It seems barely possible that the United Nations is twenty-five years old this year, but the calendar— merciless as always—says that it is. For someone who watched the birth of the organization, first the charter negotiations at Dumbarton Oaks, then the conference at San Francisco, the dramatic first meetings at Hunter College in New York, and the settling-in at the war-built factory on Long Island, this is a moment for reflection and nostalgia.
Reflection: Many can recall the great enthusiasm and great expectations with which America welcomed the creation of the UN. Partly out of guilt for our refusal to join the League of Nations, partly out of our certainty that true peace had come, we entrusted to the new organization hopes far greater than it could ever satisfy.
It was the dashing of these high hopes that led, soon thereafter, to our mixture of disillusionment and moral outrage when the planet proved to he far more complicated and willful than the One World we had talked about in the groping days of World War II.
Today, save for a vocal minority made up of types to whom the United Nations has always been anathema, we can feel better about the organization because we are somewhat more realistic about what it cannot do. It cannot settle the big disputes between the big powers, or between some of the small ones, either. It can but wring its hands over a tragedy like that now playing in Southeast Asia, or do no more than slacken the pace of the new one growing in the Middle East. But the UN can work as a cartilage between inflamed joints; it can light a lot of candles; and in the many activities of its affiliated agencies around the world, the UN has built itself into a sort of iceberg of achievement in cooperation among governments and among men.
As for nostalgia: There were moments in those early days when many who worked for it and many who wrote about it wondered if the organization would survive a decade, let alone a quarter century, caught as it was in the grinding mills of the cold war and the rising surgelast gasp?—of old nationalism in passionate new hands. But even in those glum days, there were saving interludes.
Who remembers the day in the Security Council at Lake Success when the late Senator Warren Austin, the generous and kind American representative, grew impatient with the wrangling over Palestine, and cried: “It is time the Arabs and Jews sat down and settled this dispute in the true Christian spirit”? Or the time when the acting chairman of the General Assembly’s Political Committee, an old Bolshevik named Dmitri Manuilski, exploded after being repeatedly overruled by the committee majority: “No, no, no!” he shouted, “this Democratic procedure must cease?”
Happy Silver Anniversary, UN.