Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Day 63: Norman Bethune


Day 63: Norman Bethune, originally uploaded by susanvg.

On my way to an appointment, I passed this statue of Norman Bethune, a Canadian who was largely ignored here until relatively recently, but who is revered in China. In the photograph he is in shadow, perhaps emphasizing his lack of renown. For years he was the favourite roost of pigeons, who decorated him with their droppings. He was recently cleaned.

Bethune was an idealist who lived his beliefs until his death. As a doctor he was an innovator; as a humanitarian he spoke out for the poor, pressing for socialized medicine. After serving in the Canadian Medical Corps in the Spanish Civil War, he joined Mao Tse Tung in China, training doctors and operating a mobile medical clinic. He died in China from blood poisoning.

It's interesting to see connections. Bethune did not succeed in convincing politicians of the need for medical care for all. The father of Canada's medicare was Tommy Douglas. His one time son-in-law, Donald Sutherland, produced a film about Bethune and portrayed him in it. You can see an interview with Sutherland and learn more here. Sutherland, of course, played in M.A.S.H. and in the interview points out that Bethune really set up the first M.A.S.H. unit in Spain.

It is not the heroes who seek adulation who are truly heroes - but rather those, who for altruistic reasons, follow their beliefs simply because they see no other way to live.

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