Pusan by Bert Hardy, 1951

In 1950, editor of Picture Post Tom Hopkinson sent reporter James Cameron and photographer Bert Hardy to cover the Korean War. While in Korea the two men produced three illustrated stories for Picture Post, including General Douglas MacArthur’s landing at Inchon. The photos Hardy subsequently took outside Pusan Station would eventually ripped Britain’s premier picture magazine apart.

In early September 1950, Pusan was the only Korean city held by U.N. Forces. There outside the train station were about sixty political prisoners, aged 14 to 70, suspected of opposing South Korean dictator Syngman Rhee. They were tied up, and wore almost no clothes; when they tried to scoop a drink from the puddles of rain that they were squatting in, South Korean guards beat them with rifle butts. When Hardy took the photos, they were about to be taken off and shot. Their fate reminded Hardy and Cameron of the horrors of Bergen-Belsen. Cameron wrote a story harshly critical of the Allies, the UN and the Red Cross for giving Rhee a free rein.

The magazine printed the Inchon pictures in 7th October 1950 issue but Hopkinson waited until Cameron and Hardy came back to confirm the Pusan story and assure him that it was no isolated case. Even then, he intended to attach a picture of an American prisoner being paraded cruelly through Pyongyang (taken from in a Czech magazine) to achieve some balance, and asked Cameron to remove any trace of excessive emotion which might lead people to accuse the paper of sensationalism or bias. Cameron rewrote the story in flatter style, and later reflected that he had “never worked so hard to write so badly”.

On Friday, 20 October 1950 – as on every Friday – the magazine layouts was taken to Picture Post’s owner Edward G. Hulton. Hulton approved them, but the following day Hopkinson received a call from Hulton ordering the prisoner story be removed. Hopkinson was constantly conflict with Hulton who thought he was a socialist. In August 1945, Hulton wrote to Hopkinson: “I cannot permit editors of my newspapers to become organs of Communist propaganda. Still less to make the great newspaper which I built up a laughing-stock.” Hulton’s beautiful émigrée wife Nika commented that the story would be sensitive. Hulton — on the verge of receiving a knighthood — feared that coverage would “give aid and comfort to the enemy”.

Hopkinson refused to kill the story, and on Thursday, 26 October he was called before the full board of directors of the Hulton Press and after a bitter argument, was sacked. He persuaded most of the staff not to resign in protest, although some did.

Hulton sent Cameron and Hardy into the Himalayas on a wild goose chase for the Dalai Lama. After Hopkinson, Post was led by a revolving door of incompetent editors until it finally closed shop in 1957. Syngman Rhee’s authoritarian presidency lasted ten more years until 1960, when following popular protests against a disputed election, he resigned. More than 200,000 perished under his reign of terror.

Published photos of Hardy from Inchon are here.


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114 thoughts on “Pusan by Bert Hardy, 1951

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