By: David Carlin
Today opens the 74th UN General Assembly. For many New Yorkers, mentioning the General Assembly evokes images of a Manhattan traffic apocalypse. Traffic notwithstanding, the United Nations reflects the remarkable vision of two great leaders: Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.
It was December 1941. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, America had entered WWII and immediately experienced a series of setbacks in the Pacific. The war in Europe and Africa was going nearly poorly too. Nazi troops were on the outskirts of Moscow and British forces faced losses in Libya. Amid this gloom, Churchill arrived at the White House. He and Roosevelt met extensivelyon the military situation and Anglo-American cooperation. Several months prior, the two had issued the Atlantic Charter. When the war’s outcome remained uncertain, this landmark document dared to imagine a free and peaceful future. The charter asserted the rights of self-government as well as economic and social freedom for all. It also laid the groundwork for international collaboration on a variety of topics from trade to defense.
Now, Churchill and Roosevelt sought to formalize their war aims and clarify the relationship between the numerous allied nations. Yet, they struggled to find a suitable name for their coalition. The name came to the president in a flash of inspiration. He raced to Churchill’s bedroom and announced: “the United Nations!” Roosevelt quickly realized that his guest was stark naked and begged his pardon. Churchill allegedly replied: “the prime minister of Great Britain has nothing to hide from the president of the United States!”
Tall tale or not, both men were unswervingly committed to building a better world from the ashes of WWII. On New Year’s Day 1942, Roosevelt and Churchill…
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