Award ceremony speech

Presentation Speech by Gunnar Jahn*, Chairman of the Nobel Committee

The Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Parliament has awarded Alfred Nobel’s Peace Prize for 1957 to the Canadian Lester Bowles Pearson.

As we all know, Lester Pearson was Canada’s foreign minister from 1948 to 1957 when, as a result of the election, the Liberal government resigned.

The winner of the Peace Prize for this year is, then, a politician, and he is still a Liberal member of the Canadian Parliament.

It can perhaps be said that what Lester Pearson has done to prevent or to stop war would not have been possible had he not been an active politician. That, of course, may be disputed. What I want to emphasize is that the Peace Prize has not been awarded to the politician or to the secretary of state as such, but to the man Lester Pearson because of his personal qualities – the powerful initiative, strength, and perseverance he has displayed in attempting to prevent or limit war operations and to restore peace in situations where quick, tactful, and wise action has been necessary to prevent unrest from spreading and developing into a worldwide conflagration.

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.

Such is the brief, prosaic data on Mr. Pearson’s career, a career which, indeed, bears witness to great proficiency and intelligence; but it reveals nothing concerning what he has accomplished, how he has tackled the tasks with which he has been confronted, or why he has solved problems in the manner he has.

Naturally, during the period when Lester Pearson was a civil servant at the Department of External Affairs, he could express his views and opinions only to the Canadian government. It was, however, during those years, which to him were largely an apprenticeship, that he gathered his wide experience and broadened his outlook. It was during that period that his views on international problems took shape. He participated in the World Disarmament Conference1 in Geneva in 1933-1934, in the London Naval Conference2 in 1935, and during that same year in the work of the Canadian delegation to the Sixteenth Assembly of the League of Nations. These conferences cannot have been very encouraging to Lester Pearson. All of us who had to do with the League of Nations in those years felt that we were going from one defeat to another. For the young Lester Pearson, however, just taking part in all this, observing it at first hand, has no doubt proved a valuable experience and contributed infinitely to what he has later been able to accomplish.

The years in London from 1935 to 1941 at the Canadian High Commissioner’s Office were very important and instructive for Lester Pearson, in close and permanent contact as he was with what was going on in Europe at that time.

He has given an appraisal of conditions in the Western European democracies after the middle of the 1930’s. It is a violent criticism of their domestic policy, as well as of their foreign policy; at home, of their inability to master the economic problems; abroad, of their hesitation and indulgence, their yielding to Hitler again and again in the belief that peace could thus be preserved – bringing them finally to the Munich crisis of 1938. Lester Pearson is said to have been one of the first Canadians who recognized at an early stage that the way which had been chosen would not lead to the desired end. War would have to come.

From 1942 to 1946 Lester Pearson was in Washington, as I said, as Canadian minister and ambassador. During that time he had more and more opportunity to bring himself to the world’s attention; he participated in the efforts to build the structure of peace, efforts which started in 1943 long before the war was over.

His first remarkable contribution was made at the 1943 Conference in Hot Springs3, which was concerned with finding out how the world’s food and capital goods were to be distributed in peacetime. Lester Pearson’s effective part in this work was obvious. Gove Hambidge gives the following description of him in his book The Story of FAO: «Mike Pearson, young, modest, responsive, intelligent, and possessed of a quick sense of humor and a flair for working out effective compromises between opposing viewpoints, had made an excellent impression at the Hot Springs Conference.»

He was elected chairman of the Interim Commission for Food and Agriculture, which was appointed to prepare the plans for the permanent organization FAO. Hambidge makes the following comment on his work on that Commission: «More than any other person he was responsible for steering the Interim Commission through two years of successful work.»

At a meeting in Quebec in 1945, when FAO was established, the work of the Commission came to an end. I would like to quote what Lester Pearson himself said on that occasion because it shows so clearly that he was already aware, at that early stage, that international cooperation was threatened by the new progress of science in the field of nuclear research. But his words also show that he holds a vision of a better world for mankind, a world without fear and without want.

This is what he said: «We at this Conference know, and we have shown, what science could do if harnessed to the chariot of construction. Man’s fears have, however, harnessed it also to another chariot – that of atomic obliteration. On that chariot race, with science driven by both contestants, all our hopes and fears and agonies and ecstasies are concentrated. If we lose in that contest, anything that we have done here or may do elsewhere in London, or Washington, or San Francisco, or Moscow will have as much consequence as a pebble thrown into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. But if we should acquire some trace of sanity and bring social progress in line with scientific development by subjecting the annihilating forces of science to some sort of social control, which in the last analysis means some sort of international control, then the work we have done at Quebec will have made a worthy and permanent contribution to man’s long effort to move upward from the jungle of hatred, suspicion, and death where so many powerful, selfish, and frightening influences even today are working to keep him mired.»

This was said in 1945. Twelve years have passed since then, and we have been witnessing just such a race, menacing and fatal because, if it continues, there can be scarcely a doubt about the outcome: the extermination or decay of a large part, if not the whole, of mankind.

The fact that this is a reality must have contributed greatly to Mr. Pearson’s views on the international conflicts of our time and must, more than anything else, have influenced his convictions about the way in which such conflicts ought to be resolved.

At about the same time the plans for FAO were being made, Lester Pearson took part in organizing UNRRA4, which was set up mainly for the purpose of reestablishing the economy of the war-ravaged countries after the war was over. The organization was also to take care of the displaced persons who had lost their homes as a result of war and persecution. UNRRA was founded in 1943, and Lester Pearson became the chairman of its Supply Committee. In 1946 he was made chairman of the Subcommittee for Displaced Persons.

Lester Pearson’s efforts in UNRRA bear the mark of the same personal qualities which he displayed during the organization of FAO. He undertook the work because he believed in a better world for mankind. He carried it out by approaching the problems in a matter-of-fact way. After a meeting of the Council of UNRRA in 1944, he said: «So UNRRA must not merely do its job well; it must do it so well that it will give heart and courage to the governments who, slowly but steadily, are building up the international structure of peace; so well that it will, by its example, bring hope to men and women, who, if that structure falls, will again be crushed beneath its ruins.»

In 1946 Lester Pearson returned to Ottawa where he became secretary of state for External Affairs in 1948. He held that position for nine years.

During this period Mr. Pearson has had a part in most of the important conferences which have been held for the solution of international problems. His chief contribution to international politics, however, has been made within the framework of the United Nations Organization.

As early as 1945 at the San Francisco Conference, where the United Nations Charter was formulated, he had been an adviser to the Canadian delegation. He was the one who argued on behalf of Canada against the veto of the great powers – an argument he continued in the meetings of the General Assembly of the United Nations. I would mention that he strongly supported the «Uniting for Peace» Resolution of 1950. That resolution offers the following possibility: when a war of aggression comes up for consideration and the Security Council is prevented from operating by the veto of one of the great powers, the General Assembly can be convened at fortyeight hours’ notice. In other words, this resolution reduces the effect of the veto of a great power.

As far as he has been able to do so, Lester Pearson has endeavored to improve the efficiency of the United Nations, to enable that organization to operate as quickly and effectively as possible.

During the time in which the United Nations has been in existence, one international conflict after another has arisen, and the moral strength of the organization has been put to a severe test.

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 Palestine problem was actually put to rest for some time5.

Since then Mr. Pearson has taken part in all the meetings of the General Assembly, except in 1955, and he was its president in 1952. Every time he has made significant contributions – although I cannot here refer to all the different matters which have come up for consideration. I would only call attention to his attitude during the fighting in Korea, when he was in favor of limiting hostilities as soon as the aggressors6 had been forced back. He dissociated himself entirely from those who wanted to proceed with the war until – as it was said – «final victory had been won».

This is what Pearson himself has said about the fighting in Korea: «The action of free nations against aggression in Korea has been limited and has had as its purpose not the destruction of the North Korean and Chinese peoples, but the localizing of hostilities, repelling the attack, and then negotiating cease-fire arrangements as a prelude to peace.»

These words reflect his realistic and positive attitude, an attitude he has maintained consistently – not just in the Korean conflict. If it is not possible to stop an aggression without using arms, then call off the fighting as soon as the immediate aim has been achieved, he advises; do not go further, but try to create a situation in which it is possible to work for the ultimate goal, which is peace.

The next time the world was threatened by a conflagration of unforeseeable extent was in 1956. It all seems so close to us, and we all remember the course of events.

At the end of July, 1956, Nasser 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 force to be employed in the area of fighting to secure and supervise the cessation of hostilities. As we all know, this was done.

Never, since the end of the last war, 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.

During the Hungarian Revolution7 Lester Pearson spoke at the emergency special session of the General Assembly. He strongly advocated that an independent international authority should «enable all the Hungarian people, without fear of reprisal, to establish a free and democratic government of their own choice». «Why», he asked, «should we not now establish a suitable United Nations mission for Hungary when it has been agreed to form a United Nations authority in the Middle East?»

During the Hungarian Revolution, however, the United Nations remained powerless.

Mr. Pearson has frequently been mentioned as one of the most enthusiastic supporters of NATO8. In this organization for defense of countries whose life pattern is based on democracy and personal freedom, he finds a guarantee for the maintenance of peace and human rights in the world. He has made great efforts to extend the cooperation among NATO countries to include the political, economic, and cultural fields.

Lester Pearson would be the last to believe that military force can secure peace in the long run. This is what he said in 1955:

«No person, no nation, no group of nations can view with comfort, however, the prospects for a world where peace rests primarily on the deterrent effect of collective military strength and regional political unity. That discomfort becomes deep anxiety in the face of the fantastic development of nuclear weapons and their inclusion in the armament of a few big powers now, and of many other powers soon. This makes it more than ever necessary, while maintaining military strength, to put forth any possible effort to reduce the danger of war and gradually make such strength unnecessary.

In all the long story of mankind, arms alone, however powerful, have never been sufficient to guarantee security for any length of time. Your strength for defense becomes the weakness of those against whom you feel you must be ready to defend yourself. Your security becomes their insecurity; so they in turn seek safety in increased arms. A vicious circle commences which in the past has cost untold misery and destruction and might now, if we cannot cut through it, cause mankind’s extinction. Even adequate collective force for defence, then, is no final solution. It is merely a means to an end – peace based on something more enduring than force.»

Lester Pearson’s vision is not that of a dreamer. He looks at life and the conditions of the world as they are, basing his conclusions on realities. One may say that his visionary ideal has been constructed of the materials of experience.

I have had to confine myself to some of the main features of Lester Bowles Pearson’s activities to prevent or to stop war, and I am quite aware that I have given only an account of the result of his efforts, and not a living picture of the man himself. That, however, is not easy to do in the case of a man like Lester Pearson, whose work has been carried out largely on the diplomatic level – in commissions, at meetings, and during discussions of an informal character.

Only those who have taken part in conferences together with Lester Pearson have been able to witness his never tiring determination and his exceptional ability to put forward constructive ideas for the solution of a problem. If his proposal was rejected, he optimistically proceeded to engage his resourcefulness in finding another solution for which – thanks to the experience just gained – he might perhaps more readily win acceptance. For him the main thing was never to give up, but always to try to advance at least one step toward the goal.

Lester Pearson is far from being a compromising man when a vital point is at issue. However, he feels that the basis of any negotiations on international problems must be an attempt to understand the other party and to meet him halfway in order to establish a basis of confidence. It is only when confidence has been built up that it is possible to proceed with the negotiations with any hope of reconciliation.

However, in this work one must never betray the principles on which the United Nations Charter is based. In other words, one must work toward economic and social progress and away from poverty; toward full and free self-government and away from dictatorial regimes imposed from inside or from outside; toward a progressive realization of human rights and the dignity and worth of the individual person.

Lester Pearson believes that the time will come when it is possible, through the United Nations, to realize the dream of a worldwide community of all nations and races, and he feels that just acknowledging such an ideal in some form serves to remind us of our ultimate and underlying kinship even with our opponents. There is a value to this which, if we retain any humility, we will not underestimate.

Lester Pearson’s work has been carried on during a period of tension and open conflict, not only among nations but between races and different civilizations. At the same time, technical development has brought countries closer together and made them more mutually dependent upon one another. Any conflict that breaks out anywhere today will involve practically the whole world.

«We are now emerging into an age», Lester Pearson says, «when different civilizations will have to learn to live side by side in peaceful interchange, learning from each other, studying each other’s history and ideals, art and culture, mutually enriching each other’s lives. The only alternative in this overcrowded little world is misunderstanding, tension, clash, and – catastrophe».

The fact that the world may have to face the choice between to be and not to be and the fact that it has been left to us ourselves to decide whether life or death shall prevail, make it more necessary than ever before that we choose the right way; we must not let any conceivable method remain untried in our efforts to solve international conflicts in a peaceful way. Here, the goal will not be reached unless the people whose task it is to resolve the conflicts show no sign of failing in their will for peace and in their efforts to attain it.

As Lester Pearson has expressed it, «In our day the penalty for failure – or for serious blundering – is far greater than ever before. Mankind can no longer afford error.»

And still, no matter how dark the outlook for the world may be, Lester Pearson is no pessimist. Had he been pessimistic, he could not have found the endurance and strength which he has displayed in his work. His efforts would not have been possible had he not been supported by a strong faith in the final victory of the good forces of life.

In conclusion, I quote from a lecture which Lester Pearson gave at Princeton University in 1955:

«The fact is, that to every challenge given by the threat of death and destruction, there has always been the response from free men: It shall not be. By these responses man has not only saved himself, but has ensured his future.

May it be so again this time, as we face the awful and the glorious possibilities of the nuclear age.»

* Gunnar Jahn delivered this speech on December 10, 1957, in the Auditorium of the University of Oslo. At its conclusion, he presented the prize to the laureate, who responded with a brief speech of acceptance. The English translation of Mr. Jahn’s speech used here is basically that appearing in Les Prix Nobel en 1957, with certain editorial changes, as well as some emendations made after collation with the Norwegian text, which also appears in Les Prix Nobel.

1. Convened in February, 1932, under the aegis of the League of Nations, the conference was deadlocked several times in 1932 and 1933 on the issue of German equality and, with Germany’s withdrawal from the Conference and the League in October, 1933, came to a virtual halt despite some later meetings.

2. The Conference resulted in agreement among England, France, and the U.S. on certain naval limitations, but not until after Japan and Italy had withdrawn from the Conference.

3. Meeting in Hot Springs, Va, in 1943, this UN Conference set up the Interim Commission which eventually drafted the constitution for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), formally established in 1945 and affiliated with the UN in 1946.

4. United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.

5. The long-standing dispute between the Arab and Jewish peoples involved in this question has yet (as of October, 1971) to be satisfactorily settled.

6. North Korea’s attack on South Korea in June, 1950, initiated the Korean War (1950-1953) between North Korea and (after November, 1950) Communist China on the one hand and South Korea and UN forces on the other.

7. This uprising of the Hungarian people against the Communist controlled government began October 23, 1956, and by November 8 had been effectively suppressed by the Russian army.

8. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, defensive alliance established in 1949.

From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1951-1970, Editor Frederick W. Haberman, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1972


Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1957

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