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Commentary: Gareth Jones, hero of Ukraine

By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst   |   June 12, 2003 at 7:00 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, June 12 (UPI) -- What can you expect if you fearlessly expose the systematic, genocidal murder of 10 million people?

You can expect to be branded as a liar in the most prestigious newspaper in the United States. You can expect to be murdered yourself by bandits probably in the pay of conspirators perpetrating equally colossal, monstrous crimes against humanity. And you can even to be betrayed after your death and airbrushed out of existence by one of your closest professional colleagues and friends.

That was the fate of Gareth Richard Vaughan Jones, a brilliant, idealistic and utterly fearless young journalist who published the first major expose in the United States and the first signed articles in Britain of Josef Stalin's deliberately imposed famine in the Ukraine in 1933.

In the exhausted grayness of a 1920s Britain pulverized by a million dead young men from World War I, Jones shone out for his decency and promise. A graduate of Cambridge University with first class honors in French, German and Russian, he worked as foreign affairs adviser to former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, the only prominent British politician of the time with the vision to end the appalling destitution and economic depression of Britain's 1920s and early '30s. A safe, bright future beckoned.

But Jones wanted to see the world, and indeed he did. Fluent in Russian, he became a productive and rising young journalist. Writing for the Western Mail in his native Wales, the Times of London, the Manchester Guardian and the Berliner Tageblatt in Germany, he proved prescient on many issues including the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany and the machinations of Imperial Japan's senior army commanders to seize and pillage vast realms of China.

On March 29, 1933, right after Malcolm Muggeridge's three unsigned articles exposing the famine first ran in Britain's Guardian, young Jones -- he was only 28 years old -- gave a press conference in Berlin with far wider impact, especially in the United States, exposing the scale and depth of sufferings caused by the famine.

In a report that day carried across the United States by the Evening Post News Service, Jones, said, "Everywhere was the cry, 'There is no bread. We are dying.' This cry came from every part of Russia, from the Volga, Siberia, White Russia, the North Caucasus and Central Asia. ...

"A foreign expert returning from Kazakhstan told me that one million out of five million there have died of hunger. I can well believe it. After Stalin, the most hated man in Russia is (George) Bernard Shaw among those who have read his glowing descriptions of plentiful food in their starving land."

Walter Duranty, the veteran Moscow correspondent of The New York Times, whose admirers ranged from H.L. Mencken and Walter Lippmann to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, responded only two days later in the pages of his august publication. Far more than anything disgraced former Times reporter Jayson Blair wrote, it was arguably the most infamous piece of reporting or analysis ever to appear in that great paper.

Duranty, an 11-year veteran of Moscow who had won the Pulitzer Prize the previous year, disparaged Jones as having made a "somewhat hasty" judgment on the basis of "a 40-mile walk through villages near Kharkov" where he "had found conditions sad."

Having dismissed the conditions that in fact led to the deaths of 10 million men, women and children as merely "sad," Duranty went on to explained that "you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs." He explicitly stated "there is no famine."

On May 13, The New York Times published Jones' rebuttal of Duranty's article. He had visited, he said, many villages in the Moscow area as well as the Ukraine and also in the rich "black earth" lands of the North Caucasus. He had amassed evidence from "between 20 to 30 consuls and diplomatic representatives of various nations and ... their evidence supported my point of view." And he had talked with hundreds of peasants in those regions. The Soviet propaganda machine in Moscow meanwhile worked overtime to brand Jones a liar.

Jones' passion for adventure, justice and, most dangerous of all, the truth was unabated by his Ukraine-Moscow experience. Two years later, still in his 20s, he traveled extensively through northern China and Inner Mongolia exposing the machinations of the Japanese Army to seize full control of the most populous nation on earth. And there he was murdered by Chinese bandits, possibly linked with the Soviet secret police, the OGPU or, more likely, to senior Japanese army officers.

Jones was long mourned by his family and close friends but otherwise he was forgotten. Indeed, Malcolm Muggeridge, the other British journalist who had done the most to expose the famine, gave him no acknowledgement, even though Jones had generously praised Muggeridge's three unsigned articles in his own New York Times response to Duranty.

Indeed, Pye, Muggeridge's "truth-sayer" character in his novel "Winter in Moscow", published in 1934, is depicted in many respects as the mirror opposite of Jones. He is old where Jones was young, cynical where Jones was idealistic and a hard drinker and chain smoker where Jones was a teetotaler. It is as if Muggeridge, a cynic, smoker and chronic drinker himself, was driven to expurgate the very image of Jones, even though he had written him a letter of support during the controversy.

And even when Muggeridge wrote his phenomenally successful memoirs "Chronicles of Wasted Time" 40 years later, with his coverage of the famine as its highlight, he airbrushed Jones out of existence and gave him no credit at all. Muggeridge even misrepresented Duranty's notorious March 31 article as if it had been written to rebut his three previous Manchester Guardian articles when Duranty never referred to them once, and made clear it was Jones' article he was seeking to refute.

By contrast, Muggeridge's own sympathetic but honorable biographer, Richard Ingrams, acknowledged Jones' role in his book "Muggeridge" as did historian Robert Conquest in "Harvest of Sorrow," his classic work documenting the famine.

Last week, the 100th anniversary of Muggeridge's birth was celebrated with pomp and panoply at London's famed Garrick Club. Jones' niece, Margaret Siriol Colley, attended it. But in his native Britain and in the United States, where his reports played such a pioneering role in revealing the unprecedented and monstrous extent of Soviet communist crimes under Joseph Stalin, Jones remains almost forgotten.

Almost, but not quite. For the Ukrainian people have not forgotten Gareth Jones. His early classic reports on the famine can be found on the Website of the Ukrainian Weekly in its special section devoted to remembering the famine and honoring its myriad victims, at www.artukraine.com created by Morgan Williams and at www.colley.co.uk/garethjones created by Nigel Colley, Jones' great-nephew.

In this season of Jayson Blair, it is well to remember that journalism is an honorable and necessary profession and that its practitioners include the most admirable heroes. Gareth Jones, who risked so much for no material gain and public ridicule and who paid the ultimate price while still in the flower of his youth, deserves to rank high among their august number.

Among his many other outlets, Gareth Jones wrote for the Hearst International News Service, which after World War II merged with the United Press to form United Press International. Here at UPI we are proud to acclaim him as a Unipresser. One of our own.

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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