THE ideals and the hopes that led to the creation of the United Nations have waned off. In its place are skepticism and dismissal of the world body as an effective tool of global integration. UN is now increasingly being seen as a political tool of America to do its will, with glaring examples of Iraq and Afghan popping up in the mind.
But there was another time, when the UN spelt hope and dawn for all. In a book that extols the virtue of the United Nations, contextualised in the period of its founding, author Dan Plesch explains how the setting up of the UN ensured the avoidance of a World War III. America, Hitler and the UN: How the Allies Won World War II and Forced A Peace discusses the war atmosphere that prevailed all over the world with the axis powers marching on from one victory to another and how the Allied Forces put together this world body that guaranteed ‘one world for all, all for one world’ ideal. “Without ideas for a new international order that met the interests of Russia as well as the West, ‘the only alternative for the United States and the United Kingdom was most probably a quick shift from World War II to World War III. It could have happened somewhere in mid-Germany, when the armies of West and East met…”
The UN was created and projected as a world body that would work post-war as a cohesive organisation representing both small and big states and their individual interests. Much PR went into getting it popular acceptance. While F D Roosevelt, the then American president campaigned vigorously, in the UK, the royalty was involved. The most prominent national leaders were in the forefront of all activities relating to the US. The concept of lend-lease was sold to an unwilling Congress in the US to send weapons and strategic support to the Soviet Union.
The brand name United Nations was arrived at rather dramatically. Roosevelt had been working on many names. According to the dairy entry of his companion Roosevelt got the idea in the night of December 28, 1941. After breakfast the next day, unable to wait any longer, he asked to be wheeled to the chamber of Churchill, who was staying at the White House. When there was no reply to knocking, he asked to be left there. “He called to W.S.C (Churchill) & in the door leading to the bathroom appeared W.S.C.: ‘a pink cherub’ (FDR said) drying himself with a towel, and without a stitch on! F.D.R. pointed at him and exploded: The United Nation!’ ‘Good!’ said W.S.C.” And there the name was born.
Roosevelt also found the need to increase the acceptance of the UN in the public. He used parades as a means for that. In all the cities parades were organised, with New York witnessing one of the biggest, with more than 50,000 men participating. They marched past an estimated crowd of two million across miles.
Some of the major activities of the UN after the war proved the need for and worth of a global peace agency. The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) was created in 1943. “By 1946 it had become the largest single exporter in the world, shipping supplies to devastated areas in Asia and Europe. In Greece and many other places, UNRRA fed the starving.” In Greece, it was estimated that half the child population had died of starvation.
The other agency of the UN which did commendable work and is largely forgotten today is the UN War Crimes Commission (UNWCC). Created in 1943 by 17 nations, it was responsible for doing the ground work in bringing the Nazi war crimes to account. Prior to the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials, UNWCC brought war criminals to justice. Dan Plesch says “The access to its files today are blocked by undisclosed nations. Anyone seeking access needs authorisation from both their governments and the UN. Even then they are not permitted to make record of what they read.”
Discussing the effectiveness of the UN, Plesch says that wartime economic cooperation was part of the process that kept the Allies together during and immediately after the war. But by the 1980s, the economic blueprints and structures “bequeathed to us by the wartime decision makers had been discarded, and their tool-box of unfinished policy instruments long left out of economics teaching.” He quotes the far-sighted warning of economist Keynes, who at the end of World War I had predicted another war soon, as “The Versailles treaty of 1919 includes no provisions for the economic rehabilitation of Europe – nothing to make the defeated Central empires into good neighbours, nothing to stabilise the new states of Europe…” And hence it was imperative that the UN offer something to the post-war scenario.
But post-war cracks developed within the one-time allies. The photo of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin remained a moment in the album. “The Cold War and McCarthyism meant that both conservative Americans and anti-Americans in other parts of the world had a common cause in devaluing Roosevelt’s radical contribution. In America, by the late 1940s, it had become politically and professionally suicidal to say that the Russians, British and Americans had been allies who had created the UN.” The divisions started appearing in sharing the war spoils in Eastern Europe and political ideologies. Soon enough, world body became an arena for diplomatic point scoring with both sides almost always taking opposite positions, only for the sake of opposing. Today, the UN is seen as a West dominated organisation.
Pelsch’s book recounts the ideals that went into the formation of the UN and how well it served during and after the war. It continues to exercise its influence around the world, perhaps not as effectively as it should. Those who scoff at the UN should read the book to appreciate its global presence and role.
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