A Citizens’ Movement for Founding the United Nations, 1938-1943
Two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a radio address saying, “There is no such thing as security for any nation – or any individual – in a world ruled by the principles of gangsterism. There is no such thing as impregnable defense against powerful aggressors who sneak up in the dark and strike without warning…. We are going to win the war and we are going to win the peace that follows. And in the dark hours of this day – and through dark days that may be yet to come – we will know that the vast majority of the members of the human race are on our side.” The next day, FDR’s personal secretary received a letter from Clark Eichelberger, the Director of the League of Nations Association, offering the services of his organization and related groups to help the President construct “the organization of the world for peace and justice.”
This was not a spontaneous idea born from shock of the attack. It was the exact opposite. For more than 20 years, Eichelberger, the LNA, and others had carried the banner for “World Organization” as declared by the League of Nations. While the League itself continued to slip into irrelevance, the LNA continued to promote the ideals of the League, calling for revisions of the League of Nations Covenant to make the world body both more effective and more acceptable to the United States. By the time World War II was at its bloodiest in the early 1940s, there was finally a consensus among the allies that a new organization for international security – not simply a victor’s peace – was necessary well before the shooting stopped so when peace finally came, the world would have a new foundation to build upon.
The LNA was founded in 1919 immediately after the Paris Peace Treaty that set down the terms of victory, including the creation of the League of Nations. Despite congressional and popular rejection of the League, the LNA continued to campaign for international engagement. The LNA was the founding organization that became the American Association for the United Nations (AAUN) in 1945 and finally the United Nations Association of the United States (UNA-USA) in 1964…
… The single overarching obsession of the internationalists – starting with FDR himself – was to ensure the multiple failures of the League of Nations would not be repeated. In global terms, this meant creating an international organization that had real authority and was not created as a victors’ peace. In US domestic terms, this meant engaging as broad a spectrum of political (especially Congressional) and popular opinion. It had been less than twenty years between the Paris Peace Accords of 1919 and Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938, meaning that for most political and military leaders in the late 1930s, the Great War was living memory. Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and Eichelberger were soldiers in the Great War; FDR was a junior government official at the time. In her memoirs, This I Remember, Eleanor Roosevelt recalled the United Nations Assembly in London in 1946 that brought up the ghosts of previous failures. “So many of the Europeans were older men who had made the effort with the League of Nations and were a little doubtful about a second international effort to keep the world at peace,” she wrote, “The loss of a generation makes itself felt acutely twenty to twenty-five years later, when many men who would have been leaders are just not there to lead.”
Among the internationalists, there was no debate that the failure of 1919 led directly to the next world war. And it certainly was not a question of hindsight. Paul Kennedy, in The Parliament of Man, reproduced a chilling political cartoon from 1919 entitled “Peace and the Cannon Fodder” from the [New York] Daily Herald. It depicts the Great War victors strolling out of the Paris Conference while cowering behind a column is a small, naked boy labeled “the soldier of 1940.” …
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