In the days, months, and years after Herbert Norman’s suicide, many words have been uttered and much ink spilled in arguments about his true loyalty. In Canada, he has become a sort of one-man political litmus test. Just as American historians still draw lines in the sand about the innocence or guilt of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed as atomic spies in 1953, Canadian scholars and writers continue to see Norman in red or white terms. The disagreement resurfaced in 1999 when a new documentary film, The Man Who Might Have Been: An Inquiry into the Life and Death of Herbert Norman, suggested that Norman’s main flaw was that he fit the theoretical profile of a Soviet agent, a profile that did not correspond with the actual man. Predictably, commentators took up pens still warm from Cold War polemics, contending that he was either a Soviet agent or an innocent victim of Cold War hysteria. Herbert Norman may have hoped that by committing suicide he could step off the stage of historical controversy. If so, he was proven wrong.
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