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Harry S. Truman and the United Nations Conference of 1945

Essay 2016 5 Seiten

Geschichte - Amerika


Joe Majerus, April 2016

Harry S. Truman and the United Nations Conference of 1945

While the Second World War was slowly drawing to a close both in Europe and in Asia, the United States government was already in the midst of making comprehensive plans for a more stable and peaceful international order in the years to come. In that regard, senior executives attached particular importance to the budding United Nations organization, a transnational institution which notably President Truman viewed as one of the seminal centrepieces of world peace and security.[1] Two vital speeches delivered by Truman in the spring and early summer of 1945 amply reflected this sentiment. Less than two weeks after the former Senator from Missouri had been sworn into office after the death of his predecessor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Truman gave his first major international address at the opening ceremony of the United Nations conference in San Francisco where delegates from all over the world had gathered to set up the new international organization.

As Truman stated in the beginning of that speech, the world had recently "experienced a revival of an old faith in the everlasting moral force of justice", and in "no time in history has there been a more important Conference, or a more necessary meeting, than this one in San Francisco."[2] All nations had to remember those who had sacrificed their lives to the cause of justice, and it now fell upon those present to "work and live to guarantee justice--for all." Having lived through "the torture and the tragedy of two world conflicts," everyone had to realize the magnitude of the problem before them, namely that with "ever-increasing brutality and destruction, modern warfare, if unchecked, would ultimately crush all civilization." Therefore the world had to choose between the continuation of international chaos or the establishment of a world organization for the enforcement of peace. To create the structure of that organization, the representatives of dozens of countries had convened in San Francisco to provide "the machinery which will make future peace not only possible, but certain." After all, countries could no longer "sacrifice the flower of [their] youth merely to check madmen, those who in every age plan world domination." Instead their sacrifices had to lead "to the building for tomorrow of a mighty combination of nations founded upon justice--on peace." Nothing, Truman reminded his listeners, was more important than continued cooperation among the nations of the world. Especially the great powers had a solemn responsibility to enforce the peace, based upon the "obligations resting upon all states, large and small, not to use force in international relations, except in the defense of law," a responsibility "to serve, and not dominate the peoples of the world."[3]

Every nation had to realize that just as victory in war requires a mighty united effort, so too peace calls for an equal effort. For lasting security, Truman admonished, men of good-will had to unite and organize, while they also needed to be adequately prepared to meet any challenge. Naturally, differences between nations would remain, yet such differences might actually be wholesome if held within reasonable limits, given that "all progress begins with differences of opinion and moves onward as the differences are adjusted through reason and mutual understanding." Hence the primary task before them was to provide machinery for settling disputes among nations peacefully rather than with bombs and bayonets, an objective without which peace could not exist. To reverse the old order and the fundamental concept that "Might is Right", they had to prove by their own acts that Right Has Might, given that if they did not want to die together in war, they had to learn to live together in peace.[4]

Two months later, Truman once again expressed similar thoughts and ideas in his speech at the closing session of the United Nations Conference in San Francisco. Pleased by the progress made in the past few weeks by the assembled delegates on the structure and charter of the UN, Truman asserted that work on the charter constituted nothing less than a victory against war itself. The charter after all was a declaration of great faith by the nations of the earth, i.e. faith that war is not inevitable and that peace could be maintained. Like the constitution of the United States itself, the charter of the United Nations had to be expanded and improved as time went on. It was certainly not a final or a perfect instrument, and therefore would require constant readjustments, albeit, importantly, only readjustments of peace and not of war. Despite doubt on many sides that such an agreement could ever be reached, fifty countries differing in race and religion, in language and in culture, had cast aside all of their differences in "one unshakable unity of determination--to find a way to end wars."[5] In consequence, the charter was thus not merely "the work of any single nation or group of nations, large or small," but rather the "result of a spirit of give-and-take, of tolerance for the views and interests of others." It was proof that "nations, like men, can state their differences, can face them, and then can find common ground on which to stand." Already while the fighting in Europe and Far East Asia was still going on, the nascent United Nations had had experience in reaching numerous economic agreements for times of peace, notably those achieved on the subject of relief at Atlantic City, food at Hot Springs, and finance at Bretton Woods. Those accomplishments, Truman proudly declared, were already a fair test of "what can be done by nations determined to live cooperatively in a world where they cannot live peacefully any other way," with the result that the liberty-loving nations had "created a great instrument for peace and security and human progress in the world." However, Truman warned, the world now also had to use it, for if they failed to do so, they would "betray all those who have died in order that we might meet here in freedom and safety to create it." The successful use of that instrument would require "the united will and firm determination of the free peoples who have created it," while also taxing the moral strength and fibre of them all. No nation could simply do as it pleases or keep security for itself; instead they all had to be ready and willing to share security with all.[6]

Hence the powerful nations which had come out of the war had no right to dominate the world, but, on the contrary, a duty "to assume the responsibility for leadership toward a world of peace" by employing their power and strength "not to wage war, but to keep the world at peace, and free from the fear of war." By their own example they had to show the way towards international justice, "not by words alone but by continued concrete acts of good will." Experience after all had shown how deeply the seeds of war were planted by social injustice and economic rivalry, a fact which the charter of the UN fully recognized by making provisions for international machinery to "help correct economic and social causes for conflict." More specifically, the charter was dedicated to "the achievement and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms," goals without which there could be no permanent peace and security as Truman further noted. Although the fascist regimes of Italy and Germany had been defeated in battle, Truman nevertheless stated that victory on the battlefield was not enough. For a good and lasting peace, the free nations of the earth had to remain determined to strike down the evil spirit which had hung over the world for the past decade, given that it was after all easier to remove tyrants and destroy concentration camps than it was to "kill the ideas which gave them birth and strength." Consequently, it was now upon all of them to transform into action the words which they had written through realizing the hope for a world of free countries with decent standards of living "which will work and cooperate in a friendly civilized community of nations."[7]


[1] Harry S. Truman, Memoirs. Year of Decision, Volume I (New York: Signet Books, 1955), p. 19.

[2] Harry S. Truman:"Address to the United Nations Conference in San Francisco," April 25, 1945.Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Harry S. Truman:"Address in San Francisco at the Closing Session of the United Nations Conference.," June 26, 1945.Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.


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Titel: Harry S. Truman and the United Nations Conference of 1945