘would reappear from the communist annexe and tell UN correspondents the communist story of the reason for each break, and how [the peace] talks were progressing’.[79] He deduced from this that rather than being a journalist attached to the communist delegation to the talks, Burchett was in fact a communist agent ordered to disseminate a campaign of misinformation among the UN correspondents.[80] As numerous other accounts Manne failed to cite indicated, far from being passive victims, the UN correspondents gratefully sought out Burchett because the UN military command was so miserly with its information. Charlie Barnard of the Associated Press wrote that:

many’s the time [Burchett and Winnington] have given hot news stories on what is happening in the armistice tents to Allied correspondents, and the stories have turned out to be correct… the Communist journalists got briefings and they in turn ‘briefed’ the Allied newsmen. For days that was the only armistice news the newspapers of the free world got.[81]

Accounts to this effect were even present in the very same declassified ASIO files in which Manne grounded his article. Time-Life correspondent James Greenfield told ASIO that ‘[Burchett] was the first source of official info for United Nations correspondents’[82]; Ralph Walling of the Daily Express added that Burchett wore the insignia of an ‘accredited press representative’ on his uniform and repeatedly identified himself as such.[83] Yet by only referring to McDonald's more succinct version of the same events, Manne lent a superficial plausibility to his serious charge: that Burchett was not a journalist, but a communist agent.

Yet given the ideological motivations behind Manne's essay, the construction of his argument was only half the battle. The rest lay in bolstering, validating and admitting no breach in the existing anti-communist canon. Manne continued to rely in the preparation of his article on Warner, who had been exposed as having manufactured evidence pivotal to the discourse at hand, even referring to the same UK Ministry of Defence report without mentioning Warner's academic dishonesty.[84] He was also incapable of admitting even the most obvious shortcomings in the case against Burchett. Manne’s response to McCormack’s revelation of Kinne’s ‘I could have you shot’ quote as the words of someone other than Burchett was bewildering:

it seems likely either that Kinne omitted this comment in 1955 through the timidity of his publishers or, more likely, had come to believe it over time, perhaps because of the intense bitterness he felt for Burchett.[85]

The first explanation was pure speculation, nothing more. The second necessarily meant that Kinne’s evidence in court on this point was false. (Incidentally, it was also an apt encapsulation of how Manne and his ideological brethren felt towards Burchett himself, and rendered their writings equally unreliable.) If Kinne’s contribution was only what he had convinced himself to be true, then this cast grave doubt on the reliability of everything else he had to say about Burchett. Manne not only failed to see this, he even used Kinne as an authoritative source in relation to another closely related event on the very same page.

However, perhaps the most revealing technique utilised by Manne was the way in which he papered over areas of heated historical contention with wording that inherently favoured his preconceived conclusions. He asserted that Burchett was ‘actively involved in the literary production of certain of these confessions [of using biological warfare]’, and more glaringly on the same point, that ‘Burchett had become an active participant in one way or another’.[86] What was specifically at issue, namely the precise nature of Burchett’s involvement, ranging from redrafting confessions as a journalist to their extortion by torture, was left unresolved. Other central questions in the treason case were similarly obfuscated. While Manne noted that post-Korean War UK and US studies were reluctant to use the term ‘brainwashing’,[87] nevertheless he expansively concluded that ‘under the broader definition of “brainwashing”… there c[ould] be no doubt of the important collaborative role of Wilfred Burchett’.[88]

Such wording was most illuminating as to Manne’s disposition towards the evidence concerning Burchett’s past as a means to an ideological end. When the evidence was in his favour, he was prepared to make good use of it. He referred to a letter from Burchett to his father discussing his employment arrangements in China to great effect,[89] and McCormack later struggled to convince that Burchett receiving amenities from the Chinese government had no impact on the substance of his reporting.[90] Likewise, Manne persuasively argued that Burchett’s comparison of a North Korean POW camp to a Swiss ‘holiday resort’[91] was ‘a shocking travesty of the truth… a not insignificant contribution to Communist wartime propaganda’.[92] If his aim had merely been to prove that, particularly in the early 1950s, Burchett’s journalism was hardly objective and his relationships with governments left a lot to be desired, he would have succeeded. However, his preconceived goal was to show that Burchett was ‘in the deepest sense of the word a traitor’,[93] that is, ideologically and morally, rather than legally. His concern with the specific historical realityof Burchett’s involvement in the biological warfare propaganda campaign and in alleged brainwashing, both pivotal to the legal charge of treason investigated by ASIO, was secondary. Consequently, when the historical evidence was not in his favour, Manne either employed convoluted arguments to make it speak the language he wanted it to or he ignored it entirely.

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[1] Robert Manne, ‘Agent of Influence: Reassessing Wilfred Burchett’, Monthly, June 2008. Among the many who have offered their invaluable advice on this project, the author would like to especially thank John Pilger and Bernard Porter for taking time out of their busy schedules to comment on a draft of this article. All errors are my own.

[2] Tom Heenan, Ben Kiernan, Greg Lockhart, Stuart Macintyre, Gavan McCormack, ‘Manne of Influence’, On Line Opinion, 4 July 2008.

[3] ‘New brawl over Burchett’s reputation’, Age (online), 7 July 2008.

[4] For more information on Burchett’s life see Tom Heenan, From Traveller to Traitor (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2006). For more detail on other issues, particularly the Government persecution of Burchett and the 1974 court case, see Jamie Miller, “Without Raising Problems of Proof or Refutation”: Wilfred Burchett and Australian Anti-communism, unpublished thesis, University of Sydney, 2007.

[5] It should be noted that the term ‘communist’ is used here for ease of reference. Burchett’s politics were far more complex and dynamic than others perceived, as should be evident from this article.

[6] ‘The Atomic Plague’, Daily Express, 6 September 1945

[7] NAA A6119, 15/Reference Copy, Burchett, Wilfred Graham, 1948-55, unnamed person on behalf of Spry to E. J Hook, Secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department, 15 September 1964

[8] The issue of whether or not Allied troops engaged in biological warfare was a critical propaganda battleground during the Korean War. This has traditionally been referred to as ‘germ’ warfare, though this article uses the more current ‘biological’ to more accurately convey the nature of the warfare and therefore the gravity of the charge against Burchett.

[9] David Bradbury, Public Enemy Number One (1981).

[10] Burchett’s passport was immediately restored by the new Whitlam Government in December 1972: Graham Freudenberg, A Certain Grandeur: Gough Whitlam in Politics (Melbourne and Sydney: Macmillan Australia, 1977), p. 246. His children were registered as citizens in 1970: NAA A6980/6, S201945, Wilfred Burchett Part 6, 1970-3, Peter Heydon, Secretary of the Department of Immigration, to Alan Renouf, Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, 17 March 1970.

[11] Australian, 21 May 1968.

[12] NAA A6119, 14/Reference Copy, Spry to Jack Spicer, Attorney-General, 8 January 1954.

[13] See for instance NAA A6119/XR1, 13, Burchett, Wilfred Graham, cable from Alan Watt, Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, to Ronald Walker, Australian Ambassador to Japan, 10 September 1953.

[14] For the best examples of this, see Wilfred Burchett, People’s Democracies (Melbourne: World Unity Publications, 1951) on Eastern Europe; Wilfred Burchett, China’s Feet Unbound (Melbourne: World Unity Publications, 1952) on China; Wilfred Burchett, This Monstrous War (Melbourne: Joseph Waters, 1953) and Wilfred Burchett and Alan Winnington, Plain Perfidy (London: Britain-China Friendship Association, 1954) on the Korean War; and Wilfred Burchett, Come East Young Man! (Berlin: Seven Seas, 1962) on the Soviet Union.

[15] A great deal of the witnesses were assembled before the Whitlam Government came to power in late 1972. The actionable article was ‘The Burchett Revelations’, Focus, November 1971.

[16] Jamie Miller, “Without Raising Problems of Proof or Refutation”: Wilfred Burchett and Australian Anti-communism, unpublished thesis, University of Sydney, 2007

[17] Burchett v Kane [1976], New South Wales Law Reports, Volume 2, 1980, per Justice Samuels, p. 273.

[18] Hayden White, ‘Historical Pluralism’, Critical Inquiry 12 (1986), p. 487.

[19] Heenan, From Traveller to Traitor, p. 146.

[20] NLA MS 9489, Papers of Denis Warner, 1949-1997.

[21] Denis Warner, ‘Who is Wilfred Burchett?’, Quadrant, July-August 1967; also published in The Reporter, 1 June 1967. Warner also published much shorter articles on Burchett in the Melbourne Herald on 5 October 1951, 21 June 1952, 19 April 1955, and 4 February 1969. He also wrote the ‘The Spy Who Came in for the Gold’ series in Seiron, a Japanese publication, in March 1975 and in the National Review, 11 April 1975; and wrote the pamphlet The Germ-Warfare Hoax in 1977.

[22] Warner, ‘Who is Wilfred Burchett?’, pp. 71-2.

[23] Warner, Not Always on Horseback: An Australian Correspondent at War and Peace in Asia 1961-1993 (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1997), p. 132; NAA A432, 1952/1677, Wilfred Burchett – Question re Prosecution, 1951-70, 2 November 1953, agents Tuck and Hunter to Spry, referring to interview with Warner.

[24] NAA A6717/5, A70 PART 1, Wilfred G. Burchett – Australian Passport and Citizenship, 1952-68, report of interdepartmental meeting circulated to all Departments, 16 July 1968.

[25] Burchett wrote that Warner was ‘notorious for his close association with the CIA and its Australian equivalent, ASIO’: Wilfred Burchett, Passport: An Autobiography (Melbourne: Thomas Nelson (Australia) Ltd., 1969), p. 291. See also Wilfred Burchett, Memoirs of a Rebel Journalist: the Autobiography of Wilfred Burchett, George Burchett and Nick Shimmin, eds., (Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2005), p. 742; and NAA A1209, 1969/7897, Ronald East, a member of the Burchett Passport Committee and Burchett’s cousin, to Arthur Lee, National President of the Returned Servicemen’s League, 5 March 1969.

[26] Ross Fitzgerald recently claimed that Warner was an ASIO agent: Australian, 3 December 2005. Warner denied this: Australian, 10 December 2005. Warner’s access to classified material was certainly remarkably extensive. A ‘List of Support’ for his defence in the defamation suit brought by Burchett features both Interpol and the CIA: NLA, MS 9489/11, Papers of Denis Warner, Box 69.

[27] NAA A6119, 13/Reference Copy, Principal Section Officer, B1, to the Director, NSW, ASIO, 2 November 1953.

[28] ‘Some Notes on the Activities of Wilfred Burchett’, February 20 1970, in NAA M58, 191, [Personal Papers of Prime Minister McEwen] [Wilfred] Burchett – Confidential, 1952-70.

[29] How he did so will be expanded upon in the analysis of Gavan McCormack’s revelation of Warner’s misuse of the affidavits.

[30] Warner, ‘Who is Wilfred Burchett?’, p. 75.

[31] NAA A6119, 13/Reference Copy, ‘Note for discussion with the Solicitor-General’, Spry to Bailey, 12 October 1953.

[32] NAA A432, 1952/1677, report from agents Tuck and Hunter to Spry, 2 November 1953, referring to interview with Warner.

[33] See for instance, Warner, Not Always on Horseback, p. 134.

[34] The only other detailed articles on Burchett between the Korean War and his return to Australia in 1970, a full seventeen years, appear to be Alan Reid, ‘A Dual Standard for Wilfred Burchett’, Bulletin, 11 January 1968; and B. A. Santamaria, ‘Views on South-East Asia’, 14 August 1966, in B. A. Santamaria, Point of View, pp. 148-9; B. A. Santamaria, ‘Irresponsible Press Activity’, 28 March 1965, in B. A. Santamaria, Point of View, pp. 49-51; B. A. Santamaria, Sunday Telegraph, 1 March 1970. All were based on much the same inside material as Warner’s articles.

[35] NAA A432, 1969/3072, Attachment 2, Wilfred Graham Burchett, 1953-70, Address to National Press Club, 2 March 1970.

[36] Hansard, House of Representatives, 5 March 1970, pp. 181-2.

[37] Melbourne Herald, 28 October 1974.

[38] ‘Burchett loses libel action’, Melbourne Herald, 2 November 1974, emphasis added. The man in question was To Minh Trung.

[39] Warner, Not Always on Horseback, pp. 138-9; see the extensive transcripts of Warner’s interviews with witnesses Tom Hollis, Walker Mahurin, Paul Kniss and Derek Kinne in NLA, MS 9489/11, Papers of Denis Warner, Box 69. A previous writ had been issued against Warner in response to ‘Who is Wilfred Burchett?’, so he had a financial, as well as personal and ideological, interest in assisting Kane.

[40] Sydney Morning Herald, 23 October 1974.

[41] Age, 15 October 1974.

[42] Melbourne Herald, 23 October 1974.

[43] Kane, ‘Burchett on Trial?’, Quadrant, October 1981, p. 40.

[44] Warner, ‘Who is Wilfred Burchett?’, p. 75.

[45] Gavan McCormack, ‘An Australian Dreyfus? Re-examination of the Case Against Journalist Wilfred Burchett’, Australian Society, August 1984.

[46] Gavan McCormack, ‘Burchett in Korea’, Australian Society, September 1985; Gavan McCormack, ‘Korea: Wilfred Burchett’s Thirty Years War’, in Ben Kiernan, ed., Burchett Reporting the Other Side of the World: 1939-1983 (London, Melbourne, New York: Quartet Books, 1986); Gavan McCormack, ‘The New Right and Human Rights: Cultural Freedom and the Burchett Affair’, Meanjin, September 1986. It should be emphasised that the examples cited here are only the most salient examples of the many challenges McCormack’s work posed to the dominant narrative of Burchett’s life.

[47] Both Warner and Santamaria said the interviews revealed that Burchett had ‘interrogated’ the Australian POWs: Warner, ‘Who is Wilfred Burchett?’, p. 73; Santamaria, Sunday Telegraph, 1 March 1970. They did no such thing. See NAA A6119, 14/Reference Copy, joint statement by Donald Buck, Ronald Parker and Thomas Hollis, 17 December 1953; and NAA A6119, 14/Reference Copy, statements by John MacKay, 3 December 1953; John Davis, 2 December 1953; Brian Thomas Davoren, 24 March 1954; and Glen Brown, 4 December 1953. See McCormack, ‘Korea: Wilfred Burchett’s Thirty Years War’, p. 196, and McCormack, ‘An Australian Dreyfus?’, p. 8. It should be noted that Warner later stated in his autobiography that ‘the Australians… had not been subjected to protracted interrogation, nor had they been persuaded to make confessions of any sort’, which was a complete disavowal of his earlier claim but was not accompanied by any admission of mistake: Warner, Not Always on Horseback, p. 137.

[48] Warner, ‘Who is Wilfred Burchett?’, p. 73.

[49] ‘Treatment of British Prisoners of War in Korea’, British Ministry of Defence, 1955. Burchett is mentioned in passing on p. 26.

[50] McCormack, ‘An Australian Dreyfus?’, p. 10.

[51] ‘Burchett was employed by the Peking Government in helping to brainwash British and Australian soldiers’: Santamaria, ‘Views on South-East Asia’, 14 August 1966, in Santamaria, Point of View, p.149. Santamaria correctly identified the date of the Report as 1955.

[52] It is unclear which of the two had actually seen the report, if either. A copy can be found in Warner’s collection at the National Library, however he may have acquired it after he wrote ‘Who is Wilfred Burchett?’: NLA MS 9489/12, Papers of Denis Warner, Box 70.

[53] Warner, Not Always on Horseback, p. 137.

[54] ‘Treatment of British Prisoners of War in Korea’, p. 27; McCormack, ‘Korea: Wilfred Burchett’s Thirty Years War’, pp. 192-3

[55] Warner, Not Always on Horseback, pp. 137-8, 190-1.

[56] McCormack, ‘Korea: Wilfred Burchett’s Thirty Years War’.

[57] Walker M. Mahurin, Honest John: The Autobiography of Walker M. Mahurin (New York: G. L. Putnam’s Sons, 1962).

[58] Burchett v Kane [1974] transcript, p. 93.

[59] Burchett v Kane [1974] transcript, p. 97.

[60] Mahurin, Honest John, p. 244, quoted in McCormack, ‘Korea: Wilfred Burchett’s Thirty Years War’, p. 191.

[61] Chicago Daily News, 9 September 1953, quoted in McCormack, ‘Korea: Wilfred Burchett’s Thirty Years War’, p.191, emphasis added.

[62] Melbourne Herald, 25 October 1974 and Sydney Morning Herald, 25 October 1974.

[63] NLA, MS 9489/11, Papers of Denis Warner, Box 69, Denis Warner interview with Mahurin and Paul Kniss. This confirms McCormack’s earlier suspicions: McCormack, ‘Korea: Wilfred Burchett’s Thirty Years War’, p. 191.

[64] NAA A6717/5, A70 PART 6, Wilfred G. Burchett – Australian passport and citizenship, 1970, G. L. V. Hooton, Prime Minister’s Department to Lenox Hewitt, Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Department, 24 February 1970; see also Mahurin’s September 1953 statement: NAA A1838/370, 852/20/4/114, Korean War Germ Warfare Allegations.

[65] Warner, Not Always on Horseback,p. 142. For the Government’s role, see NAA A1838, 1542/616 PART 5, James Cumes, Assistant Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, to McMahon, 25 June 1970 and NAA A1838, 1542/616 PART 5, report of interdepartmental meeting, 24 June 1970.

[66] Manne’s essay won the George Watson Essay Prize for Quadrant’s best essay of 1985, which McCormack described as ‘a revealing comment on contemporary Australian political culture’: McCormack, ‘The New Right and Human Rights: Cultural Freedom and the Burchett Affair’, p. 394.The essay was republished as Agent of Influence: The Life and Times of Wilfred Burchett (Toronto, Canada: Mackenzie Institute for the Study of Terrorism, Revolution and Propaganda, 1989); as ‘He Chose Stalin’ in The Shadow of 1917: Cold War Conflict in Australia (Melbourne: Text Publishing, 1994); and in Left, Right, Left: Political Essays, 1977-2005 (Melbourne: Black Inc., 2005).

[67] Age, 1 June 1994. See also the extensive acknowledgement of Spry’s assistance and the voluminous references to Spry throughout Robert Manne, The Petrov Affair: Politics and Espionage (Sydney: Pergamon Press Australia, 1987), pp. xiii, 309.

[68] Robert Manne, ‘Pol Pot and the Persistence of Noam Chomsky’, Quadrant, October 1979; see McCormack’s response in the Letters section of the January-February 1980 edition.

[69] Manne, ‘The Fortunes of Wilfred Burchett: A New Assessment’, p. 27.

[70] Also notable was Manne’s insinuation that ‘Dr’ McCormack being an academic working in a university somehow detracted from his credibility on the given issue rather than adding to it. This tactic would be repeated by Santamaria when he implored Burchett’s supporters to abandon their cause because ‘they will do little for their academic reputations or for that of the universities which employ them’: Santamaria, ‘The Burchett Case: Giving Aid and Comfort to the Enemy’, Quadrant, January-February 1986, p. 73.

[71] This would be repeated when Manne republished his essay as ‘He Chose Stalin’ in 1994.

[72] Manne, ‘The Fortunes of Wilfred Burchett: A New Assessment’, p. 28.

[73] Manne, ‘The Fortunes of Wilfred Burchett: A New Assessment’, p. 28.

[74] Manne, ‘The Fortunes of Wilfred Burchett: A New Assessment’, p. 40.

[75] Manne, ‘The Fortunes of Wilfred Burchett: A New Assessment’, p. 27.

[76] Manne, ‘The Fortunes of Wilfred Burchett: A New Assessment’, pp. 37-8.

[77] In his memoirs, Kane would also claim that ‘Burchett’s exile was largely self-imposed’: Jack Kane, Exploding the Myths: The Political Memoirs of Jack Kane (Sydney: Angus & Robertson Publishers, 1989), p. 216; Santamaria would likewise say that Burchett ‘carefully kept himself outside jurisdiction’: ‘The Burchett Case: Giving Aid and Comfort to the Enemy’, p. 73. See also Reid, ‘A Dual Standard for Wilfred Burchett’; Melbourne Herald, 29 November 1968; Age, 2 December 1968; Australian, 31 December 1968; Sydney Morning Herald, 11 August 1969.

[78] See for instance NAA 6119/13, which Manne refers to extensively throughout his article.

[79] NAA 6119/13, statement of Lachie McDonald to ASIO, 28 October 1953; Manne, ‘The Fortunes of Wilfred Burchett: A New Assessment’, p. 31.

[80] Manne, ‘The Fortunes of Wilfred Burchett: A New Assessment’, p. 31.

[81] Charlie Barnard of the Associated Press, ‘Antifreeze’, Stars and Stripes, 10 Feb 1952.

[82] NAA A6119, 14/Reference Copy, statement of James Greenfield to ASIO, 18 November 1953.

[83] NAA A6119, 14/Reference Copy, letter from Senior Security Officer, ASIO, to Spry, 14 December 1953.

[84] Manne, ‘The Fortunes of Wilfred Burchett: A New Assessment’, p. 32.

[85] Manne, ‘The Fortunes of Wilfred Burchett: A New Assessment’, p. 33.

[86] Manne, ‘The Fortunes of Wilfred Burchett: A New Assessment’, p. 34.

[87] Manne, ‘The Fortunes of Wilfred Burchett: A New Assessment’, p. 33.

[88] Manne, ‘The Fortunes of Wilfred Burchett: A New Assessment’, p. 32; see also p. 33: ‘The truth of falsity of this accusation [of brainwashing] is largely a question of semantics’.

[89] State Library of Victoria MS 10254, Papers, Wilfred Burchett to George Burchett, his father, 16 April 1951; Manne, ‘The Fortunes of Wilfred Burchett: A New Assessment’, p. 29. Santamaria also made much of this letter: ‘The Burchett Case: Giving Aid and Comfort to the Enemy’, p. 69.

[90] McCormack, ‘The New Right and Human Rights: “Cultural Freedom” and the Burchett Affair’, p. 396.

[91] Burchett, This Monstrous War, (Melbourne: Joseph Waters, 1953), pp. 300-1. However, as McCormack later pointed out, Mahurin’s own account of the conditions of his POW camp suggests that Burchett’s description was perhaps not quite as fanciful as it first appears: Mahurin, Honest John, p. 244, quoted in McCormack, ‘Korea: Wilfred Burchett’s Thirty Years War’, p. 170. This is supported by NAA A6119, 14/Reference Copy, statement by Glen Brown, Australian POW, to ASIO, 4 December 1953.

[92] Manne, ‘The Fortunes of Wilfred Burchett: A New Assessment’, p. 31.

[93] Manne, ‘The Fortunes of Wilfred Burchett: A New Assessment’, p. 42. Emphasis added.