On Watch by Marcus Fisk

The UN – Sometimes a Great Notion

On Watch

An early BOGSAT at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 where the League of Nations was born. Italian Premier Vittorio Orlando, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, French Premier Georges Clemenceau and President Woodrow Wilson.

By Marcus Fisk

“…solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights … and to be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.”

Article 1 – United Nations Charter

ALEXANDRIA,VA- In June of 1945, the most famous BOGSAT (Bunch Of Guys Sitting Around Talking) ever convened for world peace signed the United Nations Charter. The UN was the culmination of half a century of backroom chats, cajoling, back-slapping, arm-twisting, and Mexican standoffs among the world’s who’s-who of diplomatic and political players. The UN itself was over three years in the making, and getting there was no picnic.

It’s predecessor, the League of Nations, was the result of a Herculean effort by President Woodrow Wilson to create an international organization to settle disputes early on, before they festered into something similar to World War I.

The Great War,(1) as it was called back then, introduced horrific weapons of mass destruction. Coupled with that ugly situation was that intellectually the generals were still fighting the last century’s war and applied field tactics that hadn’t changed in nearly a hundred years. There were 40 million casualties during WW I and over four years from 1914 to 1918 some 20 million died and 21 million were wounded.

The U.S. came into WWI late in the 7th inning. Wilson was a Virginian, a career academic, and a late bloomer in politics when he’d become the governor of New Jersey, back when being the governor of New Jersey was still a good thing. As president, he said we were not going to get involved in Europe.(2) His campaign slogan in 1916 was “He kept us out of war,” and it got him re-elected. But then a German submarine sank the liner RMS Lusitania with a bunch of Americans on it and people started getting testy and wanted to knock Germans into left field. But Wilson held out.

Then there was the Zimmerman Telegram and all hell broke loose. Zimmerman, Germany’s foreign minister, sent a note to the Mexican government saying that if Mexico joined Germany and started fighting America, they’d give Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona back to Mexico. Well, the gloves came off and America went riding to Europe’s defense like the cavalry in a John Wayne movie.

After the war Wilson saw all the devastation. A shrewd politician, Wilson knew that thousands of veterans blind from mustard gas and limping around missing limbs was bad for votes, so he sat down and cooked up his Fourteen Points. It became the blueprint for the League of Nations.

The intent of the League was simple: disarmament, peace through collective security, diplomacy, and improving global welfare. Wilson’s approval ratings worldwide were great—he had won the Nobel Peace Prize—so he took membership in the League to Congress and wouldn’t you know it, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge had a hissy-fit saying only the U.S. Congress could decide if we were going to war—not a bunch of foreigners—and Congress voted “No.”

A UN Peacekeeper on station in Africa.

On November 16, 1920, they held the first meeting. At its peak, some 63 countries became members. But membership became musical chairs, some not being able to afford it, revolting from a mother country, or being absorbed by another country and disappearing overnight.(3)

There were three categories of countries leaving. Some withdrew of their own choice. Others left when they ceased to exist because they were gobbled-up by another country. The last category was expelled. Just like in high school, this was a big deal and extremely rare with the Soviet Union being the only country expelled in 1939, for invading Poland. Germany wasn’t expelled even though Hitler invaded Poland, too, with Stalin.

Hitler thought Germany got a bad deal after the war, so he withdrew in 1933. Others that withdrew in 1933 were Italy, Spain, and Japan. If you see in the news that your country’s supreme leader, president, or premier “chooses” to leave an international organization for peace and security, or withdraw from an international treaty or agreement, consider this your warning.(4)

The League was resurrected in a new form called the United Nations in 1945. The difference this time was that the UN had teeth in the form of collective military power to thump on anyone upsetting the applecart. On several occasions, UN forces have stepped in and kept folks from chopping up others less fortunate. But lately the UN has moved away from using collective military force (i.e., peacekeeping) to BOGSATs, chatting about everything from currency exchange rates to kidnapping children into sex slavery. It seems easier and more popular today to take out-of-work former diplomats and find them a slot in the UN than to confront bad guys with a big stick.

Now I’m just a layman, but looking at the UN Charter, I think if we really employed Article 1 in a big, broad way, we might eliminate some of the world’s biggest problems, or at least put a dent in the works of those power-mongers dead set against world peace.

Imagine what could be done by employing a portion of all the world’s navies and coast guards in trouble spots. If member nations contributed 10 percent of their maritime assets in a global force to support migration from conflict and war, think of what it would do for peace and stability.

Take away the profiteers operating unseaworthy boats at obscene prices in the Mediterranean and provide migrants with a safe and secure environment to receive medical care, collect themselves and start a new life away from terror and strife. A global force evacuating people from harm’s way could defeat the inhumane, black-market transportation industry operating there unrestricted.

Consider an armed international force rooting out gangs in Africa. These gang members who force women into sex slavery by a distortion of religious text should be neutered themselves with a strong global military force. It seems that’s all they understand.

And let’s consider not just military force. Look what could be achieved by expanding the definition of collective military power into a force for mankind. If I were the Secretary General of the UN, I would convene member nation military assets to support humanitarian assistance. Let’s face it: if there is one thing the military is good at, it is dealing with chaos. Imagine the medical, housing, maintenance, engineering, and logistics expertise that could have been applied at-large by the UN in the Caribbean in the aftermath of Atlantic hurricanes, in the Pacific after tsunamis, in Europe during flash floods or volcanoes, or during Ebola pandemics. A large group of soldiers in blue helmets providing security along with humanitarian assistance would go further in advancing world peace and security than another BOGSAT holding a press conference announcing a new “agreement in principle.”

Maybe Woodrow Wilson was right and BOGSAT diplomacy really can work. But what do I know?


1)Clearly the PR whiz kid who branded it The Great War hadn’t spent time in the water-soaked trenches of the Western Front, dodged machine gun bullets, or ever donned a gas mask. Some guys never get the memo.

2) Except to travel or hang out with dozens of American artists. European travel had experienced a real slump because of all the trenches and artillery falling on all the tourist attractions. But the artists who had invaded Rome, Paris, and Brussels simply went ga-ga for Europe. They loved all the drinking, painting, writing, and general cavorting.

3) This happens sometimes and makes things inconvenient; printing new stationery, short-term rentals during peak season, and learning new bus routes.

4) It’s usually a sign that it’s time to close your bank accounts, divest your 401K, put the house on the market, schedule the movers, and check into a VRBO on another CONTINENT for a while, until the dust settles.

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