Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Sixty-One Years

Today is United Nations Day, the sixty-first anniversary of the entry into force of the Charter of the United Nations. It seems an opportune time to quote a bit of poetry.

In 1837, Tennyson penned a poem entitled "Locksley Hall." Paul Kennedy uses the following passage (minus the last two lines I've quoted) as the epigram for his recent book on the UN, The Parliament of Man: The Past, Present, and Future of the United Nations.

For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;

Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight dropping down with costly bales;

Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain'd a ghastly dew
From the nations' airy navies grappling in the central blue;

Far along the world-wide whisper of the south-wind rushing warm,
With the standards of the peoples plunging thro' the thunder-storm;

Till the war-drum throbb'd no longer, and the battle-flags were furl'd
In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.

There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe,
And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law.

Tennyson's vision of a "parliament of man" was certainly idealistic. No less idealistic was the vision of those who framed the UN Charter. But such visions can change the world, even when they are not fully realized.

Kennedy writes (pp. 45-46):

What is incontestable is that the UN's founders had, in some way, created a new world order. The structure of international politics after 1945 was different from that after 1648 and 1815; different even from that after 1919, because it now brought all of the Great Powers into the tent (even the difficult United States) and had given the new international entity a broader remit to address the economic, social, and cultural reasons that it believed drove people toward conflict.