June 23, 1957 – Mike Wallace Interviews Defector David Hawkins

David HawkinsOn June 23, 1957, 23-year-old Korean War defector David Hawkins appeared on the Mike Wallace Interview television show.  Born in Oklahoma City to a overly controlling mother and a father who spent six years in Europe during World War II starting from the time he was age six, David enlisted in the Army when he was 16 years old.  He was captured by the North Koreans at age 17, served as a prisoner of war for three years, and chose when the armistice was signed in 1953 to remain in Communist China.  Hawkins changed his mind and returned to the United States after he learned of the brutal repression and coverup of the Hungarian Revolution by the communist Soviet Union.  During the interview, Wallace forcefully confronted Hawkins with his actions, repeatedly calling him a “turncoat.”  Hawkins, for his part, was ready to admit his defection was a mistake and expressed feelings of guilt and shame.

Hawkins disagreed with Wallace that he had come from a good home, that in fact it had felt like a broken home; he had missed his father and his mother had been very rigid and restrictive (which she admitted on his return).  Hawkins felt he hadn’t sufficiently understood or appreciated the freedoms available in America and the sacrifices made to preserve them.  He had been easily convinced by expert Chinese indoctrinators that Socialism was the best system to improve the lives of the imperially-oppressed Chinese.  When Wallace accused him of being an informant against his fellow soldiers, or committing crimes in Korea that prevented him from wanting to return, Hawkins firmly denied both.  He had been labeled by his peers as “progressive” for his curiosity about socialism and was an easy target for such allegations.  “At the time,” he stressed, he felt that going so far away from home to fight on a “barren rock,” getting involved in another country’s civil war while  not knowing what he was fighting for, believing the United States had made a “big mistake,” was a “raw deal”. The military had not prepared him, Hawkins explained, to face interrogation by the Chinese, whom he was told instead were our friends.  His three years in China were somewhat sheltered ones, but he liked the Chinese people and felt no reason to doubt that Socialism could work.  He was regularly the subject of brainwashing in what the Chinese called “criticism meetings.”

Then the Soviets crushed the Hungarian people as they fought for freedom.  Hawkins saw that he had been wrong.  He wanted to come home.  He arranged without trouble for he and his wife to leave through Hong Kong.  He believed now that Communism was truly a threat to world freedom and needed to be stopped.  He had two warnings for the viewing audience. He, and his fellow defectors, some of whom still remained in China, had been trained to return to the United States to help in an eventual people’s revolution against the “war-mongering” government. And – ignoring mainland China, a “formidable power” which had made “great strides” to improve the lives of ordinary Chinese, was a mistake on the order of refusing to see the “elephant in the room.”

Wallace summed up the interview thus: David Hawkins was an illustration of the need for “faith and courage” as the ultimate weapons against communism.  Because faith and courage “couldn’t be issued by the army,” it was up to homes, schools and churches to instill them.  “In that sense,” Wallace said, “David Hawkins’ problem has certainly become our own.”

Image Credit: Harry Ransom Center/The University of Texas at Austin

Vintage 1957 – Hundred Flowers Crushed in China

Self portrait (interviewing Maoist victims) by Wang Xu. Photo: Art Gallery New South Wales

Self portrait (interviewing Maoist victims) by Wang Xu. Photo: Art Gallery New South Wales

Give us your thoughts, Mao Zedong asked China’s citizens in 1956. How shall we reform this most promising of republics? “Our society cannot back down, it could only progress . . . criticism of the bureaucracy is pushing the government toward the better.” China’s best and brightest minds in the arts and sciences could make vital contributions toward improvement, as long as they were “constructive” (or “among the people”), rather than “hateful and destructive” (or “between the enemy and ourselves”).

The Hundred Flowers Movement – the gathering of intellectual thought – bloomed first in 1956. Named for the poetic theme “Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend,” Mao was looking for a way to promote socialist ideology through new forms in the arts and new cultural institutions. His hidden agenda? Root out all dissent. Entice those who disagreed with his program to expose themselves and their non-party-line thinking. Then, spring the trap.

Much skepticism greeted the Chairman’s introduction of a neutral “suggestion box.” Mao even accelerated the process by announcing in the spring that criticism was now “preferred.” The trap began closing in the summer of 1957. Those prominent individuals who had been brave enough to register criticism of Mao’s policies were condemned to prison labor camps and, in many cases, executed. Over 550,000 people were branded “rightists’ and sentenced to death by starvation, hard physical labor, and suicide.  Across the People’s Republic, many individual rights were lost and Maoist orthodoxy would rule, unquestioned in any significant way until the time of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

An exhibit by artist Wang Xu, Archibald Prize winner for 2013, will open this weekend at the Verge Gallery in Sydney, Australia. Wang was born in China and trained in brush and ink painting in Beijing. He emigrated to Australia shortly after the Tiananmen Square uprising. “While enjoying a life of personal security in Australia,” Wang says, “I am still deeply affected by the terrible social and political injustices that continue to occur in China.”

In 2009 and 2012, Wang interviewed and filmed more than 140 survivors of Mao’s Hundred Flowers campaign. The survivors are now in their 70s and 80s and have never received acknowledgement or compensation for their sufferings. “Self-portrait (interviewing Maoist victims)”, a work of oil and acrylic on board, will be on display at the gallery. The 8′ x 12′ panel includes 30 portraits of Hundred Flowers victims, and a depiction of Wang holding a video camera.

One issue of conflict in Mao’s 1957 campaign made the headlines this week in the Wall Street Journal. Ilham Tohti, an economics professor in Beijing and a moderate, articulate voice for the minority Uighurs in China’s troubled Xinjiang region, was sentenced to life imprisonment and the government seizure of all his property. WSJ reporter Josh Chin quoted Human Rights Watch researcher Maya Wang: “It’s a shocking verdict, extremely harsh even by China’s standards. By handing down a life sentence, the government is burning its one and only bridge to moderate Uighurs in China. This will only exacerbate the heightened Han-Uighur tensions.” In the days before Tohti’s conviction, a series of explosions in the Xinjiang region killed six and injured 54. Police response left forty more dead in the ongoing  and violent separatist movement.

Thank you, Wang Xu, for documenting and giving voice to those who dared to speak up and lost almost everything, and those who spoke up and whose voices are lost forever.