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‘Act of Creation’: The Birth of the UN Charter and Why It’s So Essential Today, a New Podcast Series

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Delegates of 50 nations met in San Francisco from April 25 to June 26, 1945, working on the Dumbarton Oaks proposals, the Yalta Agreement and amendments proposed by various governments as the conference agreed on the Charter of the United Nations and the Statute of the New International Court of Justice. The Charter was passed unanimously and signed by all of the representatives and came into force on Oct. 24, 1945, when Britain, China, France, the Soviet Union and the United States and a majority of the other signatories filed their instruments of ratification. Delegations, above, attending a meeting in the auditorium of San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House. PassBlue’s new podcast series retells the story in detail of the creation of the UN Charter and its essential importance today, especially amid Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. UN PHOTO

SAN FRANCISCO — My acquaintance with Stephen Schlesinger’s book “Act of Creation: The Founding of the United Nations,” occurred almost precisely at the same time as the March 2020 Covid lockdown.

And now I introduce you to the first episode of a three-part podcast series of the same name, “Act of Creation,” which uses the book as a springboard to a fascinating conversation with Schlesinger, setting the scene when the UN Charter was born 78 years ago; how the negotiations for it ensued from April 25 to June 26, 1945; and taking stock of this singular moment and its enduring relevance today about lessons about leadership, about isolationism and about the power of an educated public.

Listen to the first episode on SoundCloud, Stitcher, Spotify, or Apple Podcasts

As a San Francisco educator and composer, I had only recently jumped into the UN orbit in 2020. I remember meeting with the president of the local chapter of the United Nations Association (a worldwide group whose mission is to educate the public about the UN), in the lobby of the San Francisco War Memorial Veterans Building. I knew this building well. It was home to the Herbst Theater, one of the city’s most prominent concert halls and a space I had been to, off and on the stage, at least a hundred times. Why meet here, I wondered?

The punch line, of course, is that I immediately learned that this very same Herbst Theater was where the UN Charter was signed on June 26, 1945. Neither I nor any of my colleagues in the arts world in the Bay Area knew this. (What does that say?) But it was at that moment — during that strange intersection — that I understood where my work for the next several years was to be focused.

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That year, 2020, was also the 75th anniversary of the UN, which created the context in which I discovered Schlesinger’s 2003 book and solidified all my personal intuitions. For the first time, I began to truly understand the guts — the mind, body and spirit — of this massive organization. (And it wasn’t for lack of trying before that.) Every page was rich with history, drama and amazingly relevant lessons for our own time.

It was only when the war in Ukraine fully broke out, in February 2022, that I truly became a crusader for Schlesinger’s book. I was sure that everyone at the upper levels of the UN must “of course!” be well versed with all the lessons that scream out from every page, lessons filled with inspiration, wisdom and plenty of political savvy. But I was wrong. I believe the UN’s failure to act during the buildup to Russia’s invasion on that cold February day is the greatest betrayal of the UN Charter in my lifetime.

If I could have afforded to buy thousands of “Act of Creation” and pass them around to UN members, I would have. But it hit me that the next best thing might be to make a podcast series, and happily Schlesinger agreed to be interviewed for two long but lively afternoons in September 2022, coincidentally as the UN General Assembly was holding its big annual meeting across town in Manhattan. Much of the tone and spirit of Schlesinger’s book emerges from his own retelling of this amazing story. His personal voice, both figuratively and literally, creates a riveting 35 minutes — (in the first episode) — that anyone associated with or interested in the UN should listen to. Right before they buy his book.

It was my pleasure to produce this podcast, for which I hosted, edited and composed the music. The series is done in collaboration with PassBlue and co-sponsored by UNA-San Francisco. — DAN BECKER

PassBlue receives major support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Open Society Foundations as well as from smaller foundations and, most important, from thousands of readers across the globe.

Listen to the first episode on SoundCloud, Stitcher, Spotify, or Apple Podcasts

 


We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts on the first podcast episode of "Act of Creation"?

Dan Becker is a composer, educator and board member of the UNA-San Francisco chapter. He received his doctorate of musical arts, master of music and master of musical arts from Yale University and has taught composition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He has received awards and grants from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and Meet the Composer, among many others. 

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‘Act of Creation’: The Birth of the UN Charter and Why It’s So Essential Today, a New Podcast Series
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Karren Palmer
Karren Palmer
5 months ago

Good morning to you, sir! My name is Karren and I have been facing the fact that I need to challenge my own personal “opinions” on several issues. The UN has been coming to the forefront of my mind of late due to the dire situations world wide. I do have a history of being opinionated and have not been favorable toward the UN and I no longer want to be this way. I wanted to find out the history of the UN and why and how it became. Is it a trustworthy and viable organization? A friend from Share International and from a Transmission Meditation group I recently began attending, was able to get your info to me. I have listened to part 1 of your series and ordered Act of Creation. I am also reading about the original charter and the role that Eleanor Roosevelt had in the UN’s founding. I so look forward to Part 2 and 3 of your series. I want to learn and understand. Thank you for pursuing your desire to do the same. This is helping me to mature. Blessings, Karren

Dr Bilali Camara
Dr Bilali Camara
1 year ago

The UN is not relevant as it was created before how many countries in the South? It is time to see that the UN has no real purpose today! A new UN is necessary, imperative and useful to address issues facing this world today as we cannot and should not perpetuate colonialism et imperialism!

Dr. Roger Kotila
Dr. Roger Kotila
1 year ago

“But I was wrong. I believe the UN’s failure to act during the buildup to Russia’s invasion on that cold February day is the greatest betrayal of the UN Charter in my lifetime.” The author of this statement is out of touch with the real history of the violations of the UN Charter: The invasion of Ukraine is minor compared to the (illegal) invasion of the U.S. of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, etc. And let’s not forget Viet Nam. Or how the U.S. allows Israel to brutally oppress the Palestinians and blocks the UN from intervening.

In point of fact, the U.S. has violated the UN Charter even back in 1945 when the U.S. mocked the UN by atomic bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Civilians murdered for no legitimate reason.

World federalists have noted that the UN Charter cannot, and has not, ended war — the UN’s primary mission. Why its consistent failures? The Charter is wrong. It must be replaced. World federalists and world citizen activists have taken note by calling for a review of the UN Charter (Center for UN Constitutional Research) which will open the door for the Earth Constitution and a “new UN” – a redesigned world charter/constitution with a democratic UN, a UN World Parliament and a well-designed world judiciary system with enforcement.

Dan Becker
1 year ago

Greetings Dr. Kotila-
Thank you so much for taking the time to write your passionate note. I appreciate very much your comment, as I appreciate all feedback. And I enjoyed very much perusing your website. I am familiar with all of the world conflicts you mention, as well as the criticisms of the Charter you describe. To the chagrin of my wife, copies of the United Nations Charter are scattered all across my home. I know it well. I believe a fair question to ask, in light of all of your examples and many, many more, is whether the Charter has failed the United Nations, or the United Nations has failed the Charter? But I certainly respect your view. All our points of view are by definition perched at different locations, with different qualities of breadth and depth. I see our responsibility as sharing that view as best we can, letting others ponder, do their own research, and then come to their own conclusions. That’s what I have done, and I stand by it. And I encourage everyone reading this to examine the website that is linked to your name. Finally, — and I apologize if this seems off subject — your comment has called to mind a favorite quote, which I hope you will take as a thank you and a compliment:
(by Montaigne)—“All I say is by way of discourse, and nothing by way of advice. I should not speak so boldly if it were my due to be believed.”
So indeed, thank you for engaging in such crucial discourse. I hope others do so as well. Best Wishes, Dan B.

Michael Bader
Michael Bader
1 year ago

Such a compelling story presented in a smart professional way. I loved the audio/radio clips. Kudos to Dan Becker!

Terje Andersen
Terje Andersen
1 year ago

Yes when the UNSG and its body fail to protect the UN Charter as explained above…we my need to have the history and take use of the knowledge of the Dag Hammarskjold Library and its historical staffing to help the UNSG to take use of the only tools he can to avoid any escalation or conflicts and also to solve all ongoing wars…as the history is written and stored at the Dag Hammarskjold Library on how to solve it…I saw it myself when the previous prime minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg, did not find any solutions on how NATO could avoid this conflicts and saying lets talk on the big steps of the UNNY and clearly say lets not make Ukraine to be part of NATO or European Union now…but my after 2050 if we solved the Climate problems …who we all knows is the life on earth if we look after it…So her the UN VOICE WAS WEEK and sadly 1 year later we looking for excuses on how to repair it…The UN and UNSG has the answers…he just need to enforce it by the UN Charter and with UN DIPLOMACY ON ITS BEST…

Mark Ritchie
1 year ago

Thank you Dan for this gift of history and perspective. On the 50th anniversary we organized a conference at the Opera House in San Francisco that featured and honored surviving founders of the UN. There were amazing stories shared that may be of interest to your podcast listeners. One that relates to the role of civil society was about a book published soon after the San Francisco conference by one of the young staff present at the creation, Dorothy Robins. https://www.amazon.com/Experiment-democracy-citizen-organizations-forging/dp/B0006CJTEU/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1NVDD5KF2YDEK&keywords=dorothy+robins+democracy&qid=1681812816&s=books&sprefix=dorothy+robins+democracy%2Cstripbooks%2C89&sr=1-1

Dr. Franz Baumann
Dr. Franz Baumann
1 year ago

The “war in Ukraine fully broke out in February 2022” as much as the “Polish war” broke out on 1 September 1939. Putin’s brutal attack was as unprovoked as Hitler’s, despite both dictators’ claim that their special operations were defensive. If truth is a war’s first victim, disingenuous language benefits the aggressor.

Dr. Belinda Reynolds

Wow! I could have spent hours listening to this insightful and engaging podcast. As a San Franciscan and lover of history I had no idea about the story of my city and its relationship to the start of the UN. I cannot wait for the second installment to learn more about this moment in time, so riveting to hear in both the archival recordings and in Mr. Schlesinger’s own words.

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