Thursday, September 22, 2011

Hanoi: Wilfred Burchett Centenary

Sydney Morning Herald 22 September 2011
Wilfred Burchett and Ho Chi Minh
VIETNAM'S communist leaders have rolled out the red carpet to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Wilfred Burchett, the controversial Australian war correspondent who was branded a traitor.

President Truong Tan Sang feted members of Mr Burchett's family in the presidential palace in the lead-up to an exhibition of 100 of his photographs in Hanoi.

Heaping unusually high praise on a foreigner, Mr Truong referred to Burchett's bravery and contribution to Vietnam's ''liberation and reunification''.

In Australia, where Burchett was treated as a traitor by successive conservative governments but as a courageous independent war correspondent by others, the September 16 anniversary went unnoticed.

Burchett's son George, a Sydney artist who organised the exhibition, said the red carpet was literally rolled out as Vietnam's female revolutionary hero Nguyen Thi Binh cut a ribbon at the exhibition opening at Hanoi's Ho Chi Minh Museum.

High-ranking communist officials attended the function.

''It's wonderful to see my old man honoured and respected in a country of heroes,'' Mr Burchett told the Herald.

Asked why his father's memory was respected more in Vietnam than Australia, Mr Burchett said Wilfred was seen as a great friend of Vietnam.

''By helping rally world opinion against the war it could be argued that he made a substantial contribution to the United States and its allies losing the war,'' Mr Burchett said.

''He was one of the first to argue that the US could never win the war so one could also argue that had the US and its allies listened to voices like those of Wilfred Burchett, many hundreds of thousands of lives could have been saved on both sides.''

The exhibition starts with images taken in 1954 when Burchett met Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam's revolutionary hero and former prime minister and president, at his jungle headquarters.

The exhibition also displays Burchett's photos of General Vo Nguyen Giap, one of the greatest military strategists of the 20th century, who oversaw the defeat of both the French and the US and its allies. General Giap last month celebrated his 100th birthday in Hanoi hospital, still alert although frail and suffering respiratory problems. Only days earlier the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, had declared him dead while speaking at a Vietnam Remembrance Day ceremony in Canberra.

The Burchett photo exhibition at the most visited museum in Vietnam includes wall-sized photographs of Ho Chi Minh.

George Burchett, who is now working as an artist in Hanoi, said what touched him most about the photographs was that they showed ordinary people doing extraordinary things while retaining their humanity.

''The other moving moment was to meet people from some of the photos, including my old nanny,'' he said.

George, the second of three of Wilfred's children by his Bulgarian second wife Vessa, strongly defended his father, saying, ''he was a man of the world, a wonderful person and they called him a traitor, a KGB agent, a torturer, a brainwasher and a Stalinist hack''.

Australian governments refused for 17 years to issue a new passport for Wilfred Burchett when he mysteriously went missing in 1955.

He was even refused entry into his own country to attend his father's funeral.

An Australian passport was finally issued to Mr Burchett by the incoming Whitlam government in 1972.

The author of 35 books, Wilfred Burchett was accused of having communist sympathies over his coverage of the Korean and Vietnam wars. He was the first foreign correspondent to enter Hiroshima after the dropping of the atomic bomb that contributed to the end of World War II.

''Atomic plague: I write this as a warning to the world,'' he filed to the Daily Express in London.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Bernard Smith 1916 - 2011

Bernard William Smith

And so we come to the present unafraid 
Having learned the lessons of Eureka; 
For history is always man, man and a stockade 
And a clear cut reason for resistance.

It is not our intention now to cease
The struggle. Our first comrades fell
At the federation wall of Pere Lachaise,
With a song for  the lips of the future.

We have no gods or prophets – all we ask
Is the bread of our sweat and tears;
This is our final object, our immediate task,
The Alpha and Omega of our years.

A poem by Bernard Smith
The final poem in Freedom on the Wallaby ed. Marjory Pizer, 1952, p.197

Monday, September 05, 2011

Joe Hill: the man who never died

Westword: What inspired your interest in Joe Hill?
William M. Adler: I was reading Bob Dylan's memoir shortly after it came out in 2005, and he devotes three pages where he talks about Joe Hill's influence on Woody Guthrie. He said that if Hill was a forerunner of Woody Guthrie's, that's all he needed to know. But I needed to know a bit more. I was also attracted to the whodunit nature of his story. And another thing fascinating to me is how this was a largely unexplored period of American history. It's the closest Americans had come to an actual class war.
How is Joe Hill relevant today?
A lot of the issues Joe Hill was fighting for are still with us today: the income equality and callous disregard for health insurance. People have been fighting against those things for a long time. Joe Hill stood for the concept of solidarity of working people. In a time when other states are stripping public workers of their collective bargaining rights, we can learn from what the IWW went through. There are many similarities with those times: The economy was rapidly changing, there was a lot of brand-new technology, it was a rising era of capitalism. In a way, we're right back there again.
You say you've uncovered evidence that could exonerate Joe Hill of the murder of a butcher during a botched robbery attempt.
First of all, not everyone knows that Joe Hill was shot on the same night as the grocery store owner who was murdered. It was then alleged that he was shot by the son of the grocer, but the evidence was said to be circumstantial. No one could ever ID Joe Hill, and there was no motive or murder weapon ever found. Hill told a physician who was treating him that he'd been shot in a row with a friend over a woman, but he never named the woman or the friend. But 35 years later, the woman in question came forward and wrote a letter to researcher Aubrey Haan, who was then gathering material for a book about Hill. The book was never published, but her notes remained in an attic in Michigan. My research led me to her survivors, and her daughter went into the attic and found a trove of material. That was a holy cow moment! In there, she detailed how he came to be shot.
How do Joe Hill's songs stand up over decades?
He was not a classic songwriter. He never performed, but his songs, which were written and intended to be sung en masse, were mainly topical and satirical. Sometimes satire doesn't wear very well. Some hold up, but mostly satire written in the crucible of the time wouldn't work that well now. But if Joe Hill were around now, I'm sure he would be out there still, writing modern material.
Do you have a favorite Joe Hill song?
There's a song, "The Preacher and the Slave," that contains what is probably his most famous lyric, which actually helped coin the phrase "pie in sky." It goes like this:
You will eat, by and by,
In that glorious land above the sky
Work and pray, live on hay --
You'll get pie in the sky when you die -- that's a lie!

Mid-day walk

Sunday, September 04, 2011

lost chook