- Escott Reid: Diplomat and Scholar
Escott Reid guaranteed that his place in the historical record would be well marked. He wrote memoirs, articles, memoranda, and letters all explaining his views, much of it conceived of with an eye to posterity. And yet the scholarly consensus, according to Greg Donaghy and Stéphane Roussel, is that Reid was 'a slightly naïve idealist in a hard-power world,' a middling figure with little lasting influence. He was overshadowed by contemporaries like Lester Pearson and Norman Robertson and marginalized because of his over-zealous and arrogant character. Reid himself was disappointed that he never landed the plum position - as under-secretary of state for external affairs - that he so coveted. But as Jack Granatstein observes in his chapter on the young Reid, he did well to get as far as he did in the Department of External Affairs, 'for no one loved him.' The contributors to Escott Reid: Diplomat and Scholar re-examine his record to see whether he might nonetheless have exerted a meaningful influence on the people, events, and institutions with which he was associated.
Three chapters on Reid's diplomatic career look at his role in the establishment of the United Nations in 1945-46, his involvement in the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization 1947-49, and his time as high commissioner to India in the 1950s. The contributors all assert that he had a lasting impact of one kind or another: the un was better than it [End Page 380] might have been as a result of Reid's labours; he entrenched the idea of institutional counterweights to balance the overwhelming power of the United States; and his energetic efforts gave India a higher profile in Ottawa. Reid himself often doubted his influence, as does the reader, primarily because influence is not easily proven. For example, David Haglund and Stéphane Roussel, who focus on the creation of NATO, are not able to prove that Reid instigated the counterweight idea or that he was responsible for entrenching it as an axiom of Canadian foreign policy after 1945. But if claims of influence are not wholly convincing, the various authors do show Reid to be occasionally brilliant, sometimes prescient, in his analyses of world affairs. They effectively counter the portrayal of Reid as ineffectual idealist, showing that he had a keen understanding of the realities of the world in which he lived.
The two final chapters in the volume examine Reid's career after he left the foreign service: he was appointed to the World Bank in 1962 and moved on to become principal of Glendon College in 1965. The stories told by Bruce Muirhead and Alyson King follow a similar pattern to the preceding diplomatic chapters: Reid approached his task with enthusiasm, commitment, and vision. He became frustrated but remained resolute when his views were obstructed. His superiors got annoyed with him, and he eventually departed, having made much less of an impression than he would have liked. For Reid, alas, it was a case of plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
Escott Reid: Diplomat and Scholar is a thin volume but far from lightweight. In addition to drawing a more nuanced portrait of Reid, it reveals the tension and dynamism of the Department of External Affairs in a proactive and confident era; it highlights overlooked aspects of other marquee members of the department (Pearson's callousness, Ritchie's gravitas, and Robertson's gentle nature). It is a highly readable and engaging book, particularly the chapters by Granatstein and Donaghy, which has benefited from clear editorial guidelines. Although the individual chapters uphold the view that Reid was not as influential as he had hoped to be, they also show the breadth and sophistication of his thinking on matters as far-ranging as Sino-Indian relations and the economic development of India. Reid deserved to be taken seriously by his colleagues in Ottawa, the World Bank, and Glendon. That he was not always was partly, but...