Friday, October 24, 2008

United Nations Day

Today is October 24, known as United Nations Day for it was on this day in 1945 that the United Nations Charter was signed in San Francisco, California at the conclusion of the Conference that founded the international organization.

I have a fairly strong affinity for the United Nations. When I worked for the Rockefeller Archive Center, I solidified that connection when I was working on the papers of Nelson Rockefeller, whose diplomatic career involved his work at the San Francisco Conference. The Archive Center commemorated the centennial of Nelson's birth this year. in addition to Nelson's contributions, his father, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., gave the land on which the United Nations headquarters now sits.

In high school, I was a member of the Model United Nations. This allowed me to travel to several conferences to represent my school. One conference, I traveled to Yale University, where I and another student were representing the Soviet Union on the Security Council. Unfortunately, we both returned late from lunch during the conference and in the interim, the rest of the Security Council had drafted a resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan (it was the early 80s). Without us there to veto, the resolution passed. It was not the finest moment. That conference featured a scenario the year before where our representatives to the Security Council were awakened in the middle of the night to deal with an international crisis - Germany had reunified and was preparing its forces to march on the rest of Western Europe. At another meeting, held in Washington DC (at the Hinckley Hilton, where I would later spend time at a number of other professional meetings), I bailed out on the awards ceremony (we weren't winning any awards anyway) to go to the National Zoo. Yes, those were the days.

As I have mentioned here before (I think), my mother was very involved in Girl Scouting and that presented me with the opportunity to help show girl scouts and girl guides from around the world around Manhattan (it also helped my social life, but that's a different post). We would often visit the United Nations, so I could often do the tour just as well as the docents that were giving it. Given my exposure to people from around the world, I had started a postcard collection and had accumulated an extensive set of cards from all corners. When I would visit the United Nations, I would often buy a postcard from the gift shop that featured the flag of a nation that I had in the collection (it's OK, I know that I'm a bit of a nerd). We would also take the opportunity to mail ourselves cards or letters from the UN Post Office, which is in International Territory, despite its physical location in New York City.

When I went to work for the International Monetary Fund Archives, one of the things I undertook was to plan an exhibition to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Bretton Woods Conference, from which the IMF and the World Bank were created. The Bretton Woods Conference took place a year before the UN Conference and served as a model for running that meeting. Some of the same issues arose (representation for Latin America chief among them) and these men (and a few women) forged these two organizations to create a firm foundation for rebuilding the international economic system. There have even been some calls recently that we need another Bretton Woods Conference to deal with the deepening financial crisis.

Happy United Nations Day to everyone!

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