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Saturday, October 24, 2015

October 24-25, 2015: The US and the UN

[October 24th marks the 70th anniversary of the official establishment of the United Nations. So this week I’ve AmericanStudied five histories connect to the UN, leading up to this weekend post on the worst and best of the US’s relationship to the organization.]
On the broad spectrum that is the US-UN relationship, and where we go from here.
In my Tuesday and Wednesday posts this week I highlighted two of the most inspiring historical connections between the United States and the United Nations: the central role played by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in originating and developing the international organization after the American entrance into World War II, and the May 1945 ceremony in California’s Muir Woods in which UN representatives commemorated and celebrated Roosevelt and his vital influence. In a post from this past February, on the other hand, I highlighted one of the most extreme and negative American perspectives on the UN: the early 1990s rise of the “black helicopters” conspiracy theory, a paranoid fear of UN takeover and a global new world order that continues to influence our contemporary politics far more than we might think.
Put that way, it might seem that the relationship between the US and the UN deteroriated over the half-century between the organization’s founding and the 1994 midterm elections (perhaps the high-water mark for the black helicopters conspiracy crowd). But it would be more accurate to note that the broad spectrum of US responses to and perspectives on the organization has been a part of the story all along: organizations like the John Birch society have long opposed US involvement in the UN, while a popular late 1950s and early 1960s bumper sticker read “You can’t spell communism without U.N.”; while in our own moment, and despite heated disagreements between the Bush administration and the UN over the Iraq War, polls consistently demonstrate that a majority of Americans continue to support both US cooperation with the UN and the existence of a standing UN peacekeeping force. Like the global peacekeeping efforts about which I wrote in yesterday’s post, that is, this US-UN relationship has always been and remains a mixed bag.
Given the world’s enduring complexities and (especially) our inability here in the 21st century US to agree on anything about society or politics (or science, or basic facts), it doesn’t seem likely that American support for the UN will solidify any further or any more consistently in the years ahead. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth trying, and more exactly that there aren’t important ways that the US and the UN can work together regardless of public sentiments. To my mind, by far the most significant issue on which such cooperation will be crucial is climate change, the global crisis that in recent months has seen strong statements and proposals from both President Obama and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, along with other world leaders including Pope Francis himself. From the League of Nations in the 1920s through the United Nations here in 2015, these international organizations haven’t been able to achieve the goal of preventing war. Without eliding the importance of continuing to strive for peace, maybe it’s time for a new central objective, one that the US and all the world’s nations can share with the UN: of working together to combat climate change, before there’s no inhabitable globe left on which to unite us.
Next series starts Monday,
PS. What do you think?

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