"Le Devoir" headline on the Norman suicide, Unknown, 1957-04-05

By Harold Greer


Around 9 A.M. on April 4, the Canadian Ambassador to Egypt, Egerton Herbert Norman, told his wife he was going for a walk. He went to a modern building some blocks away and stopped off at the apartment of his friend, Swedish Minister Brynolf Eng. Eng was not at home and Norman proceeded to the roof where, after some minutes of pacing the parapet, he carefully removed his watch and spectacles and took three steps backward into space. Notes found on his body, and statements by the Canadian embassy and the Canadian government, all attested to a state of extreme depression brought on by overwork and a sense of persecution resulting from the revival, during the preceding weeks, of charges of Communist association against him by the U.S. Senate Internal Security subcommittee.

Canadian reaction was immediate and violent. Opposition members of parliament screamed Norman was “murdered by slander.” Robert Morris, the subcommittee’s counsel, was burned in effigy on the University of Toronto campus. The United Church of Canada called on President Eisenhower to stop his politicians from “assassinating the character of innocent men.” Secretary of State Dulles was moved to take the unusual diplomatic step of expressing regret and condolences.

The Canadian government defended Norman’s record but generally sought to quiet the storm; “let’s not make an international incident of this,” cautioned External Affairs Minister L. B. Pearson. Press reports warning that Pearson may be next on the subcommittee’s list were surprisingly attacked by Prime Minister St Laurent as “smear” stories.

The reason for Ottawa’s worry is not hard to find. No impartial examination of the history of the Norman affair can help but conclude that the conduct of Robert Morris and of the subcommittee’s principal member, Senator William E. Jenner of Indiana, constitutes a monumental national insult to Canada and a fatal smearing of Herbert Norman personally. The Canadian government knows this, but it feels that life must nevertheless go on: it also knows that if Canadian opinion were appraised of the facts, life could not go on—that at the very least Ottawa would be forced to withdraw its ambassador to the United States.

One must go to the weird cult language of the Soviet political trials to find a legal analogy for the case against Herbert Norman. Never once, in all the years leading up to his suicide, did Morris or Jenner produce a bill of particulars which any duly constituted body, no matter how quasi-judicial, could entertain. With one exception, nothing exists in the public record of the subcommittee of an incriminating nature against Norman other than what has been put there by either Morris or Jenner through their own insinuations and innuendoes. Witnesses who failed to provide the right answers to direct questions have found themselves listening to Morris and Jenner read statements into the record. Neither, however, has ever admitted, or will admit, that he was “investigating” Norman; to this day it is not clear on paper just what Morris and Jenner were trying to prove.

The original charge arose out of testimony by Dr. Karl August Wittfogel, self-styled former German Communist and Chinese history researcher at Columbia University, during the subcommittee’s investigations in 1951. Wittfogel said Norman was a member of a Communist study group run by one Moses Finkelstein and that he was “obviously” a Communist at that time. The time and place was left obscure, but the original version, according to Morris, was Cape Cod in 1939. Finkelstein, who became Moses Finley, and a lecturer at Rutgers University, subsequently testified that he had never met or heard of Norman.

Wittfogel’s allegation has since gone through various murky changes because Norman, in the only public comment he ever made on the controversy, replied that he had never been in Cape Cod in his life. His foreign-service sheet also shows he joined Canada’s Department of External Affairs in Tokyo in July of 1939. The version which Morris generally favors is that Norman was a member of Wittfogel’s study group at Columbia University in 1938, although latterly Harvard and 1937 have been mentioned. Norman studied at the University of Toronto, Trinity College Cambridge, and for three years on a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship at the Harvard-Yenching Institute. He was never a student at Columbia, but he did spend a year at the Institute of Pacific Relations after leaving Harvard.

WITTFOGEL’S charge was encouraged by testimony of Major General Charles Willoughby, MacArthur’s chief of intelligence in Japan, who subsequently retired to Franco Spain. Willoughby knew Norman as chief of the Canadian liaison mission to SCAP from 1946 to 1950; he also knew that Norman, widely respected as an authority on Japan, was a leader among diplomats who distrusted MacArthur and his empire-builders—and particularly Willoughby, whose intelligence estimates concerning Chinese Communist intervention in Korea were responsible for the disastrous failure of MacArthur’s “Home by Christmas” drive on the Yalu. Willoughby’s organization investigated Norman, turned up the usual guilt-by-association information; the lunatic China First fringe of the U.S. right-wing believes to this day that Canada, i.e. Norman, played a large part in MacArthur’s eventual dismissal.


Source: Harold Greer, "Death of a Diplomat," The Nation, April 20, 1957

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