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Sixty years of the United Nations: can one organization free the world from poverty and war?


Students should understand

* When, why, and how the United Nations was established.

* What problems the organization faces today.


delegate: an official representative at a conference or convention * humanitarian (adj.): promoting the care and well-being of people.


Ask: "What do you know about the United Nations? Why was it started? Do you think that any organization would be able to keep peace around the world?"


World War I also produced an international peace organization, the League of Nations. At the Paris Peace Conference that formally ended the war in 1919, Allied leaders laid out the League with a purpose and structure nearly identical to the later UN. However, even though U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was one of the League's prime architects, Congress refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles and the League covenant, seriously undercutting its effectiveness. By the 1930s, the Axis powers of the coming Second World War felt free to seize territory in violation of the Treaty. Without any enforcement power, the League failed. It completely ceased its efforts during World War II.


FORMING AND SUPPORTING AN OPINION: What reforms might make the UN more effective? Explain. (Answers will vary.)


CREATE YOUR OWN UN: See "Get to Know a Nation" in the following lesson plan. Have the same groups act as their countries' delegates at a convention planning a new peacekeeping organization. What goals would they include in their charter? What rules and responsibilities would member nations have to observe? Have students defend/explain their choices.



* Global connections: How trouble in one part of the world can affect countries elsewhere; how countries can work together to solve problems.

* Individuals, groups, and institutions: How and why the United Nations was created, what goals were established, and how the institution is faring today.



* Tarsitano, Frank, United Nations (Gareth Stevens, 2003). Grades 5-8.

* Tessitore, John, Kofi Annan: The Peacekeeper (Scholastic, 2000). Grades 6 &, up.


* United Nations (kids' site) /CyberSchoolBus

* United Nations Children's Fund

Sixty years ago this month, the United Nations (UN) was born. Today, the world relies more than ever on the UN's humanitarian aid and peacekeeping efforts. But critics are asking whether it or any organization can truly keep peace between nations and limit human suffering.

The idea for the UN developed during World War II (1939-1945). Leaders of the Allies and other countries fighting Nazi Germany began to discuss forming an international peace organization. Historians say that U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt suggested the name United Nations.

By the spring of 1945, the world was in desperate shape. The war, which killed as many as 50 million people, had been the bloodiest conflict in history. Europe was in ruins. Soon, people everywhere would awaken to the horrors of the Holocaust, German dictator Adolf Hitler's mass slaughter of Jews. The outlook for a peaceful future seemed bleak.

The war in Europe ended with Germany's surrender in May 1945. A month later, delegates (representatives) from 50 countries met at a conference in San Francisco, California. There, they finalized the UN's charter. The charter pledged "to save succeeding generations from the scourge [suffering] of war." It also proposed "to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights."

The UN charter went into effect on October 24, 1945. Since then, the day has been celebrated as United Nations Day.

Charting a Course

Today, the UN, which has 191 member states, faces huge challenges. Wars in Sudan, Iraq, and elsewhere are taking the lives of innocent civilians. Terrorist attacks are on the rise.

The rate of global poverty is higher than ever. According to the United Nations Development Program, the world's richest 500 people have the same income as the poorest 416 million people combined. More than 1 billion people live on less than $1 a day, and 10.7 million children under age 5 die in poverty each year. Critics say that the UN, which has tens of thousands of employees worldwide, is too large to address such problems effectively. Scandals have raised additional concerns about the need to reform the organization. For example, a recent investigation found that top UN officials benefited improperly from an aid program in Iraq (before the fall of Saddam Hussein). Kofi Annan, the UN's Secretary-General, was not implicated (charged with criminal behavior). But some people have criticized his lack of oversight.

Nonetheless, the UN has an important role to play. In September, the General Assembly began its annual session at the organization's main headquarters in New York City by reaffirming a program called Millennium Development Goals. The goals include cutting world poverty and hunger rates in half by 2015. UN leaders also aim to reduce by two thirds the mortality (death) rate of children under age 5.

These are daunting tasks. But, says Kofi Annan, "If the United Nations does not attempt to chart a course for the world's people in the first decades of the new millennium, who will?"

Words to Know

* Allies: the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union during World War II.

* charter: a document that specifies an organization's mission.

* human rights: basic rights and freedoms to which all people are entitled, including freedom of speech and equality before the law.

Your Turn


1. How did World War II lead to the creation of the UN?

2. What challenges does the UN face? What would you do to make the organization more effective?


* Decide whether each sentence is true, false, or an opinion. Write your answer on the blank line provided.

-- 1. The UN should focus its efforts on keeping peace between nations in conflict.

-- 2. The UN is badly in need of reform.

-- 3. The UN was established between World War I and World War II.

-- 4. One goal stated in the UN Charter is that the organization will support "fundamental human rights."

-- 5. When the Holocaust was discovered, Nazi Germany was rejected as a UN member nation.


1. opinion

2. opinion

3. false (just as World War II was ending)

4. true

5. false (Nazi Germany had been defeated by the time the UN was founded.)
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Title Annotation:SPECIAL
Author:Brown, Bryan
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Date:Oct 17, 2005
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