Harry S. Truman photo

Address in New York City Before the United Nations General Assembly.

October 24, 1950

Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, the people of the United Nations:

Five years ago today the Charter of the United Nations came into force. By virtue of that event, October 24, 1945, became a great day in the history of the world.

Long before that day, the idea of an association of nations to keep the peace had lived as a dream in the hearts and minds of men. Woodrow Wilson was the author of that idea in our time. The organization that was brought into being on October 24, 1945, represents our greatest advance toward making that dream a reality.

The United Nations was born out of an agony of war--the most terrible war in history. Those who drew up the charter really had less to do with the creation of the United Nations than the millions who fought and died in that war. We who work to carry out its great principles should always remember that this organization owes its existence to the blood and sacrifice of millions of men and women. It is built out of their hopes for peace and justice.

The United Nations represents the idea of a universal morality, superior to the interests of individual nations. Its foundation does not rest upon power or privilege; it rests upon faith. They rest upon the faith of men in human values--upon the belief that men in every land hold the same high ideals and strive toward the same goals for peace and justice.

This faith is deeply held by the people of the United States of America and, I believe, by the peoples of all other countries.

Governments may sometimes falter in their support of the United Nations, but the peoples of the world do not falter. The demand of men and women throughout the world for international order and justice is one of the strongest forces in these troubled times.

We have just had a vivid demonstration of that fact in Korea. The invasion of the Republic of Korea was a direct challenge to the principles of the United Nations. That challenge was met by an overwhelming response. The people of almost every member country supported the decision of the Security Council to meet this aggression with force. Few acts in our time have met with such widespread approval.

In uniting to crush the aggressors in Korea, these member nations have done no more than the charter calls for. But the important thing is that they have done it, and they have done it successfully. They have given dramatic evidence that the charter works. They have proved that the charter is a living instrument backed by the material and moral strength of members, large and small.

The men who laid down their lives for the United Nations in Korea will have a place in our memory, and in the memory of the world, forever. They died in order that the United Nations might live.

As a .result of their sacrifices, the United Nations today is stronger than it ever has been. Today, it is better able than ever before to fulfill the hopes that men have placed in it.

I believe the people of the world rely on the United Nations to help them achieve two great purposes. They look to it to help them improve the conditions under which they live. And they rely on it to fulfill their profound longing for peace.

These two purposes are closely interwoven. Without peace, it is impossible to make lasting progress toward a better life for all. Without progress in human welfare, the foundations of peace will be insecure. That is why we can never afford to neglect one of these purposes at the expense of the other.

Throughout the world today, men are seeking a better life. They want to be freed from the bondage and the injustice of the past. They want to work out their own destinies. These aspirations of mankind can be met--met without conflict and bloodshed--by international cooperation through the United Nations.

To us in this assembly hall, the United Nations that we see and hear is made up of speeches, debates, and resolutions.

But to millions of people, the United Nations is a source of direct help in their everyday lives. To them it is a case of food or a box of schoolbooks; it is a doctor who vaccinates their children; it is an expert who shows them how to raise more rice, or more wheat, on their land; it is the flag which marks a safe haven to the refugee, or an extra meal a day to a nursing mother.

These are not the only ways in which the United Nations helps people to help themselves. It goes beyond these material things, it gives support to the spiritual values of men's lives.

The United Nations can and does assist people who want to be free. It helps dependent peoples in their progress toward self-government. And when new nations have achieved independence, it helps them to preserve and develop their freedom.

Furthermore, the United Nations is strengthening the concept of the dignity and worth of human beings. The protection of human rights is essential if we are to achieve a better life for people. The efforts of the United Nations to push ahead toward an ever broader realization of these rights is one of its most important tasks.

So far, this work of the United Nations for human advancement is only a beginning of what it can be and what it will be in the future. The United Nations is learning through experience. It is growing in prestige among the peoples of the world. The increasing effectiveness of its efforts to improve the welfare of human beings is opening up a new page in history.

The skills and experience of the United Nations in this field will be put to the test now that the fighting in Korea is nearly ended. The reconstruction of Korea as a free, united, and self-supporting nation is an opportunity to show how international cooperation can lead to gains in human freedom and welfare.

The work of the United Nations for human advancement, important as it is, can be fully effective only if we can achieve the other great objective of the United Nations, a just and lasting peace.

At the present time, the fear of another great international war overshadows all the hopes of mankind. This fear arises from the tensions between nations and from the recent outbreak of open aggression in Korea. We in the United States believe that such a war can be prevented. We do not believe that war is inevitable.

One of the strongest reasons for this belief is our faith in the United Nations.

The United Nations has three great roles to play in preventing wars.

First: it provides a way for negotiation and the settlement of disputes among nations by peaceful means.

Second: it provides a way of utilizing the collective strength of member nations, under the charter, to prevent aggression.

Third: it provides a way through which, once the danger of aggression is reduced, the nations can be relieved of the burden of armaments.

All of us must help the United Nations to be effective in performing these functions.

The charter obligates all of us to settle our disputes peacefully. Today is an appropriate occasion for us solemnly to reaffirm our obligations under the charter.

Within the spirit and even the letter of the charter we shall go even further. We must attempt to find peaceful adjustments of underlying situations or tensions before they harden into actual disputes.

The basic issues in the world today affect the fate of millions of people. Here, in the United Nations, there is an opportunity for the large and the small alike to have their voices heard on these issues. Here the interests of every country can be considered in the settlement of problems which are of common concern.

We believe that negotiation is an essential part of this peaceful process. The United States, as one of the members of the United Nations, is prepared now, as always, to enter into negotiations. We insist only that negotiations be entered into in good faith and be governed throughout by a spirit of willingness to reach proper solutions.

While we will continue to take advantage of every opportunity--here in the United Nations and elsewhere--to settle differences by peaceful means, we have learned from hard experience that we cannot rely upon negotiation alone to preserve the peace.

Five years ago, after the bloodshed and destruction of World War II, many of us hoped that all nations would work together to make sure that war could never happen again. We hoped that international cooperation, supported by the strength and moral authority of the United Nations, would be sufficient to prevent aggression.

But this was not to be the case, I am sorry to say.

Although many countries promptly disbanded their wartime armies, other countries continued to maintain forces so large that they posed a constant threat of aggression. And this year, the invasion of Korea has shown that there are some who will resort to outright war, contrary to the principles of the charter, if it suits their ends.

In these circumstances, the United Nations, if it is to be an effective instrument for keeping the peace, has no choice except to use the collective strength of its members to curb aggression.

To do so, the United Nations must be prepared to use force. The United Nations did use force to curb aggression in Korea, and by so doing has greatly strengthened the cause of peace. I am glad that additional steps are being taken at this session to prepare for quick and effective action in any future case of aggression.

The Resolution on the United Action for Peace which is now being considered by the General Assembly recognizes three important principles:

To maintain the peace, the United Nations must be able to learn the facts about any threat of aggression.

Next, it must be able to call quickly upon the member nations to act if the threat becomes serious.

Above all, the peace-loving nations must have the military strength available, when called upon, to act decisively to put down aggression.

The peace-loving nations are building that strength.

However much they may regret the necessity, they will continue to build up their strength until they have created forces strong enough to preserve the peace under the United Nations. They will do all that is required to provide a defense against aggression. They will do that because, under the conditions which now exist in the world, it is the only way to maintain peace.

We intend to build up strength for peace as long as it is necessary. But at the same time, we must continue to strive, through the United Nations, to achieve international control of atomic energy and the reduction of armaments and armed forces. Cooperative and effective disarmament would make the danger of war remote. It would be a way of achieving the high purposes of the United Nations without the tremendous expenditures for armaments which conditions in the world today make imperative.

Disarmament is the course which the United States would prefer to take. It is the course which most nations would like to adopt. It is the course which the United Nations from its earliest beginnings has been seeking to follow.

For nearly 5 years, two commissions of the United Nations have been working on the problem of disarmament. One commission has been concerned with the elimination of atomic weapons and the other with the reduction of other types of armaments and of armed forces. Thus far, these commissions have not been successful in obtaining agreement among all the major powers. Nevertheless, these years of effort have served to bring to the attention of all nations the three basic principles upon which any successful plan of disarmament must rest.

First, the plan must include all kinds of weapons. Outlawing any particular kind of weapon is not enough. The conflict in Korea bears tragic witness to the fact that aggression, whatever the weapons used, brings frightful destruction.

Second, the plan must be based on unanimous agreement. A majority of nations is not enough. No plan of disarmament can work unless it includes every nation having substantial armed forces. One-sided disarmament is a sure invitation to aggression.

Third, the plan must be foolproof. Paper promises are not enough. Disarmament must be based on safeguards which will insure the compliance of all nations. The safeguards must be adequate to give immediate warning of any threatened violation. Disarmament must be policed continuously and thoroughly. It must be rounded upon free and open interchange of information across national borders.

These are simple, practical principles. If they were accepted and carried out, genuine disarmament would be possible.

It is true that, even if initial agreement were reached, tremendous difficulties would remain. The task of working out the successive steps would still be a complex one and would take a long time and much effort. But the fact that this process is so complex and so difficult is no reason for us to give up hope of ultimate success.

The will of the world for peace is too strong to allow us to give up in this effort. We cannot permit the history of our times to record that we failed by default.

We must explore every avenue which offers any chance of bringing success to the activities of the United Nations in this vital area.

Much valuable work has already been done by the two disarmament commissions on the different technical problems confronting them. I believe it would be useful to explore ways in which the work of these commissions could now be more closely brought together. One possibility to be considered is whether their work might be revitalized if carried forward in the future through a new and consolidated disarmament commission.

But until an effective system of disarmament is established, let us be clear about the task ahead. The only course the peace-loving nations can take in the present situation is to create the armaments needed to make the world secure against aggression.

That is the course to which the United States is now firmly committed. That is the course we will continue to follow as long as it is necessary.

The United States has embarked upon the course of increasing its armed strength only for the purpose of helping to keep the peace. We pledge that strength to uphold the principles of the Charter of the United Nations. We believe that the peace-loving members of the United Nations join us in that pledge.

I believe that the United Nations, strengthened by these pledges, will bring us nearer to the peace we seek.

We know that the difficulties ahead are great. We have learned from hard experience that there is no easy road to peace.

We have a solemn obligation to the peoples we represent to continue our combined efforts to achieve the strength that will prevent aggression.

At the same time, we have an equally solemn obligation to continue our efforts to find solutions to the major problems and issues that divide the nations. The settlement of these differences would make possible a truly dependable and effective system for the reduction and control of armaments.

Although the possibility of attaining that goal appears distant today, we must never stop trying. For its attainment would release immense resources for the good of all mankind. It would free the nations to devote more of their energies to wiping out poverty, hunger, and injustice.

If real disarmament were achieved, the nations of the world, acting through the United Nations, could join in a greatly enlarged program of mutual aid. As the cost of maintaining armaments decreased, every nation could greatly increase its contributions to advancing human welfare. All of us could then 'pool even greater resources to support the United Nations in its war against want.

In this way, our armaments would be transformed into foods, medicine, tools for use in underdeveloped areas, and into other aids for human advancement. The latest discoveries of science could be made available to men all over the globe. Thus, we could give real meaning to the old promise that swords shall be beaten into plowshares, and that nations shall not learn war any more.

Then, man can turn his great inventiveness, his tremendous energies, and the resources with which he has been blessed, to creative efforts. Then we shall be able to realize the kind of world which has been the vision of man for centuries.

This is the goal which we must keep before us--and the vision in which we must never lose faith. This will be our inspiration, and, with God's help, we shall attain our goal.

Note: The President spoke at 11:30 a.m. in New York City. In his opening words he referred to Nasrollah Entezam, President of the General Assembly, and Trygve Lie, Secretary General of the United Nations. The address was carried in a nationwide radio broadcast.

Harry S. Truman, Address in New York City Before the United Nations General Assembly. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/230391

Filed Under




New York

Simple Search of Our Archives