- Co-published with: RED Publishing
- Paperback ISBN: 9781552665107
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- Publication Date: Feb 2012
- Pages: 160
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Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping
The Truth May Hurt
Lester Pearson is one of Canada’s most important political figures. A Nobel Peace laureate, he is considered a great peacekeeper and ‘honest broker.’ But in this critical examination of his work, Pearson is exposed as an ardent cold warrior who backed colonialism and apartheid in Africa, Zionism, coups in Guatemala, Iran and Brazil and the U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic. A beneficiary of U.S. intervention in Canadian political affairs, he also provided important support to the U.S. in Vietnam and pushed to send troops to the American war in Korea. Written in the form of a submission to an imagined “Truth and Reconciliation” commission about Canada’s foreign policy past Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping: The Truth May Hurt challenges one of the most important Canadian foreign policy myths.
Foreword by Noam Chomsky • Introduction: A Great Canadian Loved by All • Early Years • Aligning Canada with US Interests • Minister for fighting Asian Nationalism • A Commitment to Democracy • Riding the Atom Bomb to the Prime Minister’s Office • Prime Minister Pearson and Colonialism • The Case for War Crime Charges • Conclusion: Leading by Deferring to Power
About the Author
Former Vice President of the Concordia Student Union, Yves Engler has been dubbed “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left today” (Briarpatch), “in the mould of I.F. Stone” (Globe and Mail), “ever-insightful” (rabble.ca) and a “Leftist gadfly” (Ottawa Citizen). His six books have been praised by Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, William Blum, Rick Salutin and many others.
”Yves became a foreign-policy expert by working as a night doorman in Montreal...He’s in the mould of I. F. Stone, who wasted no time with politicians, who all have an agenda, but went instead straight to the public record.”
- Rick Salutin, Globe and Mail
Engler provides the antidote in this meticulously researched “truth commission” on the Nobel Peace Prize winner. Pearson is revealed as a wily diplomat and likely war criminal who went to extreme lengths to please the United States, facilitating the bombing of North Vietnam in the 1960s and laying the foundation for Harper-style imperialism in the 21st century.
Yves Engler is part of that rare but growing group of social critics unafraid to confront Canada’s self-satisfied myths, regardless of whose feathers he ruffles in the process. He will likely find himself left off many party invites as a result of his latest, a stinging indictment of Lester B. Pearson who, Engler convincingly argues, should be remembered not as a peacemaker but a war criminal.
Engler, whose reputation for uncovering unpleasant truths is a consequence of works such as The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy and Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid, now tackles the legacy of Canada’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning politician by providing an overview of the Ottawa mandarin’s lengthy career as ambassador, foreign affairs minister, and Liberal prime minister.
While the facts of Pearson’s perfidy are not new, Engler handily compiles the material in one place. As his subtitle suggests, his conclusions will not sit well with those who might be shocked to find Pearson on the wrong side of history with respect to South African apartheid, the Vietnam War, anti-colonial freedom fighters in Africa, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in the late 1940s, support for coups in Iran and Guatemala, the Suez crisis, and his infamous election promise to bring nuclear weapons to Canada.
Employing the standards of war crimes legislation Engler mines a significant body of research from the past 40 years to declare that, all things being equal, Pearson would have been in the dock for aiding and abetting slaughters across the globe during his time on the world stage.
Engler does a solid job, but his style is sometimes stilted, and resembles the kind of “ in a hurry’” blog writing that privileges rote phrases over more elegant transitions to new ideas and supporting quotations. Given the controversial nature of the material, some of Engler’s arguments could have benefited from more context, and the footnotes do not provide further explanations, only page numbers for quoted material. In addition, a mass of copy-editing errors proves an unfortunate distraction.
These are minor quibbles, however, and Engler’s brief and very readable history is the perfect antidote to the political pablum provided by Canadian nationalists too busy nailing the easy target of the U.S. to recognize the mess in our own backyard – Matthew Behrens, a freelance writer and coordinator of Homes not Bombs. (Quill & Quire, July/August 2012)
Lester Pearson on Trial
A polemical attack on the “ardent Cold Warrior.”
There is no shortage of volunteers to hammer nails into the coffin of Liberal Canada. The results of the last federal election might have seemed enough, leaving a rump of a Liberal Party clinging onto political party status and under the leadership of a spirited but desperate former NDP premier. The current Conservative prime minister seems as interested in destroying the very possibility of a Liberal resurrection as he is in running a government. It is hard not to sense the Conservative glee at the prospect of fighting future elections with the NDP as the genuine party of opposition. Adios the party—and the Canada—of Pierre Trudeau, William Lyon Mackenzie King and Lester Pearson.
Yves Engler, too, picks up the hammer to crush the lingering remnants of the Liberal tradition in Canada in The Truth May Hurt: Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping. What does he have in mind? What is the surviving vestige of Liberalism that needs smashing? Apparently, it is the ghost of Lester Pearson.
Do you remember when Canadians used to pride themselves on being peacekeepers? When many Canadians cheered the decision of the Chrétien government not to go to war with the Americans in Iraq? According to Engler, many Canadians still invoke Pearson to put forward an entirely misleading idea of Canada as a peacekeeping nation.
The problem with the idea of Canada as a peacekeeping nation in the Pearsonian tradition is that, according to Engler, it is all a myth. Pearson was never the peacekeeper of national imagination. In fact, the author suggests, it could be argued that Pearson had a lot in common with the current Harper Conservatives. Harper may have “militarized foreign policy, supported Israeli crimes, undermined Latin American democracy, and weakened important international agreements,” but Pearson did all of these things as well. Moreover, “Pearson was culpable for more death and destruction … It is not that Harper is nicer,” Engler argues, “but rather the world is a little better.”
After a spirited, if linguistically strained, foreword from Noam Chomsky (“Lester Pearson was a major criminal, really extreme”), Engler lays out the purpose of the book. He wants his readers to imagine themselves as members of a truth and reconciliation commission in which Pearson is put on trial for his crimes as diplomat, external affairs minister and prime minister.
What is the case? In a series of chapters covering Pearson’s career in roughly chronological fashion, Engler gives us the anti-myth of Pearson. This is Pearson the “ardent Cold Warrior” determined to align Canadian and American interests and therefore willing to both put up with, and support, a host of atrocities and anti-democratic actions perpetrated by Canada’s American and European allies.
Engler builds his case for Pearson as war criminal by arguing that Pearson was pivotal in positioning Canada firmly on the side of the Americans in the early Cold War. He cites examples of Pearson as a diplomat pushing for the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. For Engler, NATO can be summarized as an institution that “contributed to Cold War hysteria.” The view that the Soviet Union was a threat to western Europe, and hence that NATO was necessary to protect Europe, was “laughable”—not misguided, or debatable, or wrong in hindsight—just laughable.
Having breezily dismissed the main reason (misguided or not) that Pearson and others were such ardent Cold Warriors, it is easy for Engler to make the case for Pearson as war criminal. Engler tells of Pearson’s support for the creation of Israel at the expense of Palestinians, the way Pearson pushed for Canadian involvement in the brutally violent and often forgotten war in Korea, Pearson’s dislike of the post-1949 communist regime in China, and Canada’s support of European allies in their ultimately failed attempts to maintain their imperial possessions in Asia and the Middle East. Pearson was far from being a democrat, Engler argues: as minister of external affairs, he actually pushed Canada to support the American-supported coup in Iran in 1953, and American military involvement in Guatemala. Canada, under Pearson’s guidance, failed to take a stand against the racist apartheid regime in South Africa. Pearson was “aware of” British imperial violence in Kenya “but he said little.” Awareness of the wrongdoing of Americans and others, but taking no stand against it, is a key part of the case against Pearson.
The list of international violent and anti-democratic episodes that Canada, under Pearson, either did nothing to prevent, or actually supported, is long. It includes weapons sales to Israel, enabling the French in Algeria, failing to criticize the Americans in the Dominican Republic, the Portuguese in Africa, the Dutch in Asia, the Americans in Vietnam. Engler shows us a Pearson who argued against nuclear disarmament initiatives and who spoke out against the Canadian Peace Congress, the main voice of the peace movement in the late 1940s and ‘50s.
Engler’s case is convincing partly because so much of it is true. Pearson was a Cold Warrior. He was no pacifist—few who have won the Nobel Peace Prize are. And Canada under Pearson did put up with, and abet, a slew of bad behaviour from our allies in the name of keeping good relations. So far, so good. But Engler’s argument is to history what a megaphone is to music: loud, distorted and entirely lacking in sophistication.
The epithets he scatters throughout the book mimic the almost pathologically bipolar world view of the Cold War itself, but from the other side. Engler is not the first one to call someone like Pearson an imperialist. This book is not about rediscovering the truth of the Cold War past so much as it is simply resurrecting the standard communist line about the west in general.
The past really is another world. To truly try to understand someone like Lester Pearson now means trying to recover the world in which he lived. Engler is half right in pointing out the incredible naiveté of Pearson’s belief in a world order led by the British and the Americans. But in the mid 1940s, what really scared someone like Pearson was not the creation of an out-of-control American empire; it was American isolationism—it was the memory of those two first years of the Second World War in which Canada and Britain stood on the brink of collapse all because the Americans would not come onside. Pearson and others feared a world where the Americans refused to take on a role in ensuring global order. After Vietnam and after so many other instances of American global leadership gone wrong, it is easy to look back on Pearson as complicit in American imperialism. But Pearson did not live in the world of hindsight. To him, the formation of NATO was so important precisely because it got the Americans to sign on to a position of global involvement. Misguided or naive this may (or may not) have been, but to dismiss it as the work of some kind of malignant war criminal is, at best, ahistorical.
It does not help that the book is not based on any original research. Instead Engler has trawled through the works of others, mostly on the far left. When he draws on someone like John English, Pearson’s official biographer, he takes only the bits of evidence that support his views, and discounts the rest. He is particularly selective in dealing with Pearson’s role in the Suez Crisis of 1956, the reason Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize, and hence the epicentre from which emanate all the shockwaves of Pearson’s peacekeeping reputation. The crisis was caused by the bungled attempts of France and Britain to exert control over the Suez Canal, which the Egyptian leader Nasser had nationalized. The two declining imperial powers arranged with Israel to have that country attack Egypt. Then the British and French could land troops in the canal zone and pretend to be protecting it from the conflict. The scheme backfired, however, when the Americans made it clear that they would not put up with this case of imperial interference. Pearson’s role in the crisis was to try to come up with an international solution at the United Nations that would allow Britain and France to save face even as they were forced to back down. Engler quotes selectively from Pearson’s speeches, having him come across as someone who was entirely in sympathy with the European powers. What he fails to point out was that, in fact, Pearson was negotiating a deal that meant these same powers were having to back down. It is not a mistake that would have been made at the time. In mid-1950s Canada many Canadians still saw themselves as British, and viewed Pearson’s actions as a betrayal. Arguably what Engler presents as Pearson’s pro-British stance hurt the Liberals in the election the following year precisely because, despite his words of sympathy, Canada’s actions went against the mother country. Whom did Canadians elect in 1957? The much more decidedly pro-British John Diefenbaker.
And, of course, there is Noam Chomsky, whom Engler calls the “world’s leading intellectual.” It is amazing the areas of history in which Chomsky is expert. When you need someone to explain the history of British involvement in China in the 1820s, why not turn to a book written by Chomsky? When your interest is in U.S. involvement in Korea after the Second World War, luckily Chomsky is an expert there too. In the foreword, Chomsky recounts how he once drove Peter Gzowski to shout at him on air by claiming to have landed in Toronto at War Criminal Airport—meaning Pearson International. Chomsky no doubt had a point, but so too did Gzowski. Vietnam is hardly the only issue by which Pearson ought to be judged or remembered. We are, after all, talking about the prime minister who gave us universal health care and many other tenets of the modern welfare state.
Engler repeats, with no substantial evidence, the old chestnut that the American government helped to get Pearson elected to his first minority government as prime minister in 1963. The evidence consists of the very obvious fact that the Kennedy administration was not pleased with Diefenbaker and that they let this be known to the American and Canadian media. Engler also notes that Pearson hired a pollster who had previously worked for Kennedy. That, apparently, is evidence of damning complicity. Amazingly, Engler misses the most alluring bit of information—the call from Max Freedman, the Winnipeg Free Press’s man in Washington in 1963, essentially offering Kennedy’s assistance. The Americans wanted to help. For obvious reasons, Pearson did not want the help, and did not want others to know the Americans had offered to help. There might be much more to find out about this story, but that would take some detective work, and that is not what this book is about.
Engler is correct that the myth built up around Pearson is just that, a myth. This is how prime ministers (and not only prime ministers) get remembered: we use them for our own purposes. We take bits of their lives and legacy and we build a historical version of the prime minister that we can work with—a respectable ghostly figure to add historical significance to our current concerns.
However, for all his posturing about truth, Engler is not the historical pedant Arthur Lower had in mind when he used to say a historian was someone who chased after other people, crying “That’s not how it happened!” Engler is not interested in the past as it was, or even in recovering some of the complex and fundamentally foreign world of the Cold War era within which Pearson needs to be understood. He is more interested in burying the Liberal idea of Canada.
This is where those on the right and the left start to converge—not in the way it used to be said in the Cold War if you went far enough left and far enough right, to fascism and to communism, that the political spectrum somehow miraculously joined. The joining of left and right in contemporary Canada is far less theoretical and more in tune with the basic instincts of many creatures, political or otherwise. The Liberal Party is down and wounded. What used to be called the government party is not a government and not even much of a party. Now is the time. Kick the Liberals when they are down. The last thing Harper and Engler want is for this felled beast to be resurrected. – Christopher Dummitt, Literary Review of Canada, June 2012
Truth is often a casualty in politics. Thankfully, there’s Yves Engler—Canada’s version of Noam Chomsky—to set the record straight when political spin morphs into historical fact. Engler, who was born in Vancouver, has written a new book called Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping—The Truth May Hurt, which dispenses with all that hogwash about Canada’s Nobel Prize–winning prime minister actually being a man of peace.
”As I’ve noted elsewhere, [Stephen] Harper militarized foreign policy, supported Israeli crimes, undermined Latin American democracy and weakened important international agreements,” Engler writes in his book. “Nonetheless, Pearson was culpable for more death and destruction.”
You can hear Engler make the case tomorrow night at 7 p.m. at W2 Media Cafe (111 West Hastings) when he speaks at a Vancouver book launch.
Engler relies in part on the research of another Vancouver-born historian, John Price, whose ’Orienting’ Canada: Race, Empire and the Transpacific 1907–1956blew the lid off how Canadian officials supported U.S. preparations for the deployment and use of biological weapons in the Korean War.
And who was Canada’s external-affairs minister at the time? None other than Lester B. Pearson.
In his sixth book, Engler also demonstrates how Pearson enabled the massive U.S. bombing campaigns on North Vietnam.
The International Control Commission for Vietnam was created with members from Canada, Poland, and India to enforce the Geneva Accords to unify the country in a national election. Pearson thwarted its work by recognizing the government of South Vietnam, which refused to go along with allowing a vote.
Pearson also played a major role in ensuring that UN Security Council members have a veto, which has crippled the organization’s capacity to prevent bloodshed.
So why should we care today about a revisionist look at Lester B. Pearson, who left office in 1968? Because he’s being held up as a paragon of virtuous foreign policy by both federal Liberals and New Democrats who seek to supplant Harper. Do Bob Rae and Tom Mulcair really want to copy a guy whom Chomsky has referred to as a war criminal?
Speaking of foreign policy, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was in Ottawa mumbling about the need for F-35 fighter jets. But the Harperites are claiming that they’re reconsidering their plan to spend billions upon billions of your money on these planes.
The Conservative budget is coming out tomorrow. Expect deep cuts to public services. All this Harperite spin of cancelling the F-35 purchase is likely just a smokescreen to sugar-coat the other “spending efficiencies”.
Maybe it’s time to put Yves Engler on the case to tell the truth to Canadians.
—Charlie Smith, straight.com, March 28, 2012
This short book, or elongated essay, concerns the political attributes of one of Canada’s more revered politicians, Lester Bowles Pearson. As with Yves Engler’s other writing on Canada and the truth behind its role in the broader world of foreign policy, The Truth May Hurt will rattle a few perceptions about his role as a ‘peacekeeper’—as his other books have about Canada’s role as a ‘peacekeeper’ nation. The book is well written and concise, with strong references to support the main ideas. Generally, the overall theme is that Lester Pearson is not the man generally perceived by the public. Instead, he widely supported global imperialist projections, supported corporate capitalism over democracy, and supported Israel above all else for the Middle East.
Following Pearson’s career, and he was a career diplomat/politician, spans a wide range of Twentieth Century topics.
Cold War, UN, NATO, and Israel
Indirectly, Pearson within his role in government supported the fascist side (at this time the nascent German Nazi military) in the civil war in Spain. After the Second World War, where due credit can be given to the Canadian soldiers slugging it out against their German counterparts in the Low Countries, Canada under Pearson’s tutelage at various government posts supported the post war colonial and Cold War alignments.
Several topics highlight this. The UN was seen as a way to “solidify the status quo, not democratize it.” Canada supported the U.S. desire to have veto power in the Security Council. Pearson was one of the prime supporters and shapers of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), supposedly a defensive measure against highly overstated threats of Soviet military advances.
Pearson saw NATO reaching out to the Pacific Ocean and the Middle East. The end result, from Pearson’s real motivation is what we see now, with NATO in Afghanistan, Libya, the former Yugoslavia, and threatening other regions. NATO’s real purpose was a capitalist reaction to the growing socialism in post war Europe, a means to tie the European states together under U.S. military and economic powers.
Canada, as witnessed by another well researched Yves Engler work, Canada and Israel – Building Apartheid, (Red/Fernwood, 2010), has been a strong supporter of Israel. Canada’s view of the Middle East was for “aligning the country with American imperialism.” Pearson rejected the Arab push to have the ICJ decide on the validity of the partition plan for Palestine, indicating that “a solution to the problem was impossible without the recognition of a Jewish state in Palestine. To me this was always the core of the matter.”
After the 1948 nakba, in response to Arab charges that Israel enlarged its territory illegally, Pearson said, “we must deal with the fact that a Jewish state has come into existence and has established its control over territory from which it will not be dislodged…. I do not deny for a moment that this is a difficult circumstance for the Arab states to accept, but it is nevertheless the case.”
Engler’s summary is that with the Cold War, NATO, and Israel, “Pearson was …more concerned about siding with the emerging US empire than in following the principles enunciated in the UN Charter.
Similarly in Asia, Canada under Pearson’s tutelage supported the post war colonial movements in all its dimensions. Aid was not given out of the generosity of the Canadian sole, but to counter the supposed communist threat in the region. Canada instituted its Colombo Plan, essentially creating a means to tie in Asian governments to the western position, a means of “infiltration” into the countries’ systems.
Vietnam received much support from Canada, as it was a member of the International Control Commission that was to oversee elections in the country. The vast majority of historians acknowledge that if elections went ahead, the government of Ho Chi Minh would have won easily. Canada did its utmost to block any elections because they knew of this easy North Vietnam victory.
Other parts of the world received Canada’s undying support of U.S. and western imperial control. Pearson supported the oil embargo against the democratically elected Mossaedegh government in Iran. In Guatemala, support was given to the right wing U.S. backed insurrection against the democratically elected Arbenz government. (As a side note for all those saying that socialism has failed, it is interesting to note that all successful social programs established in Latin America or elsewhere in the world have in some way been overturned by U.S. covert or overt military/economic pressure, with the sycophantic support of Canada’s imperialist tending governments.)
Canada did not support blockades against South Africa, indicating that apartheid was an internal problem (more or less their stance currently with the Israel controlled Palestinian territories of the Westbank and Gaza). Canada’s view of South Africa was “largely motivated by economic interests but also…the Pearson government’s racist worldview.” France received support for it colonial positions in Morocco and Tunisia. The Suez crisis, for whose end agreement Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize, had the main concern of unity between the UK and the US and the solidity of NATO. Israel’s feathers were ruffled momentarily, but overall no real concern for Egypt developed.
Canada’s Role as Supporter of U.S. Colonialism
Engler’s next to final arguments cover the scope of Canada’s support for the US imperial project in all its facets. Pearson’s basic attitude expressed after the US fiasco at the Bay of Pigs, was that the Americans “are a wonderful and generous people, the least imperialistically minded people that ever had world power thrust on them.” The big lie still works.
Engler works through other examples. The Brazilian coup of 1964 served Canada’s corporate interests, mainly mining (as Canada now works its wonders in Central America and Peru). Pearson supported the US invasion of the Dominican Republic, again for corporate interests including mining and the seventy per cent stake in the country’s banking. Naval vessels were sent to the Barbados in a show of strength for their independence celebration.
Africa received its fair share of attention. The racist regime in Rhodesia received Canada’s support. The Portuguese were supported in their last stand with their African colonies, going beyond diplomatic and economic support to supplying military aid. Military trainers helped overthrow the government of Ghana in 1966.
Israel enters the picture again when Egypt blockaded the Strait of Tiran. From all its reactions to this, Cairo radio labeled Pearson a “silly idiot” and Al Ahramwrote, that Canada was “a stooge of the Western powers who seek to colonize the Arab world with Israel’s help.” The error in the latter message is that Canada is not a stooge, but a more than willing participant in the U.S. imperial drive.
After discussing Pearson’s liability for war crimes in consideration of all the above interventions around the world, Engler looks at the overall picture of Canadian foreign policy under Pearson. What is apparent is that, as with the U.S., individual leaders often do not matter in foreign affairs as much as the domination of “a small elite with most of the population shut out of the discussion. Another reason the elite dominate foreign policy is the highly unequal distribution of resources in our society, which has become even more extreme since Pearson was in office.”
In short what Engler is saying is that Canada under Harper is still decidedly within the U.S. imperial war camp, quite vociferously so. Its interests globally are aligned with those of the U.S. in all areas from climate change (witness Kyoto in both countries government stances and the Alberta tar sands), Israel (while Canada does not bow to AIPAC, they do give full support to Israeli actions in Palestine), and other areas of economic military interest in the world (most recently Afghanistan and Libya).
The Truth May Hurt gives a good introduction into the real world of Canadian politics. Its narrow focus on Lester Pearson, often touted as Canada’s pre-eminent peace-keeper, reveals many areas where Canada simply operates as an appendage of the U.S. But Canada goes beyond the U.S. in some areas as its initial interests were under the sway of British imperialists and its trends in racist and economic dominance of much of the world. Today, its activities with power corporation in Chile, its mining interests in Peru and Central America, are all economic activities that provide great economic abundance to the corporations but pay only nominal attention to the indigenous people of the areas affected.
Engler’s other two works, the one mentioned in relation to Israel above, and his critical work The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, provide greater detail and well referenced discussions of Canada’s not so friendly position in the global corporate-military world. The three volumes form an effective trilogy for reader’s interested in the reality of Canada’s position in the world.
—Jim Miles, Foreign Policy Journal, March 24, 2012
In his new book, Yves Engler sets to demolish the near saintly status of Lester Bowles (”Mike”) Pearson in the public sphere, Canadian foreign policy circles and even on the social democratic left. And in the process, he takes on the much repeated slogan that “the world needs more of Canada.”
Much like Noam Chomsky who provides a forward toLester Pearson’s Peacekeeping, the author relies mostly on the excellent but largely unread scholarship plus the former PM’s own statements in Parliament and in memos to successfully establish a case.
As a diplomat in Washington, senior foreign affairs bureaucrat, foreign affairs minister and a prime minister in Liberal governments from the 1940s to the 1960s, Pearson figured prominently in the shaping of Canadian foreign policy in the post World War II period.
Engler says that Pearson also participated in the creation of international institutions such as NATO and the Bretton Woods system, both of which helped to reinforce post war U.S. dominance in the world.
”Canada was well placed to benefit from U.S. centered multilateral imperialism. A growing capitalist power, Canada was the world’s second biggest creditor nation at the end of World War II (and had one of the biggest armies),” the author writes.
Engler says that despite winning the Nobel Peace Prize following his push to establish a UN peacekeeping force in Egypt during the Suez Crisis Lester Pearson made controversial political decisions that at times bordered on the “war criminal.”
Despite Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s strong opposition, Pearson got Canada roped into participating in the murderous air and ground military campaigns led by the U.S. under the United Nations flag in the 1950-1953 Korean war. The result was millions of dead Koreans in a still misunderstood conflict today.
”In many ways the Korean War marks the beginning of the permanent war economy in the U.S.,” Engler writes.
Pearson was a bit of a double dealer. As a Christian Zionist he worked behind the scenes diplomatically to support the UN partition plan in Palestine that culminated in Israel’s founding in 1948. But as part of an anti-Semitic Liberal government in the same time period, he was unapologetic in his endorsement of a policy to keep post-World War II Jewish refugees, languishing in Europe, out of pristine Canada.
From the late 1940s until the 1960s Pearson backed all of the major U.S. moves against nationalist governments that sought to control their countries’ internal resources. The most notorious are the 1953 CIA inspired coups against democratically elected administrations in Guatemala and Iran. Neither has never really recovered from the consequences of those decisions by Washington to intervene.
Pearson was adamant and consistent in opposing every significant anti-colonial movement in the developing world from the 1940s to the 1960s whether it involved Algeria, Indochina or Africa or Indonesia.
Furthermore, he fought against UN resolutions denouncing apartheid in South Africa, accepted American nuclear weapons on Canadian soil following the U.S. inspired election defeat of Conservative PM John Diefenbaker and provided plenty of diplomatic support to the American war in Vietnam — despite the well publicized scolding received from President Lyndon Johnson after Canada’s PM urged a bombing pause over North Vietnam in April 1965.
Engler suggests that Canada made a lot of money out of the Vietnam War through the sale of raw materials like nickel, aluminum, iron ore and steel, as well as weapons to the Americans. During its failed battle to keep Indochina (Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) in the 50s from becoming independent states, France was also a beneficiary of tens of millions of dollars in Canadian arms through NATO’s Mutual Aid Program, he adds.
He writes that Pearson was not adverse to red baiting his critics of his decisions in the CCF/NDP and the peace movement.
Meanwhile, the coming to power of Pierre Trudeau in 1968 followed by successive Quebec centric PMs, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien and Paul Martin, created a temporary interlude in Canadian foreign policy.
The high-minded rhetoric on diplomacy, disarmament and international aid under this quartet of PMs did not always match the reality on the ground but at least Canada did display a friendlier face to the world than had been the case under Pearson.
Pearson regarded Canada’s membership in NATO as sacrosanct and certainly a more significant feather in his cap than peacekeeping, writes Engler.
And so, the former PM was upset when Pierre Trudeau’s new Liberal government embarked upon an internal review of Canada’s status in the alliance. Ottawa maintained the status quo, but Canadian NATO troops were eventually withdrawn from Western Europe.
But Ottawa did manage to distance itself from the U.S. in a way that might have unimaginable under Pearson, such as maintaining good trade relations with Cuba despite Washington’s embargo of Fidel Castro’s revolutionary government. Later under Mulroney, Canada kept its diplomatic ties with the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, despite an U.S. instigated and ideologically driven war against that progressive government in the 1980s; as well as played a diplomatic role in the end of apartheid in South Africa. Engler says the nice face of Canada evaporated with the arrival of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in Ottawa in 2006. In fact, he argues that there a “direct historical line” between Stephen Harper’s belligerent stance in the world and how Lester Pearson aggressively staked out Canada’s role at the height of the Cold War.
”The pro-U.S. imperial vision that Pearson was laying Harper has continued,” says Engler in a recent interview.
The author has no patience with the argument promoted in the Liberal and NDP parties and by certain journalists (e.g. Linda McQuaig) and peace organizations (the Rideau Institute) that Canada has to return to the golden days of Lester Pearson.
Engler argues that Pearson was primarily interested during the Suez crisis of 1956 in mediating a conflict among NATO partners.
On one side stood the British and French which with the Israelis had invaded Egypt to forestall the nationalization of the Suez Canal by the Cairo government. Opposed to this last gasp of European colonialism was the U.S. and President Dwight Eisenhower, motivated primarily to expand American influence in the crucial oil-rich Middle East region.
In fact, Ottawa accepted the British request to freeze Egyptian assets in Canada to protest Egyptian president Gamal Nasser’s move to gain more control over his nation’s key asset in the Suez Canal.
But to question Lester Pearson’s role in the world is to desecrate one of this country’s greatest icons.
”There are narrow parameters of debate in the dominant media and so much of the sectors of society, the political forces that should be critical, have not been because they push mythology because it serves their political purpose,” Engler explained to this reviewer.
In his various books, including the Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Engler has emphasized that domestic business, including mining, oil, banking, insurance and telecommunications have played a significant role in directing Canada’s response to the various crises in the world where its interests predominate.
Engler is critical of a dated “left-nationalist” perspective that places a greater stress on Washington forcing Canada to do bad things, versus looking at the culpability of various Canadian governments serving to act in concert with the country’s business elite, tied in turn to the larger U.S. corporate monolith.
Others like Steven Staples, the president of the Rideau Institute prefers to use Canada’s peacekeeping tradition, however flawed, as a political alternative and counterweight to Stephen Harper’s militarism. He steps back from looking at Canada as entirely a negative force in the world. (It may not be saleable to the Canadian public.)
Although the two men differ on this point, Staples describes Engler’s new book as a “welcome contribution,” to the foreign policy debate in Canada.
—Paul Weinberg, rabble.ca, Feb 23, 2012
He’s taken on Canada’s peacekeeping image in his quest to disprove the legacy of one of this country’s most-loved prime ministers. Lester B. Pearson, a Nobel Peace Prize Winner long-heralded as a model peacekeeper even before he served as prime minister, doesn’t entirely deserve his “honest broker” reputation, Yves Engler argues in his new book, Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping: The Truth May Hurt.
The author and activist, known through his previous five books for his critical approach to Canada’s foreign policy, spoke about his latest work at the University of Lethbridge Sunday evening during a stop in his cross-country book tour as he aims to dispel what he calls “the myth of Lester Pearson.”
By combing through Hansard archives from the years 1948 to 1957, when Pearson was external affairs minister and from 1963 to 1968, when he was prime minister heading a Liberal government, Engler found that Pearson’s own statements on topics including colonialism and the U.S. war in Vietnam contradicted popular opinion that he was a great peacekeeper. And the author says he hasn’t received much backlash for saying so. The book’s forward is written by Noam Chomsky, who calls Pearson a war criminal.
”I’ve said I’d be happy to debate anybody that wants to argue a pro-Pearson foreign policy but I’m absolutely convinced that nobody from a progressive or even liberal perspective will do that because all they’d have to do is read out statement after statement that he made in the House of Commons, his words, word for word. And I think most people would be astounded to hear how strong a Cold Warrior he was and how he justified Canadian weapons being used to suppress the anti-colonial struggle in Vietnam, how he supported the U.S. war in Vietnam and on and on,” Engler said.
He wrote the book to tear down “the myth of Pearson” and to compare the late former prime minister’s foreign policies with those of current Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which Engler makes no apologies for challenging.
”There’s a lot of parallels between Stephen Harper’s aggressive, militaristic foreign policy and Lester Pearson’s foreign policy,” he said.
He said he hopes his book will change the way schools teach students about Canadian historical policy and perhaps prompt thinkers to shed their rose-coloured glasses when looking upon Pearson’s legacy.
”It’s imperative to talk to people and to get people thinking about the issues, particularly in a critical way that doesn’t necessarily come from watching the History Channel or from the textbook in Grade 10,” he said.
Engler’s talk was sponsored by the Lethbridge Public Interest Research Group.
—Katie May, Lethbridge Herald, March 19, 2012