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Book Review: Under the Blue Beret: A U.N. Peacekeeper in the Middle East

Under the Blue Beret: A U.N. Peacekeeper in the Middle East by Terry “Stoney” Burke is one soldier’s story of his army career, centered around United Nations peacekeeping missions in Cyprus and the Middle East. Burke joined the army in 1964 and was posted to the Royal Canadian Regiment. He has served in nine United Nations tours and active in the FLQ crisis in 1970. He is also the author of Cold War Soldier; Life on the Front Lines of the Cold War, a memoir of his military career.

For Americans, the first surprise in the book is that the author is Canadian, and yes, Canada has a n active military (with a proud, long tradition). Any veteran will recognize and relate to Burke’s stories. From standing in the hot Cypress sun in a cold weather jacket and being told to keep the jacket as a matter of uniformity to not having the proper weapon for the job at hand. Many readers will wonder how the military can function at all and veterans will chuckle, not at the misfortune or the danger but at the common ground we all shared. 

The books starts with Burke leaving Germany after his first tour, newly married, and ready to settle down with his new family in Canada and he gets orders to Cypress. He returns after six months only to be almost immediately pulled into duty for the only peacetime War Measures Act in Canadian history. His wife and two children spent there first nine months alone in a new country. 

Under the Blue Beret concentrates mostly on the United Nations missions in Cypress and the Middle East. Cypress has been in dispute since 1800s with fighting between the Greeks and the Ottomans (later the Turks). The United Nations set up the “Green Zone” across the length of the country separating the parties. It was a neutral strip that neither side could enter, lined by Greek and Turkish fortifications. The UN took the middle ground and kept the hostile parties separated. Burke tells of his three tours to the Green Zone and the changes that take place over the years. He has the unique privilege of experiencing Cyprus from the rank private through lieutenant. 

The second half of the book concerns the peace keeping in the Middle East. Burke chronicles the day to day activities of an unarmed peacekeepers in the middle of a shooting war. Burke also had the privilege of serving with Lieutenant Colonel Higgins of the United States Marines. Higgins would become a major news story as he was kidnapped and killed by the Lebanese Hezbollah. There are high and very low points in serving in the middle East.

Under the Blue Beret presents a great deal of information and personal experience in from the little heard of world of UN Peacekeeping. Many readers will be surprised by the size of the commitment of the Canadian armed forces to peacekeeping. Burke weaves together interesting experiences combined with military and international bureaucracy. Under the Blue Beret is a very good read for any one interest in general military service and peacekeeping history and the roles of peacekeepers.

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