CBC Radio Report on Wittfogel Charges

Peter Inglis,
Capital Report,
August 12, 1951.


The day before yesterday a large dollop of filth came flying across Canada’s back fence from the neighbors—the sort of filth that is likely to disgust every decent Canadian.

The filth was aimed at Herbert Norman, who is the acting head of this country’s delegation to the United Nations. He is also one of the most competent and one of the most respected men in the foreign service.

Down in Washington, the internal security sub-committee of the United States Senate had come out with a charge that Mr. Norman had Communist connections. It based the charge on the so-called “evidence” of one Dr. Carl August Wittfogel. Dr. Wittfogel, whose origins I shall mention in a little while, said Mr. Norman had been a member of a Communist party student group at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in 1939, and was therefore obviously a Communist at the time. Then, the next day, another Washington report said Mr. Norman had been linked with the Institute of Pacific Relations, which is being accused of left-wing leanings.

Here in Ottawa, the department of external affairs put out a statement in answer to these charges. If you read the answer, it made it perfectly clear that the department did not believe Mr. Norman was or ever had been a Communist, and that it still had complete confidence in him.

But it was such a gentlemanly answer, in fact such a good gray answer, that few people would read it, fewer still would remember it, and it certainly would not get the headlines in the United States which the original charges had got.

It did not, indeed, even say where the charges came from nor what, except in the vaguest terms, they were.

There were a number of other things it did not say.

For instance, because it didn’t mention Doctor Wittfogel it couldn’t explain who the Herr Doktor is. He is a former German Communist who said he had renounced Communism and was given a research job in the United States. Now in the strange congressional investigations of Washington, the word of a Communist who says he has recanted is apparently taken as the purest form of truth. It has been so taken on a number of previous occasions. But in Canada it is not.

Another thing the Department’s statement didn’t say was that at Congressional hearings a man can be damned behind his back, without a fair trial, in fact without any sort of trial. The flimsiest sort of so-called evidence can be given against him. He is not there to answer it. He can’t go to court to clear his name because the evidence is before a committee of Congress, and therefore privileged.

Still another thing the department might have said was that as far as anyone in Ottawa can learn, Mr. Norman has never been at Cape Cod in his life, and therefore couldn’t have been a member of any study group there, Communist or, for that matter, Republican.

It might have said that when Mr. Norman was a member of the Institute of Pacific Relations, if he was one, it was certainly not a Communist organization. It has not been proved to be one now. But even if it had become one since, the principle of what you might call retroactive guilt is not recognized in Canadian law; that, to put it in simple terms, if you knew a man ten years ago, and this year he becomes a thief, that doesn’t make you a thief.

There are a lot of other things the department might have said. For instance that this piece of mud-slinging has an obvious American political purpose. Most of the unproved charges of Communism being thrown around in Washington come from the strange new isolationist block whose spokesman is Colonel McCormick of the Chicago Tribune, whose martyr is General MacArthur and whose hatchet man—or perhaps spit-ball man would be a better description—is Senator McCarthy.

This isolationist block wants to rid the United States of all its foreign alliances—except those with Chiang Kai-shek and Francisco Franco. It doesn’t want any part of the United Nations or the North Atlantic Treaty. An obvious way to turn the public mind against foreign alliances is to throw unfounded charges at the representatives of the allies, in the belief that if you toss enough filth some of it is bound to stick.

Or, for that matter, the department of external affairs might have pointed out that Canada is perfectly capable of taking care of the loyalty of her own officials—as, indeed, she did in the royal commission inquiry and the so-called spy trials five years ago, even before the United States had begun hunting Communists.

But the most important thing which the department could, and I think should, have said was not any of these. It was a point of international decency. It was that smearing your own people with filth is one thing, but throwing the filth across a border at another country’s people is something else again, and something which civilized countries do not do.

The Canadian government said none of these things. It acted in its usual way, the good gray way, just about as emphatically as that sole blending with the sand on the sea bottom. The trouble with this sort of protective coloration is that because people fail to see things that are there, they begin to see things that are not there.


This is Peter Inglis in Ottawa.

Source: Library and Archives Canada, MG 26 N1 Vol. 10, Peter Inglis, CBC Radio Report on Wittfogel Charges, August 12, 1951

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