Today 15 October some 63 years ago in 1957 the Right Honourable Lester B. Pearson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was and remains a towering figure of Canadian Foreign Policy and was a role model for many Canadian diplomat.
Lester Bowles Pearson was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1897. His father and grandfather enjoyed high reputations as Methodist preachers, and the boy grew up in a religious but broad-minded environment in which even athletics played an important part in his training. His father saw to it that he received a good education. He enrolled as a history student at the University of Toronto, but his studies were interrupted during the First World War when, at the age of eighteen, he joined the University Medical Corps as a volunteer. At the end of the war in which he eventually became an actual participant, he resumed his studies and obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1919. After an interval in his uncle’s meat processing plant, he won a scholarship for studies at Oxford. In 1923 he took his Master of Arts degree. He taught for some time, becoming an assistant professor of modern history at the University of Toronto.
In 1928, when he was thirty-one years old, Lester Pearson entered the service of the Canadian Department of External Affairs. This step marked the end of his academic career and the beginning of his life as a civil servant. He was first secretary at the Department of External Affairs in Ottawa until 1935, when he was appointed counselor at the Office of the High Commissioner for Canada in London. He returned to Ottawa in 1941 as assistant undersecretary of state at the Department of External Affairs, and in the following year he was appointed Canadian minister in Washington, where he stayed until 1946, for the last two years as ambassador. Then followed two years as undersecretary of state at home until – at the age of fifty-one he became secretary of state for External Affairs in the Canadian government in 1948.
Pearson worked at the creation of the United Nations and its Agencies like the FAO. He opposed the creation of a Veto measure at the Security Council for the Great Powers, USA, USSR, France and UK. He drafted Resolution 181 for the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 with the help of a Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. He also suggested the creation of the UN Peace Keeping Corps to monitor conflict zones. He also developed the policy after 1945 of an inter-dependent world and a multilateral approach to relations between States to avoid further world conflicts.
The first really important conflict which the UN had to deal with was the question of Palestine. This matter was considered in a special session in 1947. Mr. Pearson was elected chairman of the Political Committee, and the Special Committee on Palestine recommended that the British mandate over Palestine should be discontinued and that the country should be divided into a Jewish and an Arab state. The recommendation of the committee was considered at the Second General Assembly. The question of division was then dealt with by an ad hoc committee in which Mr. Pearson participated very actively. And indeed the recommendation had a positive result. The two State solution to ensure peace was a Canadian Idea.
At the end of July, 1956, President Nasser of Egypt suddenly proceeded to nationalize the Suez Canal. The Suez conflict was brought before the Security Council in September, and it seemed that it might be possible to find a solution.
Then, on October 29, Israel marched into Egyptian territory. On the 30th the French-British ultimatum was handed to Egypt, and the next day both these countries proceeded to the attack.
The Security Council, which immediately called on the aggressors to cease hostilities, was made inoperative by the veto of Great Britain and France.
The matter then came up before the General Assembly, and on November 2, a resolution was put to the vote which required the aggressors to stop fighting immediately.
Before this resolution was submitted, Lester Pearson had been working unceasingly night and day, through conferences and informal talks, to give the resolution a wider scope, sufficiently comprehensive to form a real basis for a solution of the conflict and for creating peace. With his rich experience, his positive attitude, and his determined vigor, he pointed out that the resolution lacked any provision for solving the problem itself. He felt that this was a matter of decisive importance in that critical phase of the developments when the world was at the very edge of disaster.
But Lester Pearson did not give up his efforts even though the Resolution of November 2 did not contain what he had wanted. In the acutely dangerous situation other ways out would have to be found. On November 4 he submitted to the General Assembly a resolution in which the Secretary-General was requested to put before the General Assembly within forty-eight hours a plan for an international United Nations Peace Keeping force to be employed in the area of fighting to secure and supervise the cessation of hostilities, this was done.
Never, since the end of the war in 1945, has the world situation been darker than during the Suez crisis, and never has the United Nations had a more difficult case to deal with. However, what actually happened has shown that moral force can be a bulwark against aggression and that it is possible to make aggressive forces yield without resorting to power. Therefore, it may well be said that the Suez crisis was a victory for the United Nations and for the man who contributed more than anyone else to save the world at that time. That man was Lester Pearson.
In Ottawa, the building of the Department of Foreign Affairs is named after him, his statue stands on Parliament Hill and the Airport in Toronto is named after him. He is buried in the Gatineau Hills at the MacLaren Cemetery in Wakefield, Quebec across the river from the Capital Ottawa. His wife Maryon Elspeth Moody 1901-1989 is also buried there and they had one son Geoffrey 1927-2008 who was also a Canadian Diplomat and author.
Rt. Hon. Lester Bowles Pearson, known as Mike Pearson 1897-1972. Was Prime Minister of Canada from 1963-1968.