The U.N. after Fifty Years

April 25, 1995

Creation of the United Nations was one of the great achievements of World War II. Since then, it has often disappointed. But there has been no World War III.

The League of Nations was designed after World War I with American influence to keep the peace. The Senate rejected ratification, the U.S. stayed out and the League was dead in two decades. Throughout the terrors of World War II, most Americans believed there would have to be something better.

The 26 nations that allied after Pearl Harbor signed a "Declaration by United Nations" on Jan. 1, 1942, and the name was born. Summit meetings of the Big Four (the United States, Britain, the Soviet Union and China) determined to create a postwar organization. The U.N. was designed at meetings of Big Four diplomats from Aug. 21 to Oct. 7, 1944.

Fifty nations sent delegates to San Francisco for a conference starting fifty years ago today to write a United Nations charter based on that design. It was a matter of pride in Maryland that a Baltimore native was general secretary of the conference, responsible for its smooth functioning. His name was Alger Hiss.

Three years later, Whittaker Chambers testified that in the 1930s Hiss had given him U.S. secret documents to pass on to Moscow. Hiss denied it but was convicted of perjury for denying having been a Communist. Some conspiracy theorists pointed ever after to Alger Hiss' role in San Franciso as proof enough of the U.N.'s inherent wickedness.

The Charter was signed at the conference on June 26. It came into force -- and the U.N. was born -- on Oct. 24, 1945, with the 29th ratification (the Soviet Union's). The U.N. had first to decide whether it was a league of victors or the representative of humanity. It evolved into the latter, now with 184 members, and took in older international organizations as its specialized agencies.

This newspaper hailed the signing of the U.N. Charter as "completion of another step in the long effort to avoid the horrors of war."

"To make it work," The Sun concluded, "will impose burdens that only mature peoples with mature leaders can bear. The greatest of these burdens will lie upon the United States of America, whose thinkers conceived the charter and whose people now demand it."

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