Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Happy United Nations Day

2In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. 3Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. 5O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

Isaiah 2:2-5

At the United Nations building in New York City there is a statue of a man beating a giant sword into a plowshare. The sculpture, titled, “Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares,” was created by Evgeniv Vuchetich and given as a gift by the Soviet Union in 1959.

When President Reagan addressed the United Nations General Assembly in 1987, he began by describing the journey that brought the delegates and the nations together as a kind of pilgrimage, and then he said, “We come from every continent, every race, and most religions to this great hall of hope . . .”

Near the conclusion of his address, speaking specifically to the Soviet Union as well as to the whole assembly, he asked, “Cannot swords be turned to plowshares? Can we and all nations not live in peace? In our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity. Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences world-wide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world. And yet, I ask you, is not an alien force already among us? What could be more alien than war and the threat of war?”

The United Nations Charter was ratified on October 24, 1945. Today is United Nations Day. When I was a boy we celebrated United Nations Sunday in church every year.

My guess is that most people don’t know that today is United Nations Day. And we do not have many political leaders who would speak of the U.N. assembly room as “this great hall of hope.”

Over the years the United Nations has relentlessly vilified and marginalized by politicians. Some see it as simply ineffective and others see it as a threat to our sovereignty. In his new book, “The Black Helicopters Are Coming!” political commentator Dick Morris’ claims that President Obama is plotting to have the United States invaded by the United Nations. Morris admits that “it sounds crazy,” but insists that it is really going to happen.

It doesn’t just sound crazy. It really and truly is crazy. But this is where we are.

The truth is that the United Nations has not lived up to our expectations. We have avoided massive world wars, and that is no small achievement. The second half of the twentieth century was much more peaceful than the first half. And the United Nations must take some share of the credit for that. On the other hand, smaller wars have been constant and the resulting deaths and injuries have been staggering.

In spite of its obvious limitations, the world is a better place because of the United Nations, and on United Nations Day I want to touch briefly on a few of the U.N. organizations that have fostered international progress and understanding.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is organized to reduce hunger worldwide through improving agricultural productivity and raising levels of nutrition. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is similarly targeted to reduce rural poverty in developing nations by funding relief efforts.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) promotes global cooperation to improve maritime safety and decrease marine pollution.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) acts as a forum for discussing global financial issues and provides loans to developing countries.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) promotes world peace and security by fostering international cooperation in education, science and culture. They promote the fundamental freedoms endorsed in the UN Charter.

And then there are some UN organizations that require no further description: the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Trade Organization (WHO), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and the World Bank Group (WBG) which includes five sub-groups focused on promoting development and reconstruction.

It is an impressive list. Together they promote an international strategy for beating swords into plowshares. 

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