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Pearson and the blue berets: a brief history of peacekeeping.

OKAY, SO YOU MAY ALREADY KNOW THAT INTERNATIONAL PEACEKEEPERS HAVE PLAYED AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN PROMOTING AND MAINTAINING PEACE AROUND THE WORLD. BUT DID YOU KNOW THAT A CANADIAN ACTUALLY DEVELOPED THE CONCEPT OF MODERN PEACEKEEPING? IT ALL STARTED ABOUT 60 YEARS AGO ...

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NATIONS UNITE

The first half of the twentieth century was marked by many years of tragedy and destruction. By 1945, the world had suffered through two devastating world wars. Many nations wanted to make sure that such wars would never happen again. So that year, 50 countries, including Canada, joined together to form an international organization called the United Nations (UN).

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The countries in the UN promised to work together to prevent future wars and help nations resolve conflicts peacefully. (Today, 192 countries belong to the UN.)

ON THE EDGE OF WORLD WAR III

In 1956, the UN was faced with an alarming crisis. France, Britain, and Israel were fighting Egypt for control of the Suez Canal--a vital trade route in the Middle East. Tensions were high, and countries feared they were on the brink of World War III. That's when a Canadian diplomat named Lester B. Pearson stepped in!

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Pearson was head of the Canadian delegation to the UN. He came up with a plan to create a large, international peacekeeping force to be sent to the canal region. This force would be made up of soldiers from neutral countries. It would serve to stabilize the situation and keep the area at peace while a settlement between the warring sides could be worked out.

The United Nations approved Pearson's plan, and the world's first UN peacekeeping force was formed.

The operation was a success. And thanks to Pearson, modern peacekeeping was born!

PEACEKEEPING TODAY

Today, the UN has over 100,000 peacekeepers serving around the globe. These peacekeeping troops and personnel come from over 110 countries, including Canada. They serve in some of the most remote and hostile environments in the world.

Of course, there are rules to serving in such places. For starters UN peacekeepers are only sent to a conflict area when the parties involved in the conflict agree to their presence. And once peacekeepers arrive in a location, they cannot take sides. Instead, they contain conflicts and help opposing sides work together to build a lasting peace.

UN peacekeepers wear blue berets or helmets as part of their uniform so that they are instantly recognized.

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A LOOK AT LESTER B. PEARSON

Lester B. Pearson is probably the most important figure in Canadian peacekeeping history. Born in Toronto, ON, in 1897, he worked as a university professor before becoming a diplomat and then a politician. He was Canada's minister of external affairs when he came up with the idea to create the first UN peacekeeping operation in 1956. The next year, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for this successful idea and his lifelong commitment to peace. To this day, he remains the only individual Canadian to ever win this famous prize.

Pearson went on to become Canada's prime minister in 1963.

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Lester B. Pearson holding his Nobel Peace Prize

CANADA'S

PEACEKEEPERS

SINCE 1956, PEACEKEEPING HAS BECOME A BIG PART OF CANADA'S NATIONAL IDENTITY. THROUGH THE YEARS, MORE THAN 125,000 CANADIAN MEN AND WOMEN HAVE SERVED IN OVER 50 PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS. THEY HAVE HELPED TO RESOLVE CONFLICTS AND BRING STABILITY, PEACE, AND DEVELOPMENT TO WAR-TORN REGIONS.

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CHANGING ROLES

So, what exactly do Canadian peacekeepers do? For starters, they do what their name suggests: they keep the peace in locations that have experienced conflict.

But over the years, peacekeeping operations have expanded to include a variety of other roles and duties. In many ways, Canadian peacekeepers also serve as peacemakers and peacebuilders. They are now involved in such activities as:

* The delivery and protection of human aid

* Rebuilding war-torn places by assisting in the construction of schools, hospitals, and roads

* Spreading democracy by supervising and ensuring free and fair political elections

* Reclaiming dangerous landscapes by clearing landmines

* Helping to bring order and security to a region by training law enforcement and police forces

Traditionally, members of our armed forces have represented Canada in most peacekeeping operations. But now, Canadian civilians, members of the RCMP, and other police officers have joined our military in many operations. They participate in both UN and non-UN peacekeeping missions.

DANGER ZONES

Peacekeeping operations can be very difficult. The brave Canadians involved in these missions leave their homes and loved ones behind to face huge challenges in faraway places. They put their lives at risk to help bring support and stability to dangerous places and situations.

Sadly, many Canadians have died in their peacekeeping efforts. And many more have suffered physical and mental injury.

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PAYING TRIBUTE

Peacekeeping work is admired and appreciated around the world. In 1988, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to all UN peacekeepers (including Canadians) in recognition of their efforts to limit conflict and promote peace.

Soon after that, the Canadian government decided to recognize our nation's peacekeepers in its own way. It sponsored the creation of a special monument in Ottawa, dedicated to all Canadian peacekeepers. Completed in 1992, this monument shows three Canadian peacekeepers in action, and it helps tell the story of our peacekeeping heritage.

The Canadian Peacekeeping Monument, entitled "Reconciliation"

MEDAL OF MERIT

Canada's Peacekeeping Monument is also inscribed on the Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal. This special medal was introduced in the year 2000 to honour and thank our peacekeepers for their bravery and commitment. Today, tens of thousands of Canadians wear it proudly.

The Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal

THE PEARSON PEACEKEEPING CENTRE

The Pearson Peacekeeping Centre is another way that Canada contributes to international peacekeeping missions. Located in Cornwallis, Nova Scotia, this centre trains people who serve in conflict zones, including military personnel, police officers, and civilians. More than 18,000 peacekeepers from around the world have received training there!

Officers from the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre attend a ceremony on Peacekeeping Day

KEEPING THE PEACE AN INTERVIEW WITH LANCE MARTEL

NOW THAT YOU'VE READ A FEW THINGS ABOUT THE HISTORY OF CANADIAN PEACEKEEPING, WE THOUGHT YOU MIGHT WANT TO HEAR FROM SOMEONE WITH FIRSTHAND EXPERIENCE.

WE RECENTLY GOT THE CHANCE TO SPEAK WITH CORPORAL LANCE MARTEL ABOUT HIS EXPERIENCES AS BOTH AN RCMP OFFICER AND AN INTERNATIONAL PEACEKEEPER. CHECK OUT WHAT HE HAD TO SAY!

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YOU WERE WITH THE RCMP FOR 28 YEARS. WHAT SORTS OF THINGS DID YOU DO?

A definite highlight of my career was being part of the Musical Ride. It was a great experience. I was taught to care for my horse and ride properly, and I toured throughout Canada, the United States, and Europe. Being stationed in the Canadian Arctic for three years was also something I really enjoyed.

DON'T WINTERS LAST SOMETHING LIKE NINE MONTHS UP THERE?!

They do. When I wasn't working, I played a lot of outdoor hockey. But when the temperature dropped below minus fifty, I was forced to stay inside. I tried to keep myself entertained playing board games like Trivial Pursuit. They didn't have Xbox and PlayStation in those days!

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YOU WERE ALSO A UN PEACEKEEPER. WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO BECOME ONE?

I guess I am always looking for adventure, and I also wanted to explore different cultures. And making a difference, even in a small way, made me feel very good.

WE HEARD YOU SERVED IN HAITI, KOSOVO, AND BOSNIA. WERE THE MISSIONS DANGEROUS?

There was always an element of danger in the missions. During my time in Haiti there was the possibility of exposure to diseases like dengue fever and malaria. In Bosnia there are still hundreds of thousands of land mines throughout the country. I am a jogger and I can tell you I only ran on pavement during my time there.

SOUNDS LIKE YOU HAD TO ADJUST TO A VERY DIFFERENT WAY OF LIVING WHILE SERVING OVERSEAS.

Definitely. I had to plan, prepare, and improvise for simple things we take for granted, like bathing.

HOW SO?

Well, there were water shortages in Kosovo and the supply was sporadic. I learned to keep two big plastic bottles filled with water. If I wanted to shower and the water was off, I would pour the bottles over my head. One to wash and one to rinse.

BEFORE YOU GO, CAN YOU SUGGEST SOME THINGS THAT KIDS CAN DO TO PROMOTE PEACE?

One of the best ways to promote peace is to learn about different cultures and the way people live in other parts of the world. I believe that, in the end, we are all really basically the same and want the same things in life. Who knows, if we all took the time to learn about one another, we might just be living on a more peaceful planet.

THANKS FOR TALKING WITH US, LANCE. PEACE OUT!

Interview by Debbie Trottier
COPYRIGHT 2009 Canada's National History Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:CanaDa CLOSe-up; Lester B. Pearson
Author:Trottier, Debbie
Publication:Kayak - Canada's History Magazine for Kids
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Nov 1, 2009
Words:1493
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