[ Norman in Ottawa ]

Norman in Ottawa, Unknown, 1951, University of British Columbia Library, Rare Books and Special Collections, BC2124-115, Norman stands in front of Japanese inscriptions in his office in Ottawa 1951

As a Regional Editor for “U.S. News & World Report,” Joseph Fromm knew Mr. Norman as a news source both in Tokyo and in Cairo. The following recollection of his acquaintance with Mr. Norman was cabled by Mr. Fromm on April 19, 1957, from London, where he is now stationed.

What one remembers most vividly about Mr. Norman was the extraordinary scope of his scholarly interests. He was regarded as an authority on Japanese language and Japanese history. Mr. Norman spoke, wrote and read Japanese as fluently as English, and several years ago wrote a book in Japanese on an obscure aspect of Japanese history. When I called on Mr. Norman at his office in Japan while he was chief of the Canadian diplomatic mission, I usually found him surrounded by a clutter of old Japanese books.

The range of his scholarship outside his special field of Japan constantly surprised Mr. Norman’s acquaintances. One night at dinner he sat next to an Italian Cabinet minister and carried on a lively discussion ranging over Italian literature, music, art and history of Italian political parties.

In Cairo, diplomats commented on the extent of Mr. Norman’s reading of Arab history and politics before he took up the post as Ambassador to Egypt and Minister to Lebanon. After his first meeting with Mr. Norman, a British diplomat with years of experience in the Middle East said: “He’s been here less than a month and seems to have done more reading about this area than I’ve done in 10 years.”

Although he was soft-spoken and slow to show anger, I recall Mr. Norman’s arguing heatedly on occasion. During the Korean war, for instance, he supported U. S. and United Nations intervention against the Communists, but argued hotly against the U. N. advance to the Yalu River, on the ground it would lead to Chinese Communist intervention.

In Cairo, when I saw him last September, he acknowledged that President Nasser threatened Western interests but argued vehemently against use of force by Britain and France at a time when Anglo-French intervention was threatened. He maintained this would unify the Arab world behind Nasser and against the West, and would discredit Britain among Asians. He contended that, while Arab nationalism might not be a constructive or progressive force, it was a fact of the political life in the Middle East that had to be faced.

Norman argued that generations of foreign domination—Ottoman Turk, British and French—had warped Arab behaviour and outlook, and that this had to be taken into account in dealing with the Arabs today. The Russians, he contended, were seizing the initiative in the Middle East by exploiting this situation.

Mr. Norman was uninhibited in his professional associations. Besides the usual run of ambassadors and government officials commonly contacted by diplomats, he saw extreme right-wing militarists and ultranationalists and left-wing intellectuals while working in Japan. Occasionally he would wander into an obscure Japanese bar to drink beer or sake and argue about the current Kabuki—Japanese drama—performance. He seemed to feel as much at home in a Japanese setting of that sort as in Western surroundings.

On first meeting, Mr. Norman appeared to be shy, but among people he knew he was gregarious and showed a lively sense of humor. Typical was a performance one night when he regaled a party of diplomats with a long, colorful dissertation on the scandals of Japanese royal-court life several hundred years ago.

Even with closet friends, though, Mr. Norman seldom discussed his personal or family affairs. He commanded an almost fanatic loyalty among his subordinates, took an active interest in their personal problems but rarely shared his own personal problems.

When I saw him in Cairo after his appointment as Ambassador, he was gay and enthusiastic about his new job.

Some people who know him well had a feeling that Mr. Norman’s many years in Japan as son of a missionary and later as student and then as Government official—and the fact that he had been steeped in Oriental culture and customs—had subtly influenced his thinking and outlook. There was something peculiarly Oriental about the manner of his suicide.

Judging from press reports here, it was all done with the same studied deliberation associated with a Japanese general’s hara-kiri.

Source: Joseph Fromm, "Norman the Diplomat-- A Newsman's Size-Up," U.S. News & World Report, April 26, 1957

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