J.L. Granatstein writes on Canadian political and military history.
Related Letters and Responses
Michael ByersVancouver, British Columbia
Jack Granatstein has been contemptuous of peacekeeping for at least four decades. In theory, this made him the perfect choice to review two books about United Nations missions in the 1950s and ’60s. But the retired professor could not resist the opportunity for some more historical revisionism—and it’s time to call him on that.
Granatstein perpetuates the myth that Canadian prime ministers from Lester Pearson onward saw peacekeeping as a cheap alternative to war fighting and peacemaking. He conveniently forgets that Canada was heavily involved in NATO and NORAD throughout our peacekeeping period, and that Pearson himself did not shy away from peacemaking, as a quotation from him, dated November 2, 1956, on the side of the peacekeeping monument in Ottawa shows: “We need action not only to end the fighting but to make the peace … My own government would be glad to recommend Canadian participation in such a United Nations force, a truly international peace and police force.”
The words are from Pearson’s speech at the beginning of the UN General Assembly’s emergency session on the Suez crisis—a crisis from which Granatstein asserts the then foreign minister emerged as an accidental and overblown hero: “books written in other countries scarcely mention Pearson’s part, and the leading scholar of peacekeeping, the Briton Alan James, has said that ‘the degree of credit … may have been a trifle excessive,’ Pearson more or less bumping into the U.S. representative at the UN who was looking for someone acceptable to sponsor his draft resolution. It might have been a Brazilian; instead it was Mike, and thus history was made.”
For the record, here is the full text of the relevant paragraph written by James (in a review, incidentally, of the same book by Michael Carroll that Granatstein then wrote about for the LRC):
It is not my intention to cast doubt on Pearson’s huge efforts in that direction, but I do throw out the idea that the degree of credit he has been given may have been a trifle excessive. When the General Assembly first called for a cease fire, Canada abstained, arguing that the resolution was insufficiently positive: it should, Pearson said, also have made provision for a UN force to maintain the peace while a long-term settlement was being worked out. Carroll tells of Canadian diplomatic efforts towards this end; of Pearson being asked by Henry Cabot Lodge, the American representative to the UN, if he would sponsor a draft resolution prepared in the State Department; and of him successfully presenting a virtually identical draft to the Assembly. This called for a force to “secure and supervise the cessation of hostilities”—a less ambitious scheme, it will be noted, than the one Pearson had originally wanted. To my mind this series of events does marginally qualify the picture of Pearson as UNEF’s [United Nations Emergency Force] sole creator. And I think the same conclusion is pointed to by something Carroll does not mention: that Lodge says he was asked by the State Department simply to find someone suitable to sponsor its draft. He thought of Canada and Brazil, and happened first to bump into Pearson. Evidently neither State nor Lodge thought of Pearson as the absolutely essential man if a UN force was to be mounted. This, to my eyes, makes Pearson’s depiction as the hero of the hour look a little bit fortuitous.
Note James’s acceptance of “Pearson’s huge efforts,” of Canada’s abstention on the first resolution because “it should, Pearson said, also have made provision for a UN force to maintain the peace,” and of “Canadian diplomatic efforts towards this end.” And note James’s careful effort to prevent his qualifications from being blown out of proportion, using words such as “trifle excessive,” “marginally qualify” and “little bit fortuitous.” James does rightly point out that Brazil could just as easily have sponsored the final resolution, but it was Canadian diplomacy that led to the Americans drafting the resolution. James—and legions of other scholars—give considerable credit to Pearson on this point. It was mainly for these efforts that Pearson received the 1957 Noble Peace Prize.
The Canadian’s pivotal role is confirmed by the date of the quotation on the peacekeeping monument. Pearson was publicly advancing the idea of a UN mission on November 2; the resolution drafted by the State Department was put before the General Assembly on November 5. Three days are a very long time during a crisis between nuclear-armed powers—as Granatstein well knows.
I can understand a conservative scholar resenting the fact that the progressive Pearson was a genuine hero. But personal resentment—or envy—is no excuse for trying to rewrite the past.