Granatstein, J. L. and Bercuson, David J., War and Peacekeeping : From South Africa to The Gulf – Canada’s Limited wars, Toronto: Key Porter Books, 1991.
This book presents a concise history of Canadian military forces from the early years of its inception to the modern peacekeeping endeavours. The interesting aspect of the book is in the way it presents the stories. The presentations are either direct testimonies of the soldiers/journalists or the authors’ transcriptions of such testimonies. Given our interest in more recent Canadian engagements, I will forego the stories of the earlier campaigns, but will spend some time on noting how the book describes the Korean War from the Canadian prospective.
p.2 “Although the Korean War was officially an United Nations operation, it marked the first great confrontation between the 2 ideological poles of the 20th century, capitalism and Communism. As Britain’s power waned in the long ordeal of the 2nd World War, Canada had finally been forced to turn instead to the US. Throughout the 50s, as China loomed in the Orient and post-war Europe lay in a precarious balance between the vast and increasingly sophisticated armies of NATO and the Warsaw Pact, Canada’s military forces grew in maturity. The army, navy, and the air force became substantial forces of some 120,000 professional officers and enlisted personnel at their peak, and the defence budget rose to astronomical heights: in 1947, defence spending amounted to only 1.7 % of the GNP; in 1953, however, with the GNP substantially larger after years of boom, defence accounted for 7.6%. The Canadian Forces equipment, much of it produced in Canada, was first class, and morale was sky-high.
In this atmosphere of confidence and competence, Canada was able to begin responding to calls for UN peacekeepers around the world, from Kashmir to Cairo to Cambodia. In 1954, when an International Control Commission was formed to help end France’s colonial involvement in Indo-China, Canada agreed to play a key role even though the UN was not involved in any way. And 2 years later, when External Affairs minister Lester Pearson helped create the United Nations Emergency Force to cool the Suez crisis, Canada participated in a major way. Pearson’s Nobel Peace Prize told Canadians that their country had arrived on the world stage. Peacekeeping suddenly was something that Canadians did and did well, so much so that the UN came to depend on Canada’s good will and military competence. The Canadian media and public – if not necessarily the soldiers and flyers who found themselves stuck at a scruffy airfield in remote New Guinea or encamped at an observation post on the Golan Heights – were clearly in love with the ideal of their country helping to keep the world’s peace. Few thought of the dangers or the casualties that servicemen and women had to suffer in the Congo or Cyprus or along the border between Iran and Iraq. Eventually, even the staff officers at National Defence Headquarters came to see that peacekeeping was their best guarantee that Canada’s military would not go the way of the dodo. In peacekeeping, Canada has apparently found its métier. »
The Korean War :
p. 157 “As the UN forces approached the 38th parallel, the previous pattern of battle was repeated. Once again small units, usually no larger than companies, assaulted the Chinese, who were invariably dug in on strategic hill-tops. These were short, sharp, set-piece battles, with little of the sweep and movement that modern warfare was supposed to be all about. The flavour was well captured by Derek Pearcy, a Reuters-Australia correspondent, in describing a RCR patrol setting out at 6 am after a night of hectic preparations:
Keyed up with training and waiting behind the lines, they started out carefully…
Their small arms were at the ready, their eyes alert for the slightest movement ahead of them.
The first shot rang out. The infantrymen ducked for cover, fanned out, and opened fire at a hill on their flank.
There was a short silence then a rattle of Sten guns, then silence again.
The Canadians emerged cautiously from shelter and closed in warily on a camouflaged dugout… A young Canadian looked intently into the dugout, laughed a little, then waved the others on.
By mid-afternoon the Canadians were under heavy harassing fire… From the gnarled mountain on their left came the continuous crack of small-arms fire…
The infantrymen crossed a field to scale the mountainside from the north. Chinese entrenched on the razor-backed ridge opened up a wild barrage of machine-gun, rifle and mortar fire and the Canadians climbed up, jumping out from behind rocks and trees. For an hour the valley resounded to the crack of rifles, the crash of grenades and the thump of tank guns and mortars.
Allied fighters added to the din and they wheeled and dove to rocket and drop napalm on the Chinese.
This was the last dispatch Pearcy ever wrote; he was killed the next day. It was an endless, frustrating type of warfare, but it had moments of high heroism.
The hard slog on the UN forces back to the 38th parallel provided proof to Western leaders – if any still needed – that China’s full participation in the war had ended any possibility that Korea could be unified by force without launching a third world war. On June 1951, Trygve Lie signaled as much to the Communists in a speech delivered in Ottawa. He proclaimed that UN objectives would be met if a ceasefire could be arranged and the “peace and security of the area” could be restored. Several weeks later the USSR’s delegate to the UN agreed to ceasefire negotiations.”
p. 158 “Patrolling became a specialized craft. There were standing patrols – probes sent into no man’s land to set up listening posts or night ambushes. […] Every now and then one side would attempt to improve its strategic position by capturing this vantage point of that river crossing. Guns would crash, tracers would light up the night sky, jets would spread napalm over the hilltops, and men would die. Much of the time, though, the men killed time in their bunkers, listening to word of progress of the peace talks and thinking of the people at home who were living normal lives.
For this war was very different from the one the nation had experienced just a few years before. Then the effort had been all out: those who were not fighting were working in war plants, collecting scrap metal or rubber, or buying war bonds. There had been rationing and rallies and radio plays exhorting Canadians to greater efforts in supporting the war, and few families had not had at one member in uniform.
But not now. Most Canadians were getting on with their lives, almost oblivious of the fighting and killing taking place in the hills of Korea. The nation was prosperous and united as the post-war boom continued. There was no rationing; there were not even restrictions on credit or foreign exchange. A good time was being had by all – with the exception of the seven to eight thousand in Korea.
It was not long before a deep cynicism began to mark the thoughts of men all along the UN lines. Why were they there? What were they fighting for? The mixture of frustration and resentment was dangerous, and the officers tried to dispel it by ordering constant patrolling, some which was useless and just wasted lives, or by more comical expedients, such as firing red, white, and blue smoke-shells at the Chinese positions on Queen Elizabeth’s coronation day.
It was that mix of boredom and mischief that provoked Lieutenant Peter Worthington into a prank that landed him in serious trouble. One morning while the PPCLI was in reserve, US planes accidentally bombed a bridge over the Imjin River that was held by the UN troops. Worthington, who was already displaying his journalistic skills as editor of the battalion newsletter, decided to write about the attack:
It was newsletter time, so I included a sarcastic item to the effect that “Four unidentified US planes with UN markings bombed and strafed the Teal bridge, but fortunately no soldiers were killed, only 11 Americans.”
Canadian Press corresponded Bill Boss reported the item and it didn’t take long for Worthington to be called on the carpet:
I took a jeep to Seoul, apologized to some bored American brigadier general who didn’t know what it was all about, didn’t care, and, I left, had only just learned by my presence that there were Canadians in Korea.”
p. 170 “ Through the spring and summer of 1952, life on the line continued in a semi-permanent routine. The men on both sides lived in their bunkers and foxholes for much of the times, trying to stay alive during the intermittent shelling, and when not underground they manned listening posts or forward observation outposts.
On the night of May 31st, 1952, Corporal Arthur Irvine Stinson became a here. Stinson was one of 22 men, under the command of Lieutenant A.A.S Peterson, sent out to raid a Chinese position and take prisoners. The raiding party formed up in the RCR trenches in the late afternoon and watched as USAF fighter-bombers strafed and rocketed the Chinese across the valley. As the sun set, the patrol moved out through a gap in the wire. At double time the men jogged along a path through their own minefield and within minutes they were at the foot of Hill 113. There was a cluster of ruined farmhouses at the foot of the hill, and Peterson halted his men there and called for artillery and tank fire on the Chinese positions above. Then the men started to climb.
The first line of trenches was empty and so was the second. Peterson placed Stinson in charge of a small party of five and left them to clear the second position while he and the remainder of the patrol continued up to the top of the hill. Stinson’s group worked their way around to the left, carefully examining the bunkers connected to the trench, and found one Chinese soldier hiding in the dugout. As they were starting to secure their prisoner, the hillside above and below them came alive with rifle and machine-gun fire. Four of Stinson’s party were hit almost immediately, including the man guarding the prisoner, who tried to scramble away and was shot dead. As the firing continued, Stinson searched the body and discovered some papers identifying the Chinese unit. Then he too was hit. Meanwhile, knowing that a hand-to-hand fight so far from his own lines would bring total disaster, Peterson had ordered his men to dash straight down the hill. The wounded Stinson stayed long enough to cover the desperate withdrawal of his section, killing 3 Chinese in the process. Major-General Cassells called this patrol “a specially daring raid”, but it was a clear failure. Had it not been for Peterson and Stinson – both of whom were decorated for their part in the action – Canadian lives would surely have been lost.”
p. 177 “ One of the Canadian prisoners, Private John Junkins, was released shortly after the battle. A member of the first patrol, he had been lost from the main party when McNeil led it back toward the Canadian positions, and had taken refuge in an unoccupied Canadian bunker. He later related the strange events:
I lost the main party. Shells and mortars were bursting all around and I was pinned down. I crawled into a bunker and after a time I heard Chinese voices outside. I … flattened myself against the wall… Someone suddenly ripped away the poncho waterproof cape covering the doorway and sprayed the back of the bunker with a burp gun.
I lay there for 15 minutes. 2 Chinese eventually came into the bunker, pulled me out and told me I was a prisoner.
After searching him, the Chinese brought up three more prisoners, arranged them in a single file, and began to move them off. For some reason they decided to leave Junkins behind. A Chinese medical orderly gave him a drink of water, stuffed some papers into his uniform – probably propaganda leaflets – and departed with the rest of the patrol, and Junkins crawled back into the bunker and waited for the Canadians to reoccupy the position.
The limited prisoner exchange which had taken place in April and early May paved the way for a ceasefire. On June 7 an agreement was reached at Panmunjom for the rest of the POW to handled along the lines originally suggested by the Indian delegation to the UN, and India was selected as the country to decide the disposition of the prisoners […]
The shooting stopped the night of July 27, 1953. The total Canadian toll was 1,550 battle casualties – 312 servicemen killed in action, dead of wounds, or missing and officially presumed dead; 1,202 wounded, 33 prisoners of war (none of whom died) – and 94 dead from non-battle causes.”
The authors of this book clearly privilege the individual stories of the events on the ground as opposed to the bird’s view narration of “big” milestones of the War. It seems that this choice betrays the belief that there are no “big” milestones that may be described separately from the narration of the sweat and blood, which made everything else possible.
The Age of Peacekeeping
p.188. “The Korean War had been an example, not of peacekeeping, but of collective security. There is a world of difference between the two. The chief object of peacekeeping is to keep two potential combatants separated while diplomatic efforts are mounted to resolve their conflict; the aim of collective security is to stop an aggressor, by force if necessary.
There were no instances of U.N.- sponsored collective security from 1953 to 1990. As long as the Cold War divided the Great Powers into two armed camps, each jockeying to expand its theatre of influence and each deeply suspicious of the other’s every move, there could not be enough agreement or trust to allow a collective security action. But peacekeeping was possible, at least in those instances where the Great Powers were not directly involved.
Canada’s first forays into U.N. peacekeeping had come before the Korean War. A few Canadian officers had served as observers along the borders between India and Pakistan, in Jammu and Kashmir, in the bloody years after those two states became independent of Britain in 1948, in the operation known as the U.N. Military Observer Group India-Pakistan. The presence of the U.N. didn’t bring any lasting peace – more than four decades later, hostilities and bloodshed still erupt from time to time – yet the presence of impartial observers has lessened the violence, and has likely saved many lives.”
ISRAELI – ARAB CRISIS
p.190 “The conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbours, and the persistent tension between Israelis and Palestinians, have created an equally intractable situation – and a potential conflict between the Great Powers, who, in varying degrees at different points, have supported their client states. During the First World War the British had gained control of Plestine and had promised to create a Jewish national state, but by 1947 Britain was looking for a way out of Palestine, and although the U.N. tried to establish an administration that could take over, its efforts were fruitless. Fighting between Jews and Arabs began after the U.N. passed a resolution calling for the partition of Palestine; after Israel proclaimed its independence in 1948, hostilities intensified. Subsequently, Israel signed armistice agreements with Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria, and to monitor these agreements the Security Council set up the U.N. Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) with 50 officers. But there were far more incidents than there were UNTSO officers to investigate them, and by 1953 tension on the Arab-Israeli borders had increased as guerrilla attacks inevitably produced retaliatory strikes. A spiral of escalating violence had begun.
The answer was to increase UNTSO’s strenghth, and at this point Canada became involved. 4 army officers were seconded to the Department of External Affairs for a one-year tour of duty in February 1954, and several months later Canada agreed that General E.L.M Burns, who had commanded the 5th Canadian Armoured Division and I Canadian Corps in Italy during the 2nd World War and had subsequently become deputy minister of Veterans Affairs, could become chief of staff of UNTSO.
Born in 1897, Burns had attended the Royal Military College and had served overseas during the Great War with distinction. He had stayed in the army between the wars, earning a reputation as an officer with an uncommonly good mind. Able though he was, he was a stiff man, and no inspiring commander; while his staff respected him, he won little affection. Nor was he much admired by the Israelis or the Arabs. For one thing, he set out to learn Arabic but not Hebrew. His reason? The Israelis could communicate with him in English, French, or German, but the Arab officers, for the most part, spoke no other language. There was practicality there, but perhaps a lack of sensitivity.”
p. 191 “In fairness, however, Burns’ work was a task of almost unrelieved frustration. As he wrote later, the armistice agreements “contained certain vague statements and compromises, essential to secure the signature of both sides, given the circumstances of 1949. It was hoped then that the difficult points would be settled in peace negotiations after a relatively short period…” But there were no negotiations – and there would be none until after three more wars – and instead “there were disputes about the interpretation of the armistice agreements… And the while, both sides violated or failed to observe the agreements, in more or less serious ways.” Burns tried to be impartial, but “before I had been long in the Middle East, I learned that no matter how hard on tried to be objective and impartial, if one accepted the views of one side on any matter, the other side one of partiality.”
In the hornets’ nest of suspicion, Burns and his UNTSO officers were caught in the middle, desperately trying to keep peace amid the shooting. In August 1955, for example, the Egyptians accepted UNTSO’s requests for a ceasefire and agreed to halt fedayeen raids launched by Palestinians dispossessed of their homes by the Israelis. But the fedayeen guerrillas carried no radios and could not be reached once they had crossed into Israel, and so the raids went on. In revenge, the Israelis sent an armoured unit into the Gaza Strip, destroyed a police station and a hospital under construction, and fired indiscriminately into a village. “I had the feeling I trying to stop a runaway truck on a steep hill by throwing stones under the wheels,” Burns said. The Egyptians said 36 had been killed and 13 wounded; the Israelis claimed they had hit the police station because that was the point from which the raids had been launched. All-out war was averted, but only barely.
Despite complaints from both sides, Burns’ impartiality was impeccable. Whether that was true of all his officers was another question. Canadian diplomats were told repeatedly that UNTSO officers in the Middle East pro-Israeli but invariably departed pro-Arab. It was also said that officers and U.N. officials “spoke in openly critical terms of Israel”. As for Burns, when he wrote his book Between Arab and Israeli he took pains to point out in his preface that is was possible to oppose Israeli policy without being anti-Semitic.
p.192. “Normally each officer spent half his one-year term on the Israel-Syria MAC and half on the Israel-Jordan MAC. Observers lived in fixed observation posts for four or five days and then had a day off; much of their time was spent conducting investigations or monitoring radio transmissions. As is often the case with military service, there was discomfort of a high order. One Canadian, returning to his quarters after being pinned down in his observation post by mortar fire, took his boots off and was promptly bitten by a poisonous snake.
By 1958, after the 1956 was between Israel and Egypt had screwed tensions higher still, there were 14 Canadians, the largest national contingent in UNTSO, which included Swedish, American, Norwegian, French, Danish, Australian, Belgian, and Dutch officers. The next year, the number was increased to 17.
Their work often put UNTSO team members in peril. 2 Canadian officers were injured in a mine explosion in 1956, and one of those officers, Leutenant-Colonel George Flint, was killed by Jordanian fire 2 years later. The U.N. report said Flint had gone to the Israeli sector under a white flag in response to a complaint that the Israelis were firing at a Jordanian village. He died from a single shot fire by a Jordanian sniper.
UNTSO’s worth is difficult to appraise. It could not prevent the Suez crisis of 1956, nor could it move the parties towards peace talks. The Israelis often complained that the observers didn’t stop incidents or protect Israeli citizens; moreover, they claimed, UNTSO’s very existence inhibited progress towards a permanent settlement. But UNTSO did provide a medium that led the Israelis and Arabs talk to each other and reach local cease-fires. Useful or not, UNTSO continues to this day, and Canadians continue to serve in it.”
The Suez crisis began in Cairo, Paris, and London. The 160-kilometre Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean to the Red Sea and is critical for Europe’s oil supplies, was owned by Britain and France. When Egypt’s President Gamal Abdal Nasser nationalized the canal in July 1956 there was outrage in London, the French, fighting against rebellious Algerians, similarly feared the new Arab militancy, and the leaders of the 2 nations began planning a joint military strike that would topple Nasser and put them in occupation of the canal.
p.193. “ During the last week in October, while the US was in the final days of a presidential election campaign and the attention of the world was fixed on the anti-Communist revolt in Hungary, Israel began to mobilize its armed forces. On October 29th the Israelis sent their armour into the Sinai desert, an action that was greeted, according to plan, by a joint British-French ultimatum to Cairo and Jerusalem for “the early cessation of hostilities to safeguard the free passage of the Canal”. Israel instantly agreed to halt its armoured spearheads 16 km east of the Canal, but Egypt, ordered to halt its troops and to accept temporary occupation of Port Said, Ismailia, and Suez, naturally refused. With that as justification – exactly as planned – Britain and France began air and sea operations. The Egyptian air force was eliminated quickly, while, in the Sinai, the Israelis routed Nasser’s army.
Ottawa’s response to the attacks on Egypt was one of shock. In public the government was moderate, merely expressing “regret” that Britain and France “felt it necessary to intervene with force on their own responsibility”. But in private the line was much tougher.
p. 194 “ But what could be done? The Cabinet discussed the idea of a U.N. police force for Suez, and when foreign minister Lester Pearson left for New York on November 1 he took with him the idea of transforming the Anglo-French invaders into such a force. But the temper of the General Assembly made this out of the question. In the early hours of November 2, the assembly passed a resolution calling for a ceasefire and the withdrawal of troops.
Canada abstained on the resolution, and when Pearson took the podium to explain his country’s vote he advanced the idea that was to win him the Nobel Peace Prize – the idea of a large U.N. army made up of national contingents. This was very different from the original post-war plan for a cadre of U.N. generals deploying international armies, which had proved unworkable.
p. 196 “ How would troops get to the Middle East? What would they eat and how would food reach them? How could they communicate with New York and their home countries? What facilities were needed for transport, for supply, for maintenance? Could the US be asked to assist in getting UNEF under way? No one had answers, but the Canadians stood out because of their experience: they were accustomed to sending troops abroad, they had unusually balanced forces, and they were scrupulous in their administration and staff work. Thus they were taken seriously when they suggested and UNEF should be a buffer force, large enough to be noticed but not one that could intervene militarily; that the U.S. should be asked to help with stores from its large stockpiles in the area; that the headquarters and support units for all contingents should be consolidated and should function in English.