AT THE BARRICADES: Forty Years on the Cutting Edge of History by Wilfred Burchett
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AT THE BARRICADES: Forty Years on the Cutting Edge of History

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For Australian-born, Asian-based newsman Burchett, ranking Western member of the ""Communist press,"" 40-years' hopes collapsed in late 1978: ""Asian socialist states were at each other's throats and. . . the foulest barbarities were being committed in the name of 'socialism' and 'revolution,'"" by the Khmer Rouge. Burchett is not writing to examine his ""socialist"" allegiance, however, still less to recant. Save for his concluding disclosure that he never actually joined the Communist Party (and why), he retraces his route, and history's, almost without analysis, introspection, or afterthoughts. So the reader is there, fighting the still-good antifascist, anticolonialist, anti-imperialist fight, almost from the moment when the young radical Burchett (ex-farmhand and -carpenter) sets out for London in 1936, intending to fight in Spain. He gets a job in a travel agency, studies (several) languages, marries a German Jewish refugee, and--barred from Spain (for lack of a CP sponsor)--hies himself to Nazi Germany, to try to rescue his in-laws and the agency's Jewish clients. Here begin the flashpointdispatches, the historic recognitions: Burchett menaced by SS thugs, hosted by convivial Jew-killers, shadowed by the Gestapo. To be followed--once his reports lead to assignments--by Burchett making the first transit of the Burma Road, interviewing Chou the morning after Pearl Harbor, befriending the sidelined ""crackpot"" Wingate, taking Guam with the Marines. And, on the hinge of victory, breaking the news, from Hiroshima, of atomic radiation. But in the gathering Cold War, when Burchett is back in Europe, the book's tenor changes--we hear of American iniquities, but not of Soviet misdeeds. . . except maybe for the attempt to throttle Yugoslavia, except maybe for the satellite purge trials (in which, however, Allen Dulles may have been implicated). Obliquely, Burchett is anti-Stalinist; directly, he speaks-no-evil. (His later eight-year stint in Moscow produces only reports of Soviet space triumphs.) And this is largely true even of his more important activities in Asia--where in reporting the news he is again making the news. During the protracted Korean cease-fire negotiations, ""Communist newsman"" Burchett repeatedly divulges to the UN press information withheld (or denied) by the UN command. In Vietnam, ""the legendary"" Ho Chill Minh turns over his sun helmet: the rim represents mountains, the bottom Dien Bien Phu. Burchett will enter Hanoi with the victorious Vietminh in October 1954; he'll spend Christmas 1966 with Harrison Salisbury (who has contributed an introduction) in bombed-out Nam Dinh--""the issue on which Salisbury took on the whole American Establishment""; he'll confer with Harriman in Paris. . . and eventually, covertly too, with Kissinger in Washington. Burchett ends up in a hospital bed Cuba in 1978, ""confirmed in my position as an independent, nonaligned radical."" One may wonder, sometimes--but it makes a hell of a story.

Pub Date: March 10th, 1981
Publisher: Times Books