Friday, July 13, 2012
Norman Bethune and the Ghastly Cons
I wasn't planning to write about this storm in the twittersphere.
Because what can you say eh? Except that it's obviously summer. Tony Clement is a shameless idiot. Ezra Levant is a freak of nature. And Norman Bethune is bigger than all of them.
But now that the grotesque Con Rob Anders has crawled out of his hole to dump on Bethune's legacy
I feel I need to say something.
And it would be this: Norman Bethune is one of my greatest Canadian heroes. I admire him because he fought the fascists in Canada, France, Spain, and China.
But most of all I admire him because he was such a great doctor. A doctor who loved his patients so much he wept when he lost one. A caring, brilliant, innovative healer.
An impatient genius who when frustrated by the kind of rib shearer he was using on a patient, threw it across the operating theatre, went to see a shoemaker, and invented a better one that is still used today.
A battlefield doctor who pioneered mobile blood transfusion units and operating theatres, that helped save the lives of countless soldiers of all armies.
A social activist who realized that to save the lives of poor and hungry people, first you had to feed them.
During the economic depression of the 1930s, Bethune became more and more impatient with the socio-economic aspects of disease. Every day he witnessed the effects of poverty on people's health, and he became convinced that medicine must address the economic and social causes of disease as well as its physical symptoms. In 1935, he opened a free clinic where he treated the unemployed and their families. He became an ardent defender of universal health care...
For which he was shunned by the medical establishment, just like he was hated by political commissars when he became a Communist. Because he was always his own man, he was never a tool of anyone, and he was always a doctor first.
He was also a lot of other things. He was a really good painter. He turned his home into an art school for poor kids. He was a poet and a brilliant writer.
For that's the best and most powerful description of a human body struggling to cling to life that I have ever read. And these words still resonate today:
What do these enemies of the human race look like? Do they wear on their foreheads a sign so that they may be told, shunned and condemned as criminals? No. On the contrary. they are the respectable ones. They are honoured. They call themselves, and are called, gentlemen. What a travesty on the name, Gentlemen! They are the pillars of the state, of the church, of society. They support private and public charity out of the excess of their wealth. they endow institutions.
In their private lives they are kind and considerate. they obey the law, their law, the law of property. But there is one sign by which these gentle gunmen can be told. Threaten a reduction on the profit of their money and the beast in them awakes with a snarl. They become ruthless as savages, brutal as madmen, remorseless as executioners.
And what more can you say eh? Except that Bethune's only crime is being bigger than the country he came from. You can't get any smaller than Harperland.
And if he was here today I'm pretty sure he would say this: What are you doing to defend medicare? Why don't you have pharmacare or denticare? When bad teeth and the inability to pay for drugs are still killing poor Canadians.
And of course, who are these fascists Cons? And what are you doing to defeat them? You slackers.
Which is why he belongs to the ages, why the ghastly Cons belong in the garbage can of history. And why I admire him so much.
Dr. Norman Bethune, my Canadian hero...
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