Lester B. Pearson

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Politics is the skilled use of blunt objects.

Lester Bowles "Mike" Pearson (23 April 189727 December 1972) was a Canadian scholar, statesman, diplomat, and politician who served as the 14th prime minister of Canada from 1963 to 1968. He served as Canadian ambassador to the United States from 1944 to 1946 and secretary of state for external affairs from 1948 to 1957 under Liberal Prime Ministers William Lyon Mackenzie King and Louis St. Laurent. He narrowly lost the bid to become secretary-general of the United Nations in 1953. However, he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 for organizing the United Nations Emergency Force to resolve the Suez Canal Crisis, which earned him attention worldwide. After the Liberals' defeat in the 1957 federal election, Pearson easily won the leadership of the Liberal Party in 1958.


  • Politics is the skilled use of blunt objects.
    • As quoted in a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation tribute (1972), and in Chambers Dictionary of Political Biography‎ (1991) by John Ransley, p. 345

Nobel Prize acceptance (1957)

Address on accepting the Nobel Peace Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway (10 December 1957)
  • Alfred Nobel decreed that this award should be conferred on someone who, in the opinion of the Committee, should have done the most or the best work to promote fraternity between nations for the abolition and reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.
    As to the first, I do not know that I have done very much myself to promote fraternity between nations but I do know that there can be no more important purpose for any man's activity or interests.
    So far as abolishing arms are concerned, those of Nobel's day are now out of date, but I used they will destroy us all. So they must be themselves destroyed.
    As for the promotion of peace congresses we have had our meetings and assemblies, but the promotion through them of the determined and effective will to peace displaying itself in action and policy remains to be achieved.
  • Of all our dreams today there is none more important — or so hard to realise — than that of peace in the world. May we never lose our faith in it or our resolve to do everything that can be done to convert it one day into reality.

The Four Faces of Peace (1957)

Nobel Lecture (11 December 1957)
  • True there has been more talk of peace since 1945 than, I should think, at any other time in history. At least we hear more and read more about it because man's words, for good or ill, can now so easily reach the millions.
    Very often the words are good and even inspiring, the embodiment of our hopes and our prayers for peace. But while we all pray for peace, we do not always, as free citizens, support the policies that make for peace or reject those which do not. We want our own kind of peace, brought about in our own way.
    The choice, however, is as clear now for nations as it was once for the individual: peace or extinction. The life of states cannot, any more than the life of individuals, be conditioned by the force and the will of a unit, however powerful, but by the consensus of a group, which must one day include all states. Today the predatory state, or the predatory group of states, with power of total destruction, is no more to be tolerated than the predatory individual.
  • Until the last great war, a general expectation of material improvement was an idea peculiar to Western man. Now war and its aftermath have made economic and social progress a political imperative in every quarter of the globe. If we ignore this, there will be no peace. There has been a widening of horizons to which in the West we have been perhaps too insensitive. Yet it is as important as the extension of our vision into outer space.
    Today continuing poverty and distress are a deeper and more important cause of international tensions, of the conditions that can produce war, than previously.

Memoirs, Volume One

There now followed another Nazi violation of the Treaty of Versailles, the reoccupation of the Rhineland in March 1936. There were those who counselled firm action with France against this Nazi move; that German troops should be ordered out of the Rhineland under threat of war. I was one of the great majority in Britain and Canada who condemned such a threat as war-mongering. I agreed with the London Times as it thundered against a strong anti-Nazi policy and emphasized the danger of precipitate action against a Germany which, however deplorable its regime, was trying merely to free itself from some of the worst shackles of an unjust treaty.

There was, however, no danger of any strong action against the Nazis over the Rhineland issue. The popular and insistent feeling in Great Britain was that, while the Nazis were to be condemned, peace must be preserved at all costs. This meant that the French were to be pressured into showing "statesmanlike moderation" while Hitler, in his turn, must be urged to make a real contribution to a general European settlement, something which the Fuehrer was always ready to promise.

I recall how at this time, in pursuit of the policy which became known later as "appeasement", Barrington-Ward, an editor of the Times and an old Balliol friend of Mr Massey, came over to Canada House to persuade the High Commissioner to suggest to Mr King that he send a message to Mr Baldwin warning him that Canada would not support any strong or rash action against the Nazis over the occupation of the Rhineland. I was present at this talk. The idea appealed to Mr Massey, as indeed it did to me, and the High Commissioner in fact sent a telegram to Mr King along these lines on 13 March [1936]....

Mr King, however, as might have been expected, though he strongly opposed any strong British and French reaction to the occupation of the Rhineland, decided that Canada should keep out of this business. He had no intention of intervening in the affairs of Downing Street or of the Quai d'Orsay, even if he agreed with the views of Barrington-Ward and Massey on this particular issue. To give advice was to take responsibility and this was not an issue which should engage any Canadian responsibility.

  • This was not enough for a minority now demanding much sterner action to meet the Nazi threat. At the head of this group was Winston Churchill. His prestige, however, after his stand during the abdication crisis [in late spring 1937] and his aggressive, bellicose speeches on the need for more arms, was at a low point. Not many listened to him yet. He was still considered an irresponsible failure and an unreliable character.
  • My own views began to change before the next Nazi move, the occupation of Austria in [March] 1938.... No longer was it possible for me to believe that Nazism was a temporary aberration in German politics, that the good sense of the German people would soon take care of the Fuehrer, and that the greater danger to peace was French over-reaction to Hitler's moves, with the United Kingdom supporting such reaction. This feeling was replaced by the fear of aggressive war brought about by the policy of a German regime which now must be considered as evil and savage and an immediate menace to freedom and to peace. This regime could not be allowed to triumph in Europe, for its triumph would be a threat to free men everywhere.

Memoirs, Volume Two

  • Things can be done under the incentive of terror and fear that can not be done when the fear disappears.[1]
  • One of the interesting byways in this whole situation (it was perhaps more than a byway) was the conviction expressed when the [Suez Canal] Users' Association was created and the principles established for the international operation of the canal. The Users were absolutely confident, rather arrogantly so, that the Egyptians could not possibly run the canal. They could not produce the pilots, and would have to appeal to the other nations. The Users had only to sit back and the Egyptians would be on their knees saying: "Please run the canal for us." That, of course, did not happen. The canal was run just as efficiently after the Egyptian take-over as in the past. I remember a Norwegian shipowner saying: "Don't worry too much about the details of international control. They'll have to come to us in a few weeks and beg us to run the canal for them because it is a major source of their revenue and they want to make money out of it." The Egyptians made more money from it than ever did the Suez Canal Company.[1]
  • When I came back to Ottawa I found myself faced with a very difficult parliamentary situation... I think it is fair to say that Mr St Laurent, on the basis of private discussions with the Opposition leaders, did not expect any serious division in the House of Commons over our policies on Suez. However, bitter division there was, and we were condemned strongly for deserting our two mother countries. The Conservative attack was led by Howard Green (who in June 1959 was to become Secretary of State for External Affairs). Green accused us of being the "chore boy" of the United States, of being a better friend to Nasser than to Britain and France, and claimed that our government "by its actions in the Suez crisis, has made this month of November 1956, the most disgraceful period for Canada in the history of this nation," and that it was "high time Canada had a government which will not knife Canada's best friends in the back." Any feeling of exaltation and conceit or euphoria at our success in avoiding a general war in the Middle East (if in fact we had avoided it by our actions) was dissipated for me by the vigour of the assaults on my conduct, my wisdom, my rectitude, my integrity, and my everything else by an embattled Conservative Opposition. It was a very vigorous debate reflected in the general election of the next year. But I have always believed, and I think the great weight of Canadian opinion strongly approved what we had done. Further, I am absolutely certain and will remain certain in my own mind that the New Commonwealth would have soon shattered over the issue had the British not backed down.[1]
  • Nothing, I suppose, could better demonstrate than the Suez crisis the extent to which the United Nations had remained a central factor in our foreign policy. Our problem was, and is, one of long standing, how to bring about a creative peace and a security which will have a strong foundation. It remained my conviction that there could never be more than a second-best substitute for the UN in preserving the peace. Organizations such as NATO were necessary and desirable only because the UN was not effective as a security agency. UNEF was a step in the right direction in putting international force behind an international decision. The birth of that force had been sudden and had been surgical. The arrangements for the reception of the infant were rudimentary, and the midwives had no precedents or genuine experience to guide them.[1]
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  1. a b c d NB: ghost-written post-mortem by Munro and Inglis