Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping
The Truth May Hurt
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