Professor Charlene Mires’ Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations, NYU Press 4 March 2013 is the fascinating story of the competition by numerous cities in the United States to become the host of the United Nations.
Professor Mires’ account of the story of how the UN came to be located in New York City, over the objections of many members is highly informative, readable and enjoyable. It is about an America that once welcomed engagement with the world in the heady days following the Second World War before signs sponsored by the John Birth Society and others popped up across the country demanding “Get us out of the United Nations.”
Mires traces the stories of a number of major cities including San Francisco, Chicago, St Louis, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Detroit as well as the Rapid City South Dakota, Sault Ste. Marie Michigan, Niagara Falls New York, Stillwater Oklahoma and a host of other cities and towns that sought to host the UN.
The story which includes the attempts of various individuals, politicians and civic groups to lobby the UN to become its headquarters and thus the storied “Capital of the World” is fascinating. Though the campaign to host the UN happened over 60 years ago and we know the history of its location in New York the back story to how it came to located there is worth the read. Professor Mires tells the story of how the United States became the chosen nation of the location of the UN based on the history of Europe and questions of the emerging Cold War.
What I found interesting was how the members of the UN finally settled on New York, despite the fact that many did not wish the UN to be in the United States and if it was not to be in a major city. The story of how San Francisco, a city close to my heart which hosted the inaugural meeting of the UN in 1945 was cut out of the running when a UN committee decided that no locations in the western part of the United States would be considered. That decision, which was based more on European objections to the geographic location was difficult to read. I cannot think of a better city and thankfully the mistake was rectified by the late Gene Roddenberry in Star Trek when the United Federation of Planets located Starfleet Headquarters and Starfleet Academy in San Francisco.
That aside the story that Professor Mires paints of how the committee and the UN decided on New York is compelling. The process which included geographic, political and social concerns. Politically the influence of the American government should the location be too close to Washington DC prompted conferees to seek a location at least 300 miles from Washington. The real effects of Racism and Jim Crow laws eliminated all Southern cities and towns south of the Mason Dixon Line from the competition. Issues regarding crime, graft and corruption eliminated Philadelphia as well as other cities leading to the eventual selection of New York as the location for the nascent United Nations.
Overall I enjoyed the book. It was a quick, informative and enjoyable read. As a person who genuinely appreciates the work and promise of the UN, despite its shortcomings and failures I found it a story that caught my imagination and made me wonder the “what if” scenarios and what might have been if…
To me those are fascinating questions. What would have happened had the UN been located in San Francisco? Could it have led to the emergence of a stronger and move toward the Pacific Rim becoming the economic and political center of the world? Could the location of the UN in a place like Rapid City brought Middle America more global perspective and perhaps a larger population and economy? Could the selection of a Southern city led to a quicker end to Jim Crow and beginning of equal rights?
Those are questions for those that write alternative histories. They are speculation. Professor Mires work made me think of all of the possibilities that did not happen.
I recommend this book for those interested in the development of the United States in the late 1940s and early 1950s as well as those that like to have their eyes opened to possibilities that they never before had imagined. Perhaps in an alternate timeline San Francisco not only has the Giants, but the United Nations. I would like to visit that city.