The United Nations was created from the strategic vision of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who deemed it essential that the world have an effective international security organization. Even before the U.S. entered World War II, Roosevelt's administration had begun planning for a postwar world. FDR died on April 12, 1945, just two weeks before the San Francisco conference on the U.N. was set to begin. New president Harry Truman was facing other major foreign policy questions, but his strong belief in the U.N. concept led him to proceed with the conference. The story of that crucial meeting, at which 46 nations gathered for two months to establish the organization, is told in Stephen Schlesinger's compelling new book Act of Creation: The Founding of the United Nations.
At the heart of the narrative are two little-known but extraordinary men. One is Secretary of State Edward Stettinius, head of the U.S. delegation, who did an outstanding job of forging consensus. The other was Russian Å½migrÅ½ Leo Pasvolsky, a State Department official who was most responsible for writing the U.N. charter. His analytical skills and willingness to work behind the scenes made him indispensable.
Of the many issues covered at the San Francisco conference, probably the most contentious was that regarding the veto power in the Security Council. The understanding agreed to at Yalta gave the five permanent Security Council members absolute veto over "substantive matters" vague wording that prompted smaller nations to question the scope of the veto, a crisis that threatened the success of the conference. Among the journalists covering the event was a 27-year-old former naval officer, John F. Kennedy. In summarizing the results of the meeting, he wrote that, overall, "What [the] Conference accomplished is that it made war more difficult."For all its successes and failures, the U.N. has played an important role in world politics for over half a century. Schlesinger's impressive account of its founding deserves a wide readership. Roger Bishop is a bookseller in Nashville.