The United Nations just turned 70 and the once revered institution has not aged well.
This post war promise of peace has been plagued by paralysis, morphing into a dyspeptic dowager suffering from an interminable succession of stalemates.
It all points to its irrelevance.
That the UN should seem irrelevant now at a time of trouble when indeed it should be very relevant, is sad indeed.
The current jaundiced view of the United Nations stands in such contrasts with the utopian notion of the United Nations of my childhood.
A Marvel of Mankind’s Achievement
Growing up, the UN was presented to schoolchildren as a shining beacon of hope, a visionary example mankind’s great achievements.
Conceived during the horrors of WWII in a “never again” spirit it took its first steps during the deep freeze of the cold war where it teetered and tottered never quite developing its firm footing as world’s peacekeeper.
But it was faithfully cheered on, optimistically held up to the high goals of its conception.
The UN was formed in a glorious Kumbaya moment and it wasn’t hard to imagine multicultural members of the UN joining hands around a campfire singing the righteous folk song led by Pete Seeger.
The UN was mythologized in schoolbooks at the time.
The great expectations fairly leaped off the pages of the textbooks, boasting that this new institution “composed of freedom loving nations would act to prevent conflicts between nations and make future wars impossible.”
It was, it turns out, an impossible task.
“The UN was trying to help the world keep peace. The idea that through talking to each other we can settle problems instead of using force is such a new one that we have to grow accustomed to it.”
It would seem it is a concept we have never grown accustomed to.
Plays Well With Others
The United Nations was popularized and mythologized to children not only in schoolbooks, but in popular culture from activity books, comics and coloring books .
Even Betsy McCall got to the visit the UN in 1959.
Betsy McCall, the popular paper doll featured in Mcalls Magazine since 1951, regularly went to birthday parties , visited relatives, and played at the beach. But by 1959 , Betsy’s activities took a more patriotic tone as we followed her on her visits to the White House, West Point and in September the United Nations
For her special visit to N.Y.C. and the UN, little girls could dress Betsy in a black velvet topped cotton plaid dress clutching a Hi Neighbor book and a beautiful red coat that was “belted just like a movie stars.”
Driving into NYC with her parents from her all American “little white house with a porch and a backyard to play in” Betsy was understandably all keyed up to be at the United Nations..
“Isn’t it just like a holiday?” Betsy cried,
And it was, the reader is assured, “with the enormous flags of all nations fluttering from a long row of flagpoles and a zillion windows sparkling in the sun.”
Inside, Betsy and her joined other visitors on a guided tour who we learn “was an Indian lady…She wore a beautiful long scarf called a sari, wrapped around her..she showed them great meeting rooms where delegates would come from 82 countries to settle their problems without war.”
In one room Betsy visited there was a lovely statue of a little girl reaching for a huge bird. “That child is like a young nation reaching for independence,” said the guide. The UN protects young nations until they can care for themselves.”
“The way my parents look after me?” Betsy asks.
“Exactly!” said the guide.
One can only hope poor Betsy parents weren’t as dysfunctional as the UN would eventually become.
Though the UNs brand has often been tarnished, it undermines the heroic and remarkable humanitarian work it has achieved. It would be unfair not to cite examples of the UN’s remarkable achievements over the past 70 years – the defeat of small pox, the millions saved by vaccines , refugees workers and food aid and of course the great efforts of UNICEF.
Next: Trick or Treat For UNICEF
© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.