By Jim Miles
(Lester Pearson's Peacekeeping - The Truth May Hurt. Yves Engler. RED/Fernwood Publishing, Vancouver/Winnipeg, 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, 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 dovecot 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.
Viet Nam 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 blockade’s 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.
Supporter of 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 labelled Pearson a “silly idiot” and Al Ahram wrote, 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 is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. Miles' work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.