Worldly Years

by John English,
ISBN: 0394227298

Post Your Opinion
Asit Happened
by I. M. Owen

THE FIRST volume of John English`s life of L. B. Pearson, Shadow of Heaven, took him to the end ofhis 20 years in the diplomatic service, with his entry into Parliament and thecabinet in 1948. The Wordly Years are the remaining 20 years of his career (thoughI don`t see that they were noticeably worldlier than their predecessors); nineyears as secretary of state for external affairs, in which of course hecontinued his profession at a different level; six months in limbo after thedefeat of the St-Laurent government, during which his diplomatic career wastriumphantly crowned with the Nobel Peace Prize; then the final stage, in thevery different and far less congenial world of party politics - just over fiveyears as leader of the opposition and exactly five as prime minister. The striking contrast between Pearson`sdiplomatic years and the final decade, well brought out by English, lies in hisrelations with colleagues. In External Affairs, the colleagues were alwaysfriends. True, some of them felt they sometimes sensed an uneasiness betweenPearson and Norman Robertson, but perhaps this was merely a matter of differenttastes and interests: Pearson was emphatically a jock and Robertsonemphatically wasn`t. Still, they were always loyal to each other, and thesetwo, with Hume Wrong, lie buried as they wished, side by side in the Gatineauvalley. With Pearson as party leader, andespecially as prime minister, things were very different. Guy Favreau, JudyLaMarsh, Maurice Lamontagne, and above all Walter Gordon - each in turn came tofeel betrayed by him, and regarded him bitterly. The biography is wellorganized and immensely valuable, especially because English has had access tomuch private correspondence and has used it well. Pearson`s letters to his sonGeoffrey contain many illuminating comments on events as they happened. Englishdeals fully yet concisely, and always in a balanced way, with all the majortopics, such as the Suez crisis of 1956, the Herbert Norman affair, the issueof the Bomarc. missiles, and the troubles with Lyndon Johnson over Vietnam.Occasionally I find English`s reasoning hard to follow. Early in the firstvolume, for instance, he says that for AngloCanadians in the early 20thcentury Shakespeare and Queen Victoria were as much a part of Canada`s heritageas were John A. Macdonald and the CPR. This breathtaking assertion was simplytaken for granted in most homes, including the Pearsons`. What takes my breath away is that anyhistorian should question it, especially in a book whose title, Shadow ofHeaven, istaken from Milton, who in the author`s mind is presumably also excluded fromour heritage. In this second volume, the chapter on the Suez crisis containsthis passage: He [Pearson] argued that force had to be ruled out, "exceptas a last resort and [used] only in accordance with the principles we haveaccepted in the NATO pact and the U.N. Charter". In his memoirs, Edenclaims that Pearson "was averse to military sanctions, but he did notexclude them in the last resort." That interpretation is obviouslyincorrect. To me it`s obviously correct, though Eden`s emphasis is (naturally)very slightly different from Pearson`s. In my world, if you rule out something"except as a last resort," you clearly don`t exclude it "in thelast resort." Finally, there`s one slip in the bookthat wouldn`t have pleased Mike Pearson at all. The chapter on the secondPearson ministry is headed "Last Innings." English has inadvertentlyused the cricket term. Pearson the baseball enthusiast would have had aninning.

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