What kind of man was Herbert Norman?
Why, though his conscience was clear, his friends steadfast and his enemies discredited, did this brilliant diplomat take his life? This careful and penetrating study reveals the complex human being behind a great human tragedy
Early on the morning of April 4, 1957, Dr. Herbert Norman, the Canadian Ambassador to Egypt, took his life by jumping from the roof of a Cairo apartment building. Since then there has been wide speculation about why Norman, at the peak of his diplomatic career, should have committed suicide. For the last six years of his life he had been hounded by the accusation that he was a Communist or a Communist sympathizer. Yet there was no such charge ever proven against him. His government defended him and declared him to be loyal; so did his colleagues at the Department of External Affairs. With his friends unswerving, his enemies in the main discredited and his own conscience clear, why did Norman take his own life?
This question has been asked by millions of people throughout the world, including many who knew him well. A Cairo friend observed, “Suicide did not seem to fit into his moral pattern or sense of responsibility.” A diplomatic colleague in Ottawa said, “I don't know by what discipline he did it. It's out of character. Herbert Norman was gentle and sensitive; he recoiled from pain, suffering and violence.”
What did motivate Norman? What kind of a person was he?
For the past several months I have been searching for the answers to these questions. 1 have spoken to members of the Norman family, interviewed the people he grew up with in Japan, as well as students and professors who knew him well during his university days. I have been in touch with friends, scholars, newspapermen and diplomats who knew and worked with Norman in Ottawa and Wellington, New Zealand, in New York, Tokyo and Cairo during his eighteen years as a Canadian diplomat. I have also read several of the articles and books he wrote during his lifetime, as well as scores of appreciations of him which appeared in the press of a half a dozen countries after his death. My own conclusion is that there are no simple and clear-cut answers to the questions I’ve posed. The final answer lies in the kind of person Herbert Norman was—gifted, gentle, sensitive, conscientious and complex.
One could suggest that a combination of forces and influences—some long-standing, some immediate — converged on Norman in April
1957, to bring about the disaster. Some of these influences are well known to the public; others hardly known at all. The most publicized was the fact that, for the last six years of his life, Norman had been plagued and pursued by charges of being a Communist or Communist sympathizer. The charges were first made before the U. S. Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security in August 1951. Witnesses offered no conclusive proof to support their accusations. After a thorough check and double-check into Norman s conduct, the RCMP established nothing more than that Norman had associated with C ommunists during his university days and had been interested in Marxist ideas. “Norman is a loyal citizen; a trusted and valuable official of the Department of External Affairs,” declared Lester B. Pearson, then External Affairs minister, after the 1951 investigation.
Another person might have been relatively undisturbed by the accusations. But Norman felt that he had become an embarrassment to his government and his colleagues; that his diplomatic career, which he cherished, had been jeopardized. In the
"Suicide did not seem to fit into his . . . sense of responsibility"
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years following 1951, the charges were periodically mentioned in the press. This rankled and exasperated him. “Will this never end?” he once asked a friend despairingly.
By 1957, because his critics had been silent for several months. Norman began to feel hopefully that his ordeal had ended. But in March the attacks were renewed. They couldn't have struck him at a worse time: he was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. He had been in Egypt since the beginning of the Suez crisis in the fall of 1956. “This is the most strenuous job I've ever had in my life,” he told Irene, his wife.
The atmosphere in Egypt was tense and Norman's responsibilities were many. He had to negotiate with President Nasser about the admission of UN forces into Egypt to keep the peace. He was involved in the clearing of the Suez Canal. The protection of the lives and properties of Canadian nationals was a constant concern. He was responsible for safeguarding Australian interests, since the Australian diplomatic mission had quit Cairo. The temper of the Cairo populace caused Norman a good deal of uneasiness. Back in 1952 a Cairo mob had dragged the Canadian trade commissioner from his club and murdered him. Norman was afraid that such violence might erupt again at any moment. He was always concerned about the welfare of his staff, and they, in turn, were devoted to him.
Added to all this, since his arrival in Cairo, Norman had made an extremely determined effort to understand Egypt. He read scores of books, had long conversations with hundreds of people— diplomats, newsmen, Egyptian officials, professional men and ordinary citizens. A reporter who arrived for a brief interview often stayed for several hours to be interviewed by Norman on some facet of the Egyptian situation. “He didn’t do much sleeping; the house was never empty at night,” his widow recalls. As one British diplomat observed, “In a few months, Norman has learned more about the Middle East than I have in ten years.”
This came as no surprise to Norman’s acquaintances who knew him to be a scholar of extraordinary ability. He had the scholar’s reverence for exactness and truth; in his historical writings every argument is carefully weighed, every fact documented. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why he was so sickened and discouraged by the hearsay and half-truths of his accusers. At the time of his death, he was one of the two top-ranking world authorities on Japanese history. In 1947, when Norman was stationed in Tokyo, the Emperor of Japan chose him to teach the subject to his younger brother, Prince Mikasa. Eor almost two years, Norman spent one afternoon a week at the royal residence. He was in constant demand as a lecturer in Japanese universities and when he was about to return to Canada in 1950, two hundred of Japan’s most illustrious scholars gave him a banquet and presented him with a
book of their brush signatures. They also habitually addressed him as “Norman-.vi)/;.ve/” (teacher)—a rare accolade for a foreigner. His command of Japanese was flawless: on the telephone, in Japan, he was often mistaken for a native.
When he was stationed in Wellington in 1954 the New Zealand cabinet took the unusual step of inviting him to sit in on some of their meetings, to solicit his views on Far Eastern affairs. One of the several books he wrote, Japan’s Emergence As A Modern State, which deals with Japan’s transition from a feudal, military government, is a standard work on that subject throughout the world. It ranks especially high in Japan, where it’s now in its fourth printing. Throughout his lifetime, such universities as Princeton, Yale and British Columbia offered him important academic posts. He refused them, preferring the life of a diplomat. “I want to be a living historian—not an antiquarian,” he would explain.
Norman’s familiarity with Japan—he spent twenty of his forty-eight years there—undoubtedly influenced his thinking and outlook. After Norman’s death, a close friend observed, “Herbert may have been more Japanese than we thought.” In the Orient certain forms of suicide have always been regarded as praiseworthy. Brahman and Buddhist doctrine, with their denial of the flesh, approve the idea that the body is a dwelling place to be abandoned at the will of the owner. Suicide is neither cowardly, an admission of guilt nor a terrible last resort. It is a gesture of defiance. “His death may have been a gesture of protest to the U. S. Senate subcommittee for its methods,” said the friend. “Norman's Japanese attitude might have had the effect of disarming him of the repugnance of suicide.”
Another dominant influence in Norman’s life was the philosophy of Epicurus, a Greek scholar who lived during the Third Century B.C. On at least two occasions Norman took the trouble to send books about Epicurus by his old University of Toronto professor, Norman De Witt, to his brother Howard who still lives in Japan. And Norman’s Japanese friends frequently commented on his affinity for Epicureanism. The philosophy of Epicurus emphasizes the enjoyment of life, teaches a reassuring and calm approach to such weighty questions as religion, death and suicide, and, finally, encourages the development of the intellect.
Norman took seriously Epicurus’ injunction to “cultivate the mind.” He learned to read and write in a half dozen languages and seemed to have read everything worth reading. During a week end he would plough through a dozen books and years later recall chapter heads and entire paragraphs, word for word. In Ottawa one night, at a party for visiting scholars at the home of a French diplomat, the conversation got around to the poetry of Baudelaire. To illustrate a point he was making, Norman recited a verse, pausing in the middle of a line. “Why do you pause?” asked a visitor from Paris. “Because there’s a comma there,” explained Norman. An argument ensued. When a book of Baudelaire’s verse was consulted, Norman was proven right.
He could discuss, at length, such diverse subjects as where the unicorn got its horn, the mating habits of African tribes, the Jesuits in sixteenth-century Spain or the sewerage system of ancient Rome. Once, in Tokyo, he spent an entire evening with an Italian diplomat, discussing the history of Italy’s main
political parties. At the opening of a fall fair in the Taranaki district in New Zealand, he delivered a learned address to his farmer-listeners on the problems of sheepgrazing.
Again, consistent with the conduct of an Epicurean, Norman was a gentle kindly person who abhorred suffering, pain and violence. In spite of his own grief during his last two weeks in Cairo, he took time off to write a long and beautiful letter of sympathy to an Ottawa friend whose father had recently died.
It is in Oriental countries that Epicureanism is practiced, according to one writer, “in its sweetest and serenest fashion.” It is therefore not surprising that it attracted Norman during his many years in Japan. He was the son of United Church missionary parents. His father, the Rev. Daniel Norman, was born on a farm twenty miles from Toronto, graduated from Victoria College, University of Toronto, and went to Japan in 1897. He returned to Canada shortly before his death in 1941. His wife, Catherine Heal Norman, was born on a farm near Stratford, Ont., and graduated from Victoria a year later than her husband. They had three children, of whom Herbert was the youngest. The
oldest, Grace, is married to a United Church minister in Wardsville, near Chatham, Ont. Howard, who is four years older than Herbert, is a professor of Christian Ethics at Kwansei Gakuin University, in Nishinomiya, Japan. The university is conducted by the United Chu rch.
Daniel Norman was highly regarded by the Japanese. His headquarters was the provincial city of Nagano. Once, as he walked along the street, a small child shouted at him, “Ijin!” (Dirty foreigner!). The child’s ten-year-old playmate reproved him. “That’s no foreigner; that’s Norman-.ven.vi’/.” The living room of Daniel Norman’s rambling manse was always filled with Japanese, who brought to him their business, legal and domestic problems. When the people of Nagano built a new church to replace the old one after World War II. they named it the Norman Memorial Church. In 1947, when the citizens of Nagano learned that Norman’s son, Herbert, had returned to Japan as a diplomat, they staged a two-day memorial celebration in honor of his father.
Grace, Howard and Herbert Norman had a happy childhood. Their imaginations were filled with stories from the Bible, and the classics. The parents strove to make the children conscious of their Canadian heritage. They told them stories of the pioneer days in Canada and hung in a prominent place in the dining room were large pictures of Jacques Cartier and Sir Isaac Brock. “Our parents gave us a real love of Canada,” recalls Howard. “We used to think of Canada as the promised land.”
The children also absorbed the culture of Japan. In the afternoons they would play games in the manse garden with Japanese friends. “The older boys used to like to play with us to practice Eng-
lish, but we preferred to speak Japanese,” Howard says. They frequently visited a famous medieval battlefield near Nagano and practically knew by heart Lord Redesdale’s Tales of Japan. Both Howard and Herbert were fascinated by the classical legend of The Forty-Seven Ronin. the story of how forty-seven retainers of a lord committed suicide on the doorstep of a rival lord who had insulted their master.
Herbert Norman’s formal education began when he was eleven, at the Canadian Academy in Kobe, Japan, conduct-
ed by the United Church. When he \Vas sixteen he developed tuberculosis. After a year in a Japanese sanitarium, his parents sent him to Canada to spend another year in a hospital near Calgary. During these two years of confinement his drive and energy were channeled into serious reading, chiefly in history and philosophy. A year after his recovery in 1929, he entered Victoria College in Toronto, the chosen school for the children of Methodist missionaries. Lester B. Pearson is one of its most distinguished graduates.
Herbert Norman, at twenty, was not a typical freshman. He was tall and gangly and his erudition made him Conspicuous. In his reading he ranged far beyond his specialty. He devoured Elizabethan literature and read extensively in politics, economics and philosophy. At bull sessions he was the acknowledged giant. "He knew so much,” recalls his friend, John Holmes, “that by comparison my own views appeared to be naïve. I felt like a yokel.”
After almost thirty years former Victoria teachers still have vivid memories
of this youthful prodigy from Japan. Professor M. St. A. Woodside recalls that “he asked searching questions which only a first-class student could ask.” Professor F. A. Hare observes that “he had a maturity and sophistication unusual in an undergraduate.” At that time Dr. Norman De Witt was working on his book, A Brief History of the World. “I’d often ask Norman questions about Japanese customs and he would always have the information I wanted,” says De Witt. When De Witt met his star pupil in a Toronto library about twenty years later he was pleased to note that his intellectual curiosity burned as brightly as ever. “He recommended two books to me by a Russian adventurer,” says De Witt. One was about hunting tigers in Siberia; the other about raising deer on a ranch.
While at Victoria, Norman was chosen curator of the student library at Hart House and was active in the classical and historical societies. In his final year, he was elected class president. At this time he was rather shy in mixed company. At college dances Norman was usually the last man left in the stag line. But he did meet and court Irene Clark, an attractive co-ed from Hamilton who was studying domestic science. Two years later, in 1935, they were married. Irene recalls that during the courtship, Herbert read her Latin and Greek poetry. “I couldn’t understand a word,” she says, “but it was beautiful music the way Herbert read.”
After graduation from Victoria in 1933, Norman received a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied medieval history for the next two years. He next received a Rockefeller Foundation grant to attend Harvard to study Japanese history. He won a PhD at Harvard in 1939.
It wás during his university days that Normah showed some interest in Marxist ideas and attended discussion groups which included many Communists. This was not unusual on many counts. Norman was always ready to explore new ideas with stimulating company, and, during the Degression at Harvard, as elsewhere, there was a good deal of economic and political discussion. It was taken for granted by many that the capitalistic system was doomed; that a brave new experiment was going on in Russia. Whatever popular international resentment existed was directed primarily at Fascist Germany and Italy.
It was inevitable, too, that Norman’s interest in Far Eastern affairs should bring him in contact with Communists. During the late 1930s American Communists—like those elsewhere—took a vocal part in the struggle for power going on between Chiang Kai-shek and the Communists in China. At that time the Communists were one of the few groups interested in discussing Far Eastern politics and Norman still had a great affection for that part of the world. Thus, he was affiliated for a time with the Canadian Friends of the Chinese People, an organization infiltrated by Communists.
Norman was also active with the Institute of Pacific Relations, a non-profit organization which promoted international understanding. He wrote several
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articles for their publications. It later developed that the 1PR had many Communist members although the bulk of the membership—as in the case of the Canadian Friends of the Chinese People— was non-Communist. Among its members were such prominent people as Henry R. Luce, the publisher; Admiral Harry F. Yarnell, of the U. S. Navy; Sumner Welles, former U. S. Under-Secretary of State; Ralph J. Bunche, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and Grayson Kirk, president of Columbia University.
Norman made no secret of his leftist associations during his university days. They were carefully investigated by the RCMP in 1950—an investigation that took six months and extended to at least four countries. “They really gave Herbert the works and he co-operated fully," one of Norman’s intimate friends told me.
But at the time Norman graduated from Harvard, in 1939, his main concern was not with politics but with his own future. When he heard that the Department of External Affairs was looking for Far East experts, he felt he knew where his life's work lay. He hurried to Ottawa for an interview, which was so successful that an orderin-council was passed immediately appointing him a foreign-service officer. Early in 1940 he arrived at the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo to serve us language officer and third secretary under the incumbent chargé d’affaires in Japan, D'Arcy NlcGreev.
Persian poetry for prisoners
McGreer was pleased with hjs new junior officer. Norman, on his part, was glad to be back in Japan. He looked up many old friends and attended the Kabuki theatre, sometimes as often as three or four times a week. The dedication of the actors to their art impressed Norman: to get the proper effect they eschewed modern cosmetics and painted their faces with vivid lead paint even though they knew' they were. risking death from lead poisoning. Sometimes Norman would wander into an obscure Tokyo bar, order a bottle of beer and start discussing the latest play with the drinker sitting next to him.
Irene Norman, with the wives of other Canadian diplomats, returned to Canada in May 1941 when war seemed possible. (Norman himself was certain it w'as imminent.) On Pearl Harbor Sunday a Japanese official informed the Canadian Embassy staff that they w'ere under house arrest. For the next seven months they were held prisoner.
Apart from the worry about the progress of the war and about the welfare of his wife and friends, there were facets of this strange life that Norman enjoyed. He spent hours reading in the embassy library and improving his knowledge of Japanese. McGreer describes him as the "ideal person to be imprisoned with." In the course of a single night he might discuss Persian poetry, the wines used in Italy at the time of Catullus, the gutty writing of John Aubrey (a little-known literary figure in seventeenth-century England) and colorful persona! sidelights on such writers as Cervantes and Voltaire.
Norman w'as repatriated in June 1942 and spent the next three years in Ottaw'a. After the Japanese surrender he was sent to the Philippines, and later Japan, to w'ork out the repatriation of Canadian prisoners. His official position was chief of the Canadian Mission to SCAP (Supreme Command of Allied Powers), headed by General Douglas MacArthur. Because of his background, Norman was
for a time invited to work with the counter-intelligence department.
Norman was occasionally a dinner guest at MacArthur’s home. The general once observed to a Canadian diplomat that “Norman is one of the few Occidentals who seem to understand the history of the Japanese people." The two got along well even though they did not always agree. Norman felt that in rehabilitating Japan, SCAP should be less dependent on the old-established powers and make greater use of the liberal elements. He was also critical of Mac-
Arthur’s plan to drive across Korea’s Yalu River in 1950. He warned that such a step would bring the Chinese into the war. As it turned out, Norman was right.
When Norman wasn't too busy he savored the pleasures of Japanese life. In the spring he was an ardent cherry-blossom viewer and traveled around the country in search of the choicest views. He bathed in the Sea of Japan, wearing a yukata, an oriental type of bathrobe, while on the beach. He loved taking Japanese-style baths, which consist of
soaking in a tub while the water is kept at near-boiling temperature by a stove underneath. Norman enjoyed accompanying his wife to stores and antique shops to buy Japanese objets d’art — roll-up brocades, prints, vases, screens, plates and lacquer boxes. Wherever he was to go in the future these souvenirs of the Orient were to accompany him.
Norman had an army of Japanese friends in Tokyo. One of the closest was the distinguished scholar Kazuo Watanabe, who recalls how sensitive and thoughtful Norman was in his personal
relations. At Norman's birthday party Watanabe drank too much and fell asleep. He awoke several hours later, thoroughly ashamed of himself. Norman came forward smilingly and said. “You slept well? Shall we have another drink?” Watanabe was so full of remorse that he refused the drink but accepted Norman’s offer of a lift home in the Legation car. The following midnight Watanabe's phone rang. It was Norman. “Can 1 come and bother you for a minute?” he asked. Fifteen minutes later Norman appeared at Watanabe’s house
with a bottle of whisky. The two friends drank and talked. Norman professed to be tired, whereupon Watanabe invited him to take a nap. Norman did so. Watanabe says, "1 couldn’t forget this incident. As a friend remarked, to save my face Dr. Norman tried to lose his.” On another occasion, Watanabe was playing with Brandy, Norman’s Alsatian dog. “I'm going to be as friendly as a brother to Brandy,” he joked. “I’ll never be a scholar myself but this friendship will lead people to identify me with you.” Norman laughed. “Your friend-
ship will make Brandy famous,” he said.
When Norman was posted from Tokyo to Ottawa, in 1950, he was succeeded by ex-cabinet minister R. W. Mayhew. Mayhew recalls, “Because of Norman 1 found all doors open to me in Japan. Canadians were particularly well thought of because of the standard he set. I heard nothing but praise and admiration of the man.”
In Ottawa, Norman served as chief of the Far Eastern division of the Department of External Affairs and, temporarily, as Canada's permanent representative
at the United Nations in New York.
It was on the afternoon of August 7, 1951, that the storm broke. Testifying in Washington before the U. S. Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security, presided over by Senator Pat McCarran, the ex-Communist New York professor. Dr. Karl Wittfogel, claimed that he remembered Norman as a Communist when he was a student, and said Norman had attended Communist study groups.
The news struck the Normans in Ottawa like a thunderbolt. Mrs. Norman had just returned to her apartment from shopping when she received the news from a reporter, phoning from Washington. A few minutes later her husband, obviously distressed, phoned to say that he would be home in a few minutes. “The charges tore him apart,” says Irene. That evening the Norman home filled with family friends—the French counselor of embassy and John Holmes. John Watkins and other old colleagues from the Department of External Affairs. “There was a feeling of horror about this development,” recalls Irene. "We left it alone. We talked about everything else under the sun and did our best to be gay and silly. Herbert went along with us as best as he could.”
Norman was disturbed by a number of things. He hated publicity, good or bad. The flowery reports that Japanese papers used to print about him caused him deep discomfort. He felt that a civil servant should carry on his work quietly and without fanfare. Lester Pearson recalls that at the time Norman was suffering with an overwhelming feeling of remorse—-a feeling that somehow he had let down the people he had worked with, happily, for the past eleven years. Norman was also shocked by the callousness of the people in Washington. John Holmes says, “Norman himself never condemned anyone and took an optimistic view of people. That’s why he was hurt by this incident of human wickedness.” He would talk about the charges, to intimate friends, for hours. At his office he would sometimes spend long periods of inactivity, worrying over what had happened.
His friends and colleagues tried to cheer him up. “We'd try to distract him by bringing up other topics,” one of them told me. “Herbert sometimes went along with us, if only to make us happy.” Norman was defended by Pearson, who officially protested the charges to the U. S. government and repeatedly assured the Canadian public that Norman was “a valuable and trusted official of the department.” But he did more than defend Norman by words. Disregarding possible American criticism, in 1952 tic appointed Norman as his principal adviser at the Japanese Peace Treaty Conference in San Francisco. After affixing his signature to the treaty documents, Pearson handed the gold pen with which he had signed for Canada to Norman, saying, “I’m giving this to the person who really did the work.”
But Norman was not reassured. In New York, while serving with the UN. he told his boyhood friend Charles Holmes (not to be confused with John Holmes) that he was heartened by Pearson's support, but could it undo all the harm? “You can’t wash off the poison of a smear from your emotions,” he said. He was frustrated. “How can you fight back against this sort of thing?”
Several months later Norman was still upset by the charges. John Holmes was now lecturing at the National Defense College in Kingston and often spent his week ends with the Normans in Ottawa. To cheer Norman up, he said, “Herbert,
you're not a villain—you're a hero. The men at the Defense College regard you as an Isaac Brock-type of hero.” Norman replied quietly, "1 don't want to be a hero.” Later, Holmes realized that he had said the wrong thing. Norman wanted nothing more than that people forget about him.
In April 1952, Norman was appointed High Commissioner to New Zealand. It is a small mission with only two senior officers. Many observers interpreted the appointment as a means of getting Norman out of the public eye for a time. Perhaps they held this view because of what happened to the Canadian representative at the League of Nations, who, during the Ethiopian War. proposed oil sanctions against Italy: the Canadian
government repudiated him and hastily shipped him off to Wellington as high commissioner.
According to friends, although Norman was interested in New Zealand, he was not enthusiastic about his new job. He mentioned to one that he was being "exiled.” To another he observed that he would rather be No. 2 man in a big busy mission than No. 1 man in a small one.
Whatever his original feelings. Norman became very fond of New Zealand. On one occasion. Prime Minister Sidney Holland mentioned to Louis St. Laurent how happy his people were to have ;iuch a distinguished scholar in their midst. Norman addressed the New Zealand cabinet, university students, learned Societies, flower shows, fall fairs and service clubs. The Maori people fascinated him and he visited their villages. He traveled widely, haunted museums and libraries to learn all he could about the island, parts of which reminded him of Japan. His counselor at the time. Graham Mclnnes, says. “No country could have been dull for Norman.”
“While there’s death . . .”
But in spite of the idyllic surroundings and the twelve thousand miles that separate Wellington from Washington, the charges of 1951 still rankled with Norman. “It played on his mind to an extent 1 didn’t think possible,” says Mclnnes. Occasionally, when they * were homesick, the two men would gossip about different people back in the department in Ottawa. This often reminded Norman of just how each individual reacted to accusations from Washington about his subversiveness. Whenever McCarthy, McCarran or any other member of the Senate subcommittee was mentioned in the paper, Norman would discuss the matter at length, condemning the manner in which many innocent people were being persecuted and hounded. On the day that Senator Pat McCarran died, Mclnnes rushed into Norman’s office and showed him the newspaper headlines. Norman wryly observed. “While there’s death, there’s hope.”
Something was always happening to keep the disloyalty charges alive, even in far-off New Zealand. One night Norman visited a Wellington family. For entertainment they played a record they had just received from New York. It turned out to be The Investigator, a CBC play based on the inquisitorial methods of the late Senator Joe McCarthy. A publication of the Social Credit League of New Zealand frequently reminded readers that the Canadian High Commissioner had been accused of being a Communist and that he was being conveniently “tucked away” in New Zealand. Sometimes, the New Zealand papers picked up interviews given by people such as Pat Walsh, a Canadian ex-Com-
munist now living in Labrieville, Que., saying that he was about to write a book about the sons of missionaries in the Canadian diplomatic service who were Communists. Mclnnes says. “When he read things like this he wanted to talk about it as if talking would get rid of the odium.”
Describing his former chief during their stay in New Zealand. Mclnnes says, "Outwardly, he was sunny, mercurial and extroverted: inwardly, he was sensitive and bore a streak of melancholy. He was an ‘un-reassurable’ person.
Nothing you did or said could relieve the gnawing pain caused by the charges that had been made against him.”
While in New Zealand. Norman continued his interest in Epicurean philosophy and corresponded with his old teacher. Norman De Witt, who had just completed a monumental work on this subject. It is likely that De Witt first kindled this interest. “In my lectures in Toronto I often discussed Epicurus,” says De Witt, who describes Norman as “a natural Epicurean."
What are the main tenets of the Epi-
curean philosophy? The Epicurean believes that life is good and that the object of living is to obtain all possible good and pleasure. But, says Epicurus, “when 1 maintain that pleasure is the end of life 1 do not mean sensual pleasures. but a body free from pain and a mind free from trouble. It is not eating or drinking, reveling or lust that makes life sweet." The highest value is placed on cultivating, training and disciplining the mind. Friendship, Epicurus taught, is the most precious possession of the wise man. while conversation with
In Norman’s philosophy “such is human suffering that man will know moments when he wishes death’’
friends is the richest of pleasures. Next to talking to friends, the greatest pleasure is books. With regard to human relations. the Epicurean's aim is to give pleasure to others. He also wishes other people to be altruistic.
Epicurus succinctly summed up his views on personal publicity in a single phrase: lathe hiosas—live unknown. If you become a controversial public figure, it involves contention, rivalry, the fanning of prejudice and the suppression of truth. Political life is to be shunned because those who don't avoid it become partisan and can't appreciate the views and values of other factions. Politically, Epicurus was no anarchist, but at the same time he argued that the maximum of liberty implies a minimum of government.
Death and suicide were dealt with at some length by Epicurus and his views have been ably summarized by Paul1 ..on is lansberg, the German philosopher:
Death is nothing as far as we are concerned. If we exist, death does not exist; if death exists, we no longer exist. The only problem that remains is a comfortable way of dying. The early Epicureans treated the question of choice of death with calm. The metaphor most frequently employed was that to kill oneself was just like leaving the theatre when one was bored or did not like the play. There is nothing terrifying in not living; death, once come, will not be painful so there should be nothing painful in the anticipation of it. The absence of life is not evil. Death is no more alarming than nothingness before birth.
Of all existing moralities, the Christian is one of the few to forbid suicide outright without being willing to allow any exceptions. But there is a temptation to suicide latent in human nature itself; it is a fairly common occurrence. It is not true that man always loves life. Such is human suffering that man will know moments when he wishes for death.
Early in 1956 Norman received news which meant that, in the future, there would be less time for philosophical contemplation; he had been appointed Ambassador to Egypt and Minister to Lebanon. That summer, he returned to Ottawa. Basil Robinson, chief of the Middle East division of the External Affairs Department, after lunching with Norman, observed, “He was keen about his new job—just as enthusiastic as a young PhD tackling his thesis.” He read scores of books about Egypt and the Arab world and had long conversations with the Ottawa representatives from Egypt and Lebanon.
Cairo was the peak
John Holmes, now an assistant undersecretary of state, entertained the Normans in his apartment one evening. It was a relaxed and stimulating affair. “Norman appeared rested and confident,” recalls Holmes. “He obviously felt that the Cairo assignment was the peak of his career.”
On another evening, the Normans had dinner with 13’Arcy McGreei and his wife. The men recalled the old times when they were interned in Japan. It was Norman who brought up the 1951
charges. “1 want to thank you for your offer,” he said. He was referring to the letter McOreer had sent from his post in Warsaw in 1951, offering to testify as to Norman’s complete loyalty, either by letter or in person.
The Normans departed for Cairo in September. During a brief stopover in London, Norman phoned from the airport to say hello to his old friend Norman Robertson, then Canadian High Commissioner in London. Robertson urged him to visit with him for a few days. But Norman had a sense of urgency about his new appointment. “I can’t,” he explained. “Eve got to get on with the job.”
He worked hard from the very first moment. Arthur Menzies. chief of the Far Eastern division and a fellow student at Harvard, explains, “Norman had high intellectual standards and he was always looking for motives beneath surface events. He felt that his knowledge of Egypt was meagre and that he’d have to become expert practically at once. Time wouldn’t wait. This crash effort must have taken a good deal out of him.”
Norman presented his credentials and spent the next several weeks getting settled in a home and at the embassy. Then, accompanied by his wife, he went to Beirut to present his credentials as the Minister to Lebanon. While he was there, the invasion of Egypt by Israel. France and Britain stranded him. He was impatient and fretful. “My place is in Egypt right now,” he explained.
With the cessation of hostilities, Norman was able to fly back to Cairo. For the next several weeks he worked under
tremendous pressure. Since the embassy stenographers had been evacuated to Rome, Norman and his four senior aides had to do all their reporting and corresponding by hand. He often labored from eight in the morning until past midnight. On one occasion he went for three days without sleep. He was learning a lot about Egypt and a lot was happening. Ottawa must be kept informed.
Norman's colleagues in External Affairs in Ottawa describe his dispatches from Egypt as “brilliant.” Basil Robinson, chief of the Middle East division, says, “Having someone like Norman right on the spot in Egypt was of tremendous value to Canada. We were seeing what was going on through the eyes of a topnotch reporter. He interpreted the thoughts as well as the deeds of the Egyptians.” Norman tried desperately hard to be objective. “It’s easy for tempers to get lost in this atmosphere,” he told a newspaper reporter. "But you can’t dismiss men’s arguments because they're shabbily dressed or eat with their fingers or think in a manner strange to you. You have to remember—the fellow in beggar’s robes could be right.”
President Nasser grew to respect Norman for his unusual ability and detained him in long interviews, plying him with questions. This respect paid off, especially at the time when Nasser balked at the proposal to admit UN forces into Egypt. On his own initiative, Norman obtained an audience with Nasser and spent from eight to ten o’clock one evening, arguing for the admission of UN EE. He left the interview in a jubilant mood. "I've persuaded Nasser,” he
said. A few days later UNEF soldiers set foot on Eigyptian soil.
Suddenly, on March 12, 1957, the Communist charges against Norman were revived in hearings of the Senate subcommittee in Washington. The attack was repeated on March 21. ft came at a bad time for Norman. He was nervously keeping an eye on the uneasy peace that had come to Egypt; he was fatigued from overwork; the hot weather of Cairo was enervating; he was depressed about the lack of real improvement in relations between Egypt and the Western democracies. Bewildered and hurt, Norman said to Arthur Kilgour, his First Secretary, “It looks as if they’re deliberately out to get me.” At home, he spoke about his discouragement to his wife. “They’ve brought up all the same old lies of 1951. Why must I go through that again?” He told a friend, “I’ve become an embarrassment to my government.”
Norman wrote Pearson a letter full of exasperated remorse for causing him so much difficulty and revealing his discouragement. Again, Pearson publicly rose to Norman’s defense. He made a statement to the House of Commons affirming his complete faith in the ambassador to Egypt; he lauded his recent efforts. On March 18, Pearson sent a strong letter of protest to John Foster Dulles, U. S. Secretary of State. Dulles was in no hurry to answer. At the time of Norman’s suicide, Dulles was enjoying a holiday at Duck Island, Ont. The note wasn’t answered until April 10 and even then, it was signed by Christian Herter, Dulles’ chief lieutenant.
Norman had become suddenly distant and aloof. His tennis partners found him distraught and absent-minded. Even his closest friends found him difficult to talk to, and noticed that in the middle of a conversation he would suddenly jump up and say, “I’ve got to be going now.” Norman’s problem was now uppermost in his mind even at social events. At a party given for Dag Hammarskjöld, UN Secretary-General, he met another guest newly arrived from the United States. “Has there been much in the American papers about me?” Norman asked him. When the visitor said no, Norman, immensely pleased, rushed over to his wife at the other side of the room to give her the news.
Two weeks before his death, according to Cairo rumors, Norman confided to his wife that he was considering suicide. Mrs. Norman denies this. She was sufficiently worried about her husband’s health, however, to call in a doctor. After some discussion the doctor prescribed sedatives for Norman and advised an immediate vacation. Norman refused to go. "How can I leave Egypt at this time?" he asked. At Irene’s insistence he finally agreed to a holiday in Spain, provided they were near the Canadian Embassy so he could be kept informed of events in Egypt and return immediately if necessary. A telegram was drafted to Jules Léger, Undersecretary of State in Ottawa, asking permission for the leave. It was to be sent on the morning of April 4, the morning, as it transpired, of Norman’s death.
Knowing how deeply he had been hurt by the charges in 1951, several of Norman’s Ottawa friends wrote letters to cheer him up. John Holmes urged him to remain calm: that the storm would pass; that everyone in the department believed in him; that his work in Cairo had been positively brilliant and had been widely praised. Norman was pleased with the letter, which he received a few days before his death, and showed it to his wife. “But it was already too late,” says
Holmes. “Things had moved beyond that.”
After Norman’s suicide officials of the department in Ottawa carefully searched through his last few dozen reports, looking for some portent of what was to come. They could find nothing. Llis dispatches were of their usual high calibre: meaty, and written in a clear precise style. Striving for perfection, it was not unusual for Norman to rewrite a dispatch eight or nine times. His last report was written on March 29, a week before his death. It was a personality sketch of an Egyptian whose name is unknown in the Western world but who wields great power in Egypt’s national life. Norman wrote, “He is brilliant and unbalanced . . . given to delusions of grandeur ... a poor administrator . . . obscure specialists around him do the real work. He wants to handle everything or nothing.” This was the first of what was to be a long series of profiles of Egyptian public figures. Norman himself conceived this project, explaining, “If there were to be a sudden change
in government, we’d have information on the new personalities holding power.”
On the evening of April 3 the Normans attended a film, sponsored by the Japanese Embassy, in a downtown theatre. Included in the party was Norman’s First Secretary, Arthur Kilgour, and an Egyptian businessman and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Foda, with whom the Normans were friendly. The film, Mask of Destiny, is a brooding classical Japanese tale, full of fatalism and the doctrine that death holds the answer to many of life’s problems. Some friends feel that Norman was deeply touched by the film, viewing it, as he did, during a crisis in his life.
After the movie the Normans and the Fodas went to the Semiramis Hotel for a drink. Norman had a bottle of beer and talked amiably. His wife was immensely relieved. For the past two weeks he had been silent, sombre and sleepless. Now he seemed to be regaining something of his former vigor and enthusiasm. Perhaps, she thought, it was in anticipation of the holiday in Spain which she was in the process of arranging. Another explanation is that perhaps, after viewing the film, Norman had come to a decision about his future. Before departing, the foursome discussed the croquet game they had planned for the following afternoon, April 4, on the lawn of the Gezira Club. Foda was to ascertain the exact meeting time by phoning Norman at the embassy the following day.
Early the next morning Norman left his home and walked slowly to the Nile
View apartments, a modern eight-story building. This was the residence of Brynolf Eng, the Swedish ambassador and one of Norman’s close friends. But Norman was not thinking about visiting on that fatal morning. He took the elevator to the top floor and stepped out on the roof.
A few minutes later a druggist, whose shop was opposite the apartment building, noticed a small crowd gathered outside and rushed to investigate. E.ooking up, he saw a tall, rounded, athletic man whose thick sandy hair had turned prematurely grey, walking up and down. He was wearing a grey suit. In a moment, Norman was sitting on the parapet of the roof, head between his hands, apparently deeply engrossed in thought. He got up, removed his coat and, after folding it, placed it on the parapet. Beside it he placed his watch and his glasses. Down below, a woman shouted, “He’s going to jump!” A few seconds later, moving backward, Norman dropped over the roof, feet first. Death was instantaneous.
The farewell notes left behind by Norman were purely personal in nature. They reflect his anguish and torment, the cheerlessness with which he regarded the future, and asked for understanding and forgiveness for his action. One was to Irene, his wife; the other to his Swedish friend, Brynolf Eng. The exact contents of these two notes have never been made public. Newspaper versions of them have been described by the Canadian Embassy in Washington as “complete fabrications.” They create the impression that Norman took to the grave with him deep secrets about his alleged career as a Communist.
Herbert Norman also left behind a third note which, until now, has not been known to the public. It was addressed to his older brother Howard, a professor in the department of theology at Kwansei Gakuin University, in Japan. It reads in part, “I have lived under illusions too long ... I realize that Christianity is the only true way . . . My Christian faith, never strong enough I fear, has helped sustain me in these last days . . .
I have prayed for God’s forgiveness if it is not too late.”
Perhaps the most informed comment made about Norman’s death was made by Professor Norman De Witt who always had the greatest admiration and affection for his former pupil. De Witt feels that, in the last analysis, men with Norman’s blend of character and personality are not tough enough to endure the hazards of public life.
“Norman,” he says, “was of the Hamlet type: proud, introverted, intellectual and totally honest. Unlike professional politicians, such people do not develop social callousness. Injustices or persecution increase their tendency to introversion. In spite of friendships—and Norman had an unusually large number of friends—they are habituated to living within themselves. They do not make confidants and so lack the outlet of battle. Thus, in the extreme situation, the only recourse is to face the question, ‘To be or not to be.’ ” It was logical that Norman’s decision—and consequent actions —should be influenced by his philosophical and Oriental background.
“Once the decision has been made,” says De Witt, “a sense of justice demands that the exit from life must be more than an escape from trouble, it must also be a protest. It must be public. Pride, in turn, requires that it be dramatic. A vulgar resort to breathing carbon monoxide or an overdose of sleeping pills is ruled out. Norman’s death conforms to such a pattern.” ★