"Money was maliciously introduced in ancient times as a tool of enslavement" -
Michael Tellinger

"The present belongs to the future and future generations, and all old laws, religious and other, should be abrogated immediately. Free us!" - Vinay Gupta on Twitter

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - R. Buckminster Fuller

"You find the strangest ways to be positive!" - Diane Duane, Wizards Abroad

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

An Insider's Guide to the UN (book review)

It really amazes me how few people seem to be interested in the UN, what it does, and what it can do. Sometimes the only people you hear talking about the UN are conspiracy theorists who don't appear to be in possession of a single fact about the organization. Of course, maybe that's just the impression given by the mass media, and, well, consider the source.

In honor of my sister Andrea's visit here (she worked for many years with the International Labour Organisation, or ILO, of the UN, as did our father when it first started, and as does Andrea's daughter Simrin now), I include this review I wrote upon the publication of an excellent work of popular journalism about the UN. When I hear people saying stupid things about the UN I like to recommend this book for basic information rather than trying to educate them myself. Saves a lot of time and aggravation and Fasulo already went to the trouble.


An Insider's Guide to the UN by Linda Fasulo (2002).

With fine journalistic clarity, the author leads readers through the complex organizational structure of the United Nations, shedding light on its mission, evolution, and controversies. The "insider" of the title is not just Fasulo, an experienced UN correspondent, but also a number of frequently quoted former UN diplomats and staffers, including David Malone, John Negroponte, and Mark Malloch Brown.

Primary documents include the Preamble, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ("which remains as fresh and radical now as when it was adopted in 1948"), and key articles of the UN Charter.

Fasulo shows that though it began as an organization to represent governments of countries, the UN is increasingly concerned with the welfare of individuals whatever their nationality. She discusses influential leaders such as Secretary General Kofi Annan and topics such as globalization, drug trafficking, terrorism, and the biosphere. Sidebars, charts, and well-placed, black-and-white photographs break up the text, inviting browsing and providing detailed information on topics such as the UN response to the September 11 attacks.

The chapter "Making a Career at the UN" is an interesting narrative from a career staffer about his early days, and "A Tour of UN Headquarters" would be useful to prospective visitors. This concise, highly readable volume is an invaluable and essential source of information for general readers, report writers, and Model UN delegates.

The book is now out in a second edition.

(reviewed originally for SLJ)

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PS I like to revisit the Preamble from time to time, which is still an inspiring document. And a necessary one. A small footnote to its history: it was drafted by Archibald MacLeish, then the US Poet Laureate, a good liberal. After he had a serious draft worked up, he asked some friends, including my father, Selden, to look it over in case they could spot any problems. (When I thought to ask about this forty years later, Selden said he did have a couple of minor suggestions for Archie, but wouldn't tell me what they were, if indeed he remembered.)

Soon after "Archy" turned in his draft, and it became the UN Preamble, and at this time, just as I was being born, my father was beginning a new career as first press officer of the brand-new ILO (International Labour Organisation) of the brand-new UN in Paris. But soon after that, in one of corrupt FBI chief J Edgar Hoover's many political purges (in which Harry Truman invariably acquiesced) a large number of Americans were forced out of UN employment, including Selden. (Fasulo refers to this mass firing as one of the more shameful incidents in UN history - shameful that they went along with it, contrary to their own principles - but they were just starting then, and dependent on the US for funding at the time... funny to think of that now, when the US is hugely in arrears, having refused for decades to pay our full dues to the UN).

This little-known Post-WWII incident was an opening shot of the next phase of the now-nearly-century-long war of the FBI and right wing Americans against American progressives; it culminated in McCarthyism later, cloaked in "Cold War" propaganda and generally condoned by the American public and press. It still is.

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