Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping
The Truth May Hurt
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)