Apparently, history and context are also in the eye of the beholder.
On Friday, we spoke with Conservative MP Rob Anders. He objects to the federal government funding a new visitor centre at Bethune Memorial House in Gravenhurst, Ontario. Dr. Norman Bethune was, of course, an internationally admired Canadian physician and medical innovator. He's known for providing medical help during the Spanish Civil War, and for joining the Chinese Communist Party while they fought the Japanese.
The latter being the sticking point for Mr. Anders. He said that the government funding a memorial site for Dr. Bethune was, quote, "lionizing a supporter of Mao", whom he referred to repeatedly as "the biggest mass murderer in history".
We received several emails on this story -- all of which took issue with Mr. Anders.
Tom Koch in Toronto sent us this email:
"[Mr. Anders's] complaint about public monies spent to maintain Dr. Norman Bethuene's home is sad, and shocking in its ignorance. Like physicians today who serve in Medicine sans Frontieres, his mission was to provide medical care to those without care, to serve where no others could or would. He is honoured because he exemplified the humanitarian goals of medicine...service without respect to political allegiance."
That email was Tom Koch in Toronto.
David Murphy in Bloomington, Indiana wrote:
"What Bethune did in China, and before that in Spain, was what hundreds of thousands of Canadian soldiers would do a few years later: help to resist Japanese aggression and European fascism. And associating Bethune with Mao's supposed killing of eighty million people is ridiculous. Bethune died ten years before Mao and the Communist Party came to power in China. Rob Anders' deliberate distortion of Canadian and global history for his narrow ideological purposes is disgraceful."
That was from David Murphy in Bloomington, Indiana.
And Judy Anderson from Winnipeg shared her personal connection with Dr. Bethune in this email:
"Dr. Bethune was recruited to travel to China by the Communist Party, to help the people there who needed surgical care and were being invaded by the Japanese. He met Mao, but did not work for Mao; neither did my aunt, Jean Ewen, who was Bethune's surgical nurse. They also taught surgical skills and nursing practices there, for a pittance, and certainly not for the glory.
"Bethune was in China because he had ideals that led his heart to help others where he could. Rather than passing judgment on the integrity or morality of Bethune, or disparaging the appropriateness of Canadian taxpayers making Bethune House finally recognize the man's origins and actions, this MP should try to walk in the shoes of someone like Bethune. He might learn that public service for a social ideal, given generously and with stubborn gumption and dedication, can really benefit and build a community."
That email came from Judy Anderson from Winnipeg.