Harry S. Truman photo

Address in New York City at the Opening Session of the United Nations General Assembly

October 23, 1946

Mr. President, members of the Assembly of the United Nations:

On behalf of the Government and the people of the United States I extend a warm and hearty welcome to the delegates who have come here from all parts of the world to represent their countries at this meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

I recall with great pleasure the last occasion on which I met and spoke with the representatives of the United Nations. Many of you who are here today were present then. It was the final day of the Conference at San Francisco, when the United Nations Charter was signed. On that day the constitutional foundation of the United Nations was laid.

For the people of my country this meeting today has a special historic significance. After the first world war the United States refused to join the League of Nations and our seat was empty at the first meeting of the League Assembly. This time the United States is not only a member; it is the host to the United Nations.

I can assure you that the Government and the people of the United States are deeply proud and grateful that the United Nations has chosen our country for its headquarters. We will extend the fullest measure of cooperation in making a home for the United Nations in this country. The American people welcome the delegates and the Secretariat of the United Nations as good neighbors and warm friends.

This meeting of the Assembly symbolizes the abandonment by the United States of a policy of isolation.

The overwhelming majority of the American people, regardless of party, support the United Nations.

They are resolved that the United States, to the full limit of its strength, shall contribute to the establishment and maintenance of a just and lasting peace among the nations of the world.

However, I must tell you that the American people are troubled by the failure of the Allied nations to make more progress in their common search for a lasting peace.

It is important to remember the intended place of the United Nations in moving toward this goal. The United Nations--as an organization--was not intended to settle the problems arising immediately out of the war. The United Nations was intended to provide the means for maintaining international peace in the future after just settlements have been made.

The settlement of these problems was deliberately consigned to negotiations among the Allies as distinguished from the United Nations. This was done in order to give the United Nations a better opportunity and a freer hand to carry out its long-range task of providing peaceful means for the adjustment of future differences, some of which might arise out of the settlements made as a result of this war.

The United Nations cannot, however, fulfill adequately its own responsibilities until the peace settlements have been made and unless these settlements form a solid foundation upon which to build a permanent peace.

I submit that these settlements, and our search for everlasting peace, rest upon the four essential freedoms.

These are freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. These are fundamental freedoms to which all the United Nations are pledged under the Charter.

To the attainment of these freedoms-everywhere in the world--through the friendly cooperation of all nations, the Government and people of the United States are dedicated.

The fourth freedom--freedom from fear-means, above all else, freedom from fear of war.

This freedom is attainable now.

Lately we have all heard talk about the possibility of another world war. Fears have been aroused all over the world.

These fears are unwarranted and unjustified.

However, rumors of war still find willing listeners in certain places. If these rumors are not checked they are sure to impede world recovery.

I have been reading reports from many parts of the world. These reports all agree on one major point--the people of every nation are sick of war. They know its agony and its futility. No responsible government can ignore this universal feeling.

The United States of America has no wish to make war, now or in the future, upon any people anywhere in the world. The heart of our foreign policy is a sincere desire for peace. This nation will work patiently for peace by every means consistent with self-respect and security. Another world war would shatter the hopes of mankind and completely destroy civilization as we know it.

I am sure that every delegate in this hall will join me in rejecting talk of war. No nation wants war. Every nation needs peace.

To avoid war and rumors and danger of war the peoples of all countries must not only cherish peace as an ideal but they must develop means of settling conflicts between nations in accordance with the principles of law and justice.

The difficulty is that it is easier to get people to agree upon peace as an ideal than to agree upon principles of law and justice or to agree to subject their own acts to the collective judgment of mankind.

But difficult as the task may be, the path along which agreement may be sought is clearly defined. We expect to follow that path with success.

In the first place, every member of the United Nations is legally and morally bound by the Charter to keep the peace. More specifically, every member is bound to refrain in its international relations from the threat, or use, of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.

In the second place, I remind you that 23 members of the United Nations have bound themselves by the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal to the principle that planning, initiating or waging a war of aggression is a crime against humanity for which individuals as well as states shall be tried before the bar of international justice.

The basic principles upon which we are agreed go far, but not far enough, in removing the fear of war from the world. There must be agreement upon a positive, constructive course of action as well.

The peoples of the world know that there can be no real peace unless it is peace with justice for all--justice for small nations and for large nations and justice for individuals without distinction as to race, creed or color--a peace that will advance, not retard, the attainment of the four freedoms.

We shall attain freedom from fear when every act of every nation, in its dealings with every other nation, brings closer to realization the other freedoms-freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom from want. Along this path we can find justice for all, without distinction between the strong and the weak among nations, and without discrimination among individuals.

After the peace has been made, I am convinced that the United Nations can and will prevent war between nations and remove the fear of war that distracts the peoples of the world and interferes with their progress toward a better life.

The war has left many parts of the world in turmoil. Differences have arisen among the Allies. It will not help us to pretend that this is not the case. But it is not necessary to exaggerate these differences.

For my part, I believe there is no difference of interest that need stand in the way of settling these problems and settling them in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter. Above all, we must not permit differences in economic and social systems to stand in the way of peace, either now or in the future. To permit the United Nations to be broken into irreconcilable parts by different political philosophies would bring disaster to the world.

So far as Germany and Japan are concerned, the United States is resolved that neither shall again become a cause for war. We shall continue to seek agreement upon peace terms which ensure that both Germany and Japan remain disarmed, that Nazi influence in Germany be destroyed and that the power of the war lords in Japan be eliminated forever.

The United States will continue to seek settlements arising from the war that are just to all states, large and small, that uphold the human rights and fundamental freedoms to which the Charter pledges all its members, and that do not contain the seeds of new conflicts.

A peace between the nations based upon justice will make possible an early improvement in living conditions throughout the world and a quick recovery from the ravages of war. The world is crying for a just and durable peace with an intensity that must force its attainment at the earliest possible date.

If the members of the United Nations are to act together to remove the fear of war, the first requirement is for the Allied Nations to reach agreement on the peace settlements.

Propaganda that promotes distrust and misunderstanding among the Allies will not help us. Agreements designed to remove the fear of war can be reached only by the cooperation of nations to respect the legitimate interests of all states and act as good neighbors toward each other.

And lasting agreements between allies cannot be imposed by one nation nor can they be reached at the expense of the security, independence or integrity of any nation. There must be accommodation by all the Allied Nations in which mutual adjustments of lesser national interests are made in order to serve the greater interest of all in peace, security and justice.

This Assembly can do much toward recreating the spirit of friendly cooperation and toward reaffirming these principles of the United Nations which must be applied to the peace settlements. It must also prepare and strengthen the United Nations for the tasks that lie ahead after the settlements have been made.

All member nations, large and small, are represented here as equals. Wisdom is not the monopoly of strength or size. Small nations can contribute equally with the large nations toward bringing constructive thought and wise judgment to bear upon the formation of collective policy.

This Assembly is the world's supreme deliberative body.

The highest obligation of this Assembly is to speak for all mankind in such a way as to promote the unity of all members in behalf of a peace that will be lasting because it is rounded upon justice.

In seeking unity we should not be concerned about expressing differences freely. The United States believes that this Assembly should demonstrate the importance of freedom of speech to the cause of peace. I do not share the view of those who are fearful of the effects of free and frank discussions in the United Nations.

The United States attaches great importance to the principle of free discussion in this Assembly and in this Security Council. Free and direct exchange of arguments and information promotes understanding and therefore contributes in the long run to the removal of the fear of war and some of the causes of war.

The United States believes that the rule of unanimous accord among the five permanent members of the Security Council imposes upon these members a special obligation. This obligation is to seek and reach agreements that will enable them and the Security Council to fulfill their responsibilities under the Charter toward their fellow members of the United Nations and toward the maintenance of peace.

It is essential to the future of the United Nations that the members should use the Council as a means of promoting settlement of disputes as well as for airing them. The exercise of neither veto rights nor majority rights can make peace secure. There is no substitute for agreements that are universally acceptable because they are just to all concerned. The Security Council is intended to promote that kind of agreement and it is fully qualified for that purpose.

Because it is able to function continuously, the Security Council represents a most significant development in international relations--the continued application of the public and peaceful methods of a council chamber to the settlement of disputes between nations.

Two of the greatest obligations undertaken by the United Nations toward the removal of the fear of war remain to be fulfilled.

First, we must reach an agreement establishing international controls of atomic energy that will ensure its use for peaceful purposes only, in accordance with the Assembly's unanimous resolution last winter.

Second, we must reach agreements that will remove the deadly fear of other weapons of mass destruction, in accordance with that same resolution.

Each of these obligations is going to be difficult to fulfill. Their fulfillment will require the utmost in perseverance and good faith, and we cannot succeed without setting fundamental precedents in the law of nations. Each will be worth everything in perseverance and good faith that we can give to it. The future safety of the United Nations, and of every member nation, depends upon the outcome.

On behalf of the United States I can say we are not discouraged. We shall continue to seek agreement by every possible means.

At the same time we shall also press for preparation of agreements in order that the Security Council may have at its disposal peace forces adequate to prevent acts of aggression.

The United Nations will not be able to remove the fear of war from the world unless substantial progress can be made in the next few years toward the realization of another of the four freedoms--freedom from want.

The Charter pledges the members of the United Nations to work together toward this end. The structure of the United Nations in this field is now nearing completion, with the Economic and Social Council, its commissions and related specialized agencies. It provides more complete and effective institutions through which to work than the world has ever had before.

A great opportunity lies before us.

In these constructive tasks which concern directly the lives and welfare of human beings throughout the world, humanity and self-interest alike demand of all of us the fullest cooperation.

The United States has already demonstrated in many ways its grave concern about economic reconstruction that will repair the damage done by war.

We have participated actively in every measure taken by the United Nations toward this end. We have in addition taken such separate national action as the granting of large loans and credits and renewal of our reciprocal trade-agreements program.

Through the establishment of the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Monetary Fund, members of the United Nations have proved their capacity for constructive cooperation toward common economic objectives. In addition, the International Labor Organization is being brought into relationship with the United Nations.

Now we must complete that structure. The United States attaches the highest importance to the creation of the International Trade Organization now being discussed in London by a Preparatory Committee.

This country wants to see not only the rapid restoration of devastated areas but the industrial and agricultural progress of the less well-developed areas of the world.

We believe that all nations should be able to develop a healthy economic life of their own. We believe that all peoples should be able to reap the benefits of their own labor and of their own natural resources.

There are immense possibilities in many parts of the world for industrial development and agricultural modernization.

These possibilities can be realized only by the cooperation of members of the United Nations, helping each other on a basis of equal rights.

In the field of social reconstruction and advancement the completion of the Charter for a World Health Organization is an important step forward.

The Assembly now has before it for adoption the constitution of another specialized agency in this field--the International Refugee Organization. It is essential that this Organization be created in time to take over from UNRRA as early as possible in the new year the tasks of caring for and repatriating or resettling the refugees and displaced persons of Europe. There will be similar tasks, of great magnitude, in the Far East.

The United States considers this a matter of great urgency in the cause of restoring peace and in the cause of humanity itself.

I intend to urge the Congress of the United States to authorize this country to do its full part, both in financial support of the International Refugee Organization and in joining with other nations to receive those refugees who do not wish to return to their former homes for reasons of political or religious belief.

The United States believes a concerted effort must be made to break down the barriers to a free flow of information among the nations of the world.

We regard freedom of expression and freedom to receive information--the right of the people to know--as among the most important of those human rights and fundamental freedoms to which we are pledged under the United Nations Charter.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which is meeting in November, is a recognition of this fact. That Organization is built upon the premise that since wars begin in the minds of men, the defense of peace must be constructed in the minds of men, and that a free exchange of ideas and knowledge among peoples is necessary to this task. The United States therefore attaches great importance to all activities designed to break down barriers to mutual understanding and to wider tolerance.

The United States will support the United Nations with all the resources that we possess.

The use of force or the threat of force anywhere in the world to break the peace is of direct concern to the American people.

The course of history has made us one of the stronger nations of the world. It has therefore placed upon us special responsibilities to conserve our strength and to use it rightly in a world so interdependent as our world today.

The American people recognize these special responsibilities. We shall do our best to meet them, both in the making of the peace settlements and in the fulfillment of the long-range tasks of the United Nations.

The American people look upon the United Nations not as a temporary expedient but as a permanent partnership--a partnership among the peoples of the world for their common peace and common well-being.

It must be the determined purpose of all of us to see that the United Nations lives and grows in the minds and the hearts of all people.

May Almighty God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, guide and sustain us as we seek to bring peace everlasting to the world.

With His help we shall succeed.

Note: The President spoke at 4:30 p.m. in the Assembly Hall, Flushing Meadow, New York City. His opening words referred to Paul-Henri Spaak of Belgium, President of the Assembly.

Harry S Truman, Address in New York City at the Opening Session of the United Nations General Assembly Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/232168

Filed Under




New York

Simple Search of Our Archives