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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  1. John B.6:42 AM

    I wouldn’t have expected any better from Anders, but I’m disturbed by the attitude of “Queen's University's Bruce Gilley, an expert on China's politics”, who apparently remarked, "Bethune was someone we would in our contemporary Western world call a useful idiot. He more or less took leave of his moral compass and senses when he went to China and threw himself into the Communist cause." It seems to me that Gilley, while resorting to the use of this tired old pejorative, “useful idiot”, is making quite an unrestrained assumption about prevailing attitudes in “our contemporary Western world”. It’s hardly what I would expect from a credible scholar. The remark is more consistent with what I would expect from Harper or one of his minions.

    Who is Bruce Gilley?

    1. hi John...I have never heard of Bruce Gilley, but all I ever read in this country is that Bethune was a drunkard, a womanizer, and horrors of horrors a Communist. I know many of us take perverse pleasure in trimming our heroes down to size. But all those little people trying to diminish the achievements and reputation of a giant like Bethune is simply pathetic...

  2. Was he blind to the dark side of Maoism? Absolutely. But he fought for justice and for life and although his idealism led him down some dark alleys he helped the people he found in them. Will the media rodeo clowns attacking him pay as close attention to the vicious right wing despots various conservative heroes supported and defended over the years? Hollow laugh.

    1. hi Cliff...remember that at the time Bethune was fighting with the People's Liberation Army the excesses of Maoism hadn't manifested themselves. So as far as he was concerned he was simply fighting the Japanese invaders. He was on the right side in China, just like he was on the right side in Spain.
      And yes, the right-wing clowns are hypocritical and absurd...

  3. There was no "dark side of Maoism" when Bethune was on the road with soldiers and peasants, and Mao himself, trying to stage a revolution against the corrupt fascists who were in power then...The Kuomintang...
    Simon, I am so with you on Bethune- an amazing man and human being who is treated with reverence in China, but has his name blackened here in Canada by a bunch of know-nothings who would rather regress to Red-baiting than appreciate the greatness of the man.

    1. Absolutely agree with you and Simon. Bethune was amazing and in China, Canadians are (or at least were when I visited over three decades ago) highly respected for being from the same country that gave birth to this highly revered Canadian. Parks Canada has a rather decent history of this Canadian hero. I wonder if it will get scrubbed now that the retrogrades like Anders have been awoken.

    2. hi mizdarlin...yes, as I said to Cliff above Bethune never lived to see the excesses of the Cultural Revolution, and his fight against the Japanese and the corrupt Kuomintang was perfectly justified. You know for a moment I thought that Canada was finally going to recognize the greatness of the man, but I see that some still seek to blacked his name. Good luck with that one...

    3. hi should be a story to celebrate, an amazing tale of a gigantic country's affection for someone from another land. And although much has changed in China, it's great to see that they haven't forgotten him. I have visited the house in Gravenhurst and like many Chinese visitors, I found it a great experience, and it was like visiting a shrine. And I'm glad to say that there is a statue of Bethune in downtown Montreal, and the city recently improved its surroundings. Also, when I was a student and worked a couple of summers at the Royal Victoria Hospital, at night when I roamed the darkened corridors, I felt his spirit around me. Yup, some of us won't forget him...

  4. Conservatives, returning us to the 50's one day at a time.

    1. hi double nickel...yes, isn't this Red Menace talk ridiculous? Only in Harper's Banana Republic...

  5. Anonymous11:50 AM

    "They become ruthless as savages, brutal as madmen, remorseless as executioners." funny ain't eh? How words from the past sum up our prime minister today...

  6. Anonymous1:29 AM

    "Ezra Levant is a freak of nature"

    And extremely dangerous he may be running for an MP's seat in Cowtown to then luxuriate himself in Ottawa with a lavish expense account...

    Hopefully people in Calgary have had enough of the harperites brash bullshit and he gets shut down.

    In the mean time he has his own squeak show... Oh I meant Harper propaganda caca show, oh wait its actually an Ezera pet myself show...