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America, Hitler and the UN: How the Allies Won World War II and Forged Peace
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Dimbleby chairs Plesch book launch: CISD: SOAS
Each government dedicated itself, first and foremost, to employ its "full resources, military or economic, against those members of the Tripartite Pact [the Axis] and its adherents with which such government is at war". They were engaged, they said, "in a common struggle against savage and brutal forces seeking to subjugate the world". But foreshadowing the UN's more ambitious, postwar mandates, signatories also declared themselves "convinced that complete victory over their enemies is essential to defend life, liberty, independence and religious freedom, and to preserve human rights and justice in their own lands as well as in other lands.
One notable signatory was India, then still under British rule, but allowed at Roosevelt's insistence to act as an independent country. One notable absentee was France.
Roosevelt could not abide Charles de Gaulle, the Free French leader, and continued to recognise the Vichy regime as the government of France until the liberation in In all, 26 countries signed the original declaration. The modern-day UN numbers sovereign states. Despite the earlier failure of the League of Nations caused in large part by Washington's hostility , the idea of united nations joined in common cause against fascism proved immediately popular with an American public fearful of Japanese attacks on the US mainland, and with Europeans who for too long had faced the Nazis alone.
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The term "UN forces" was soon routinely substituted for "US", "British" or "Russian" forces in reports of allied military actions. The first United Nations day was widely celebrated in June, , including a record-breaking parade in New York. It was publicly supported in London, at Churchill's behest, by the young Princess Elizabeth and the British royal family.
As Plesch relates, even Stalin was enthusiastic, optimistically instructing his generals to prepare for a UN march on Berlin. Typically, he tried to induce British foreign secretary Anthony Eden to agree postwar European spheres of influence a full three years before the war actually ended. Eden declined the offer.
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As the war intensified, and then slowly began to turn in the allies' favour, the UN in all its aspects proved both a practical force and a rallying totem across what was termed the "free world". Commenting on the Normandy landings, a Times editorial declared portentously that, four years after Dunkirk, "the United Nations returned yesterday to the soil of France". Only after , when the "free world" fractured into eastern and western camps, symbolised by Churchill's image of an Iron Curtain dividing Europe , did the UN's promise collide with the new postwar realities.
With the US, Britain and the Soviet Union entrenched and already at odds in the new UN security council it held its first meeting in London in January, , it became clear that in overthrowing the old world order, a new order had been created that posed a whole new set of challenges — and some very old ones, too.
Foremost among the latter was the question of when and whether to use military force.
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