The Pearson legacy

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The Pearson legacy

Canada’s headquarters for its Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade is named after the country’s famous statesman and politician Lester B. Pearson. The ministry christened the building after him as a tribute to his service as external affairs minister. Pearson (1897-1972) won the Noble Peace Prize in 1958 for his role in solving the Suez Canal Crisis by inventing what is now the modern concept of international peacekeeping. While serving as Canada’s prime minister between 1963 and 1968, his minority liberal government introduced universal health care and other social welfare programs Canada remains famous for. Canada’s busiest airport in the country’s largest city of Toronto is also named after the statesman.

Pearson, who as the prime minister turned down Washington’s request to send troops to the Vietnam War, spoke critically of the U.S. campaign in Vietnam during a speech at Temple University in Philadelphia in 1965. He demanded the U.S. stop bombing operations in North Vietnam and called for a diplomatic solution. President Lyndon Johnson, enraged by public criticism made on American soil by the Canadian visitor, invited Pearson to Camp David the next day. Johnson reportedly escorted Pearson to the terrace and grabbed him by his lapels, shouting “Don’t you come into my living room and piss on my rug.”

Ukeru Magosaki, a Japanese career diplomat for 36 years, said he heard the Pearson story while he was stationed in Canada. He said the Canadian foreign ministry since then upheld Pearson’s legacy of standing up to Washington if it does not agree with the policy in question. The headquarters building is named after Pearson to honor an independent and nationalistic spirit in foreign policy. Canada did not send combat troops to Vietnam and also did not take part in the Iraq War in 2003 because the U.S. campaign did not have an endorsement from the United Nations Security Council.

Magosaki, who became famous for his bestseller “Sengoshi no Shotai” (The Truth About (Japan’s) Postwar History), characterized Japan’s postwar foreign policy as one entirely subservient to the United States. Only a few prime ministers like Tanzan Ishibashi and Yukio Hatoyama pursued a diplomatic agenda independent of the U.S. But they did not last long in office. They were cast aside in Japan before the U.S. could even complain due to collaboration among politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen and media loyal to Washington. They were either charged in bribery scandals whipped up by prosecutors and the media or ousted by the conservative party fearing worsening ties with the U.S.

The prime ministers who lasted the longest in office, like Shigeru Yoshida, Hayato Ikeda, Yasuhiro Nakasone and Junichiro Koizumi, lasted long because of their alliance with Washington. Tokyo faithfully complied with U.S. demands and interests.

The U.S. maintains irrefutable dominance on the global stage despite the rising status of China. The U.S. incessantly studies how to use other countries and allies in its foreign policy chessboard. The role and function of other countries may shift according to changes in U.S. foreign strategy. After World War II, Japan became a military cripple so it could not start a war again. Then in the Cold War era, Japan’s security role was enhanced so that it could serve as an extended fortress against threats from the Soviet Union. It now staves off the growing Chinese influence in the Asia-Pacific. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to rewrite the pacifist constitution and restore military sovereignty. The U.S. turns a blind to Japan’s renewed military ambition and denial of its past aggression.

South Korea would not even be on the map if not for U.S. support during the 1950-53 Korean War. Korea still depends on the U.S. for security. Indebtedness and gratitude are deeply embedded in our psyches.

There are two ways to deal with the U.S., according to Magosaki. “Go along with the U.S. and protect your own interests” is one. The other: “Although it’s not easy, let’s try to uphold your independent values.” Canada stands up to the U.S and yet remains one of its closest allies. That is what we should learn from the Pearson legacy.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok
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