SAN JOSE, October 24, 2014 — This day is considered a world holiday. The United Nations certainly considers United Nations Day a holiday, or at least a day of remembrance of the organization’s creation when the original charter was signed on October 24, 1945.
At the time of the UN’s founding, one of the most destructive and violent wars in human history had come to a close. It seemed that hope could be held out for an international organization focused upon fostering world peace.
Yet, many today are uncertain that the U.N. is capable as organized to promote and perpetuate peace around the world. However, only 100 years ago such an international organization did not exist and the world plunged into a global conflict that became known as the Great War.
Once the war broke out in Europe near the end of summer in 1914, the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, issued a proclamation of neutrality on August 4, 1914. The intent was basically to announce to the world the nations’ neutral position, with the broad expectation that American businesses could maintain trade with their European business partners as they had before the outbreak of hostilities. U.S. businesses had traded with most European nations at the time and it was definitely difficult for our country to simply choose sides in the complex web of political entanglements. For the most part, Americans could not comprehend why the nation should get involved.
At the outset, the continent-wide conflict appeared to be merely regional between the nation of Serbia and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. However, within a month of June 28, 1914, the date of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, the conflict turned ugly as one nation after another aligned with friendly nations as they prepared for violent warfare. By August, Austria-Hungary had invaded Serbia, the Russians began mobilizing for war and Germany had invaded Belgium, hell bent on taking control of France. The regional conflict had escalated to incredible proportion as it engulfed Europe and the Ottoman Empire as well.
In the United States, it was difficult because much of the population had immigrated to American from the “old country” and people were torn by mixed loyalties as the war consumed Europe and pitted one nation’s relatives against the other. Yet, it was viewed as entirely a European problem and not a U.S. concern. It was certainly a dark time in human history that swirled with uncertainty, destruction, and death. But, the majority of the populace believed it was best to stay out of the fray. President Woodrow Wilson completely agreed with the consensus of the American population, but U.S. business proceeded as usual and trading with combative nations on both sides of the conflict.
President Wilson agreed that the U.S. could maintain neutrality, but with tensions increasing between Germany and the U.S. over unrestrained submarine warfare, he began to waiver in such a staunch opinion. However, even after the sinking of the Lusitania, the U.S. had demanded and received assurances that Kaiser Wilhelm’s government would cease such indiscriminate destruction of life and property with its impressive fleet of U-boats. Despite the agreement, Germany’s military strategy reversed their promises when they announced on January 31st, 1917 that they would resume unrestricted submarine warfare on the following day, February 1st.
Despite everything, Wilson tried to hold onto the concept of neutrality and resisted the efforts of those in Congress who wanted to declare war. His Fourteen Points helped to lay the foundation for the Armistice on November 11th. The Armistice led to the efforts to discuss peace at Versailles. Part of the Treaty of Versailles included President Wilson’s plan to establish a “League of Nations,” which was the brainchild of Wilson and a bold attempt at establishing an organization that could enforce the peace and stability that had been established under the “peace” treaty. Unfortunately, the world became much more violent than anyone could imagine.
World War II proved the failure of the League. Unfortunately, fundamental flaws doomed the international body from the outset. The League was instituted via the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, but the U.S. Congress never ratified the Treaty and entered into a separate treaty with Germany. This represents one of the fundamental problems with the League. Ironically, the development of the League occurred without guidance from Wilson, the one with the vision for the organization’s existence. In addition, the U.S. was one of the only nations that possessed the economic means to assist the League after the Great War. Without U.S. guidance and financial support, its effectiveness faltered.
Without crucial U.S. support, war weary and financially strapped Britain and France were reluctant to take genuine leadership of the League. Without the will to fully enforce collective action upon member nations, the League did not become recognized as a relevant or viable organization in the world community. The League of Nations could carry out its fundamental mission when the Empire of Japan invaded and conquered Manchuria in 1931, and mainland China in 1937; nor could the League do much to stop Mussolini when he directed the invasion of Ethiopia. If the League was not capable of dealing with such incidents, it was also incapable of dealing with Hitler‘s machinations.
While the League of Nations was the noble vision of an American president, the United Nations was formulated upon that foundation by another American president with an equally noble vision, in the midst of another global war. However, the concept of “United Nations,” which was the word choice of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, replaced the loosely formulated “Associated Powers.” Roosevelt believed the nations fighting against the Axis Powers to be truly be united. But in reality, the nations were only united to defeat three dictators: Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo, or the Empire of Japan. A fourth dictator, Joseph Stalin, had his own ideas about the “unity” of those allied nations.
Unfortunately having the Soviet Union, a nation controlled by a dictator, within the core five nations that formed the U.N. Security Council meant that the idea of “united nations” was sure to be an underlying misnomer. According to the original charter of the U.N., the Security Council was the organ at the heart of the U.N.’s effort to maintain stability and security in the world. The five major allies: Great Britain, France, Nationalist China, the Soviet Union, and the United States became the five permanent members of the Security Council. …” To believe Stalin supported the concepts of freedom and peace in the world proved to be extremely naive after the U.N. Charter was signed in 1945.
The original vision of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, the ideal of the United Nations was originally conceived when the two leaders met and agreed upon the principles of the Atlantic Charter, which declared that peace was an essential foundational goal of the UN: “… they hope to see established a peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries, and which will afford assurance that all men in all lands may live out their lives in freedom…” In reality, trusting the Soviet Union as a member of the Security Council proved to be the same as the proverbial wolf trusted a to protect the hen house.
“Uncle Joe” Stalin appeared as a “benign dictator,” and the wolf did not appear to be a wolf. He had joined with the allies to fight against the Nazis. But, he held his secret schemes close to his vest. During the war he was trusted by the allied nations as he was an enemy of the Nazis, and the Soviet Union helped greatly in the defeat of Adolf Hitler. But, in that time, the people of the world knew little of the reality of Communism the way the people of Russia experienced it under Stalin’s repressive dictatorship. Ultimately, the world came to know Stalin somewhat when he refused to withdraw Soviet troops from Eastern Europe, and went on to establish repressive dictatorships.
Having a permanent seat on the Security Council enabled Stalin to do whatever he wanted in his quest for world domination through the establishment of International Communism. Originally, Stalin appeared to the world as the victim, and “Uncle Joe” eventually joined the Allies to fight the Nazis, only after his secretive and failed efforts to unite with Hitler through the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact (Nazi-Soviet Non-aggression Pact). Only too late, the world would come to know what Russians knew of Stalin’s repressive dictatorship. Yet, it was too good to be true for the dictator Stalin. His intent was not in alignment with the vision of Roosevelt and Churchill.
The unfortunate reality is that for the Soviet Union to have a permanent seat on the Security Council, equipped with veto power, was actually an insult to the original intent of the mission of the United Nations. The original intent of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill was to create an international organization that could promote and maintain peace, but built upon a foundation of freedom for humankind throughout the world. Sadly, in numerous instances after the establishment of the U.N., and the recognition of the very real limitations hindering the fulfillment of the mission of the Security Council, it fell to the U.S., and not the U.N., to solve major global problems.
Initial difficulty unfolded when the U.N. Security Council could not act when Stalin refused to withdraw Soviet troops from Eastern Europe, and the “Iron Curtain” fell between those Eastern European nations and the rest of the Free World. The U.N. Security Council could not act when Communists instigated a civil war in Greece. President Harry Truman and the U.S. assisted Greece, Turkey, and most of Europe through serious investment in the Marshall Plan. When Stalin initiated the blockade of the major Western nations supply routes to occupied Berlin in 1948, the United States through the Berlin Airlift resolved the problem to ensure that Berlin would remain free.
The United States also took an active role in helping to rebuild Europe into an economically and politically strong Europe. Several efforts were initiated to help Europe recover from the devastation of the war and resist the threat from global Communism. While the U.N. was just in its infancy, the U.S. took the lead in the formation of the European Recovery Program, the European Coal and Steel Community, and the Western European Union, as well as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), to name a few rebuilding efforts. The U.S. even offered to help in the war-torn Eastern European nations, but Soviet Union refused the offer.
During this same time, it was the Berlin Wall built at the instigation of Moscow that became one of the icons of a repressive regime. While the Security Council could not act in the forced detention of East Berliners because the Soviets used their veto power extensively while Stalin continued installing repressive dictatorships throughout the Eastern European nations and in North Korea. That wall eventually came down, as did the Soviet Empire. Yet the advent of a new and reinvigorated Russia under Vladimir Putin is making many people throughout the world wonder whether the ex-KGB leader is planning to reconstruct the old Soviet Empire in the present day.
Today, the old Soviet Union, again known as Russia, under the control of Putin, who once said that “The breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.” It is possible that Putin thinks he can repair the tragedy in this time. It will certainly not be the United Nations that would stop him. But the more important and serious question would be whether the U.S. under the present administration would be taken seriously in any challenge to the new Soviet expansionist policies. Gone are the days of Truman and Kennedy; gone are the days of Eisenhower and Reagan. Sadly in the absence of a perception of strength of will, or the power of unity, tyrants slither from the shadows.