Egerton Herbert Norman
Norman as a youth
|Born||September 1, 1909|
|Died||April 4, 1957 (aged 47)|
|Occupation||Canadian diplomat, historian|
Egerton Herbert Norman (September 1, 1909 - April 4, 1957) was a Canadian diplomat and historian. Born in Japan to missionary parents, he became an historian of modern Japan before joining the Canadian foreign service. His most influential book was Japan's Emergence as a Modern State (1940) where he argued that persisting feudal class relations were responsible for government oppression at home and the imperialistic expansion that led to World War II in Asia. During the Red Scare of the 1950s Norman was accused of being a communist or even a spy, though investigations found no corroboration and he was defended by Canadian authorities. He committed suicide in 1957.
Born and raised in Karuizawa, Japan where his father, Daniel Norman, was a Canadian Methodist missionary in Nagano province. He studied at Victoria College at the University of Toronto. In 1933-1936, he studied at Trinity College at Cambridge University. These were the years when Socialist Party students often moved to the left to join the Communist Party, and Norman came under the tutelage of John Cornford, who soon went to Spain and was killed in the Spanish Civil War. However, while his politics were left leaning, there is a controversy as to whether he became a communist and, more importantly, whether he was a Soviet spy afterward, as were other Trinity students, such as Guy Burgess.
Norman entered the graduate program in Japanese history at Harvard University in 1936, where he studied under Serge Elisséeff, the Russian émigrée Japanologist. He joined the Canadian foreign service in 1939 and received his doctorate from Harvard in 1940. During his time in England, he was a Marxist. "[H]e became heavily involved in the Socialist community and left wing student politics. There are numerous reports suggesting that he would spend his free time recruiting new students into the student socialist body.
His elder brother, Howard, who also became a missionary, worked in Canada during World War II to support Japanese who were placed in internment camps.
His first post was with the Canadian Legation in Tokyo. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Norman was interned by the Japanese authorities and he was not repatriated to Canada until mid-1942, where he continued to work in the Department of External Affairs. During the Allied occupation of Japan after its defeat in the war, Norman served as a Canadian representative to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP) administration and worked under the direction of Douglas MacArthur. He also became the first post-war president of the Asiatic Society of Japan. Using a close relation to MacArthur, he played a decisive role in the decision of the SCAP in 1946 to ban all Japanese political parties except Japanese Communist Party (JCP). Alongside his diplomatic activities, Norman remained an active scholar and wrote a number of works on Japanese history, with clear political leaning toward left. This caused accusation that he was a Communist sympathizer and Soviet agent, which remain unproven.
Between 1950 and 1952, during the McCarthy Era, Norman was accused of being a Communist and possibly a Soviet agent. Allegations centred on his involvement with communist societies during his university years, and suspicion of decisions he helped make during the Japanese occupation, including allowing the Japanese Communist Party to continue while other parties were banned. Karl August Wittfogel, in August 1951, named Norman as having been a member of a "communist study group" while he was at Columbia in 1939. Lester Pearson, Secretary of State for External Affairs, immediately told the Canadian press that "reports" of Norman's leftist tendencies had been fully investigated and had resulted in a "clean bill of health." The Senate subcommittee then summoned another ex-communist to testify, Elizabeth Bentley, who named Pearson himself. Norman then admitted under a harsher interrogation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that he had indeed been close to communists in his days in Cambridge, though he denied having been a member of the party.
Pearson, however, continued to have faith in Norman. Norman was made High Commissioner to New Zealand, both to placate American authorities and to isolate him from the stress and scrutiny of American intelligence. In 1955 Pearson offered him the ambassadorship to Egypt. Norman arrived on the eve of the Suez Crisis of late 1956, and played a key role as a neutral between the Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser and the western powers. As negotiations developed among the Americans, British, Israelis, and Egyptians, some in the American government feared that Nasser was becoming pro-Soviet and that Norman was abetting him. The Senate subcommittee raised Norman's name once again, using confidential files that had been given to them by the Canadian government. 
In April 1957, Norman committed suicide by jumping off the roof of the Swedish Embassy. It was an eight-storey apartment building in which Brynolf Eng, the Swedish Minister in Cairo occupied the top floor apartment. Norman left a brief suicide note asserting his innocence. John Howes suggested that Norman took his life because he was concerned that the Communist allegations could jeopardize the negotiations during the Suez Crisis. The Canadian public at the time was horrified, and the incident caused harm to Canada-U.S. relations.
The circumstances surrounding Norman's death continue to provoke controversy. In 1990, Canadian Minister of External Affairs Joe Clark commissioned Peyton Lyon to review all Canadian government files on Norman and "clarify his allegiance to Canada ... and any relationship he may have had with the Soviet Union." Lyon reported that Norman was not a spy; that he was a sympathiser with Communism and the Soviet Union before joining public service in 1939; that he was not a member of the Communist Party of Canada; and that he did not lie but "understated" his degree of commitment to Marxism and his leftist activities. He debated the conclusions of Professor James Barros' 1986 book detailing Norman's links to Communist groups.
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