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Toasts of the President and Secretary General U Thant at a Dinner Marking the 25th Anniversary of the United Nations

July 10, 1970

In introducing our distinguished guest, I would like to add to the remarks of those who have preceded me and perhaps give a charge to the members of the Commission who are here tonight. While I am sure the Members of Congress know, and our other guests, that we have appointed a Commission on the United Nations1 of very distinguished Americans who are going to make recommendations with regard to the United Nations, and also develop public support for the objectives of the United Nations in this silver anniversary year, but I am going to speak, if I may, in quite blunt terms about the United Nations, what it can do and, perhaps, what it cannot do.

I think it is well for us perhaps to put it in perspective. You mentioned a moment ago, Ralph Bunche,2 that there were 126 nations in the U.N. today. Only 25 years ago, right after World War II when the United Nations was founded, there were 50 nations in the U.N. Half the nations in the world today have been born, have come into being, since the United Nations came into being. Half the people living in this whole world today were born since the United Nations was born. That gives us an indication of the magnitude of the problem.

New nations have problems. We are a rather old nation. We have plenty of problems. But, as we look at the new nations of the world born since World War II, all of their problems, the problems many times compounded by poverty and distress in many other areas, we can see that these last 25 years have been years of very great change and very great progress, as a matter of fact, in terms of people's acquiring independence and dignity and self-respect and self-government, but also a time of very great problems in international affairs. Because when a world is stable, when the nations do not change, these are the periods when things are somewhat more predictable, but, as the world changes, as population grows, as new nations come into being, things are less predictable and the challenge to leadership is much greater.

So, into this new world in which we live--it is a new world since the U.N., a world of new nations and new people-we look at the United Nations.

Now, I have read some of the editorials and also heard some of the broadcasts by some of the very distinguished commentators in this room, Pauline Frederick [NBC News, U.N. correspondent] and others who are here, and very properly they have pointed out those areas where the U.N. has failed to meet its objectives or its great hopes and also those areas where it might be improved.

I know there are those who would say, "Well, the U.N., what does it do, what does it contribute? We could get along without it." Let me try to put it in perspective by reversing the question. Let us suppose that we had not had the United Nations, that it had not come into being 25 years ago. What would have happened? I remember Cabot Lodge 3 used to say, as he concluded his service in the U.N. about 1960, he used to say that there were at least nine different occasions in which he could say with considerable emphasis that had it not been for the United Nations there would have been armed conflict either at a modest level or even a higher level. If the U.N. came into being only to avert those nine or more or less, whatever the case might be, conflicts or wars that otherwise would have occurred, it was all worthwhile.

That is in the peacekeeping role. That is the spectacular role. But beyond that there is the role that is not as spectacular, the role of economic and health, all of the areas of assistance for the new nations and particularly the newly independent nations around the world.

When we think of those many programs which are represented and when we think that those would not have happened, they would not be in being had it not been for the U.N., it makes us realize what the world would have missed, what it would have lost in this critical period when the population of the world and the number of nations in the world has doubled.

So, when we see it that way, we can see what the U.N. has done.

Now it is true, if we look at the U.N. in very critical terms, that it has not solved the great power conflict. Those who expected that it would, of course, were raising expectations that could never be realized. It is true that people with different religions still have those different religions and have their differences about them. It is true that nations with different backgrounds and different interests have very, very violent disagreements, sometimes erupting into conflict but fortunately not as often as in previous years.

It is true, too, that all of the people in the world don't love each other and don't get along with each other, and that we do not have a world family of nations all living together, liking each other, working out their differences together.

But those who expected that would happen 25 years ago---and perhaps some of us did, of course--were expecting something that the U.N. could not accomplish and that no organization will ever accomplish. That is what we must realize. Because as long as we are on this globe there will be some nations that are richer than others, some nations that are bigger than others, some nations that are more powerful than others, there will be different religions, there will be different national political systems. They will compete. The interests will collide. This is inevitable. That is the way the world will be.

But where the U.N. then comes into play is that collisions have always taken place in the history of the world between religions, races, nations, and interests. But how can those collisions take place now under the rule of law rather than the rule of force? The U.N. plays a role there in its peacekeeping role.

It also plays, as we all know, an enormously important role that really can't be measured, the role of being basically the center of the world's conscience. Because while debates are not supposed to, perhaps, have much effect where great interests collide, it is inevitable that the power of words will have some effect on the actions that are taken by the leaders of nations throughout the world.

What I would really like to say on this 25th occasion is this: that because we have the U.N., the world has avoided wars, small wars perhaps, yes, but nevertheless wars that otherwise might have occurred. Because of the U.N., we have developed programs of working together between nations that have very great differences but have collaborated together in common goals, working where health, education, and some of these other areas are concerned.

Because of the U.N., there is a forum in the world now, a forum that is needed, where peoples of the world of different backgrounds and of diverse interests, where they can meet, where they can talk, where they will not necessarily agree, but where at least they will communicate.

This is worthwhile. It never existed before. The League of Nations, as we know, was not, while it contributed a great deal, was not an organization that covered as much of the nations of the world as it might have.

The U.N. as we meet tonight on its 25th anniversary hasn't brought universal world peace. There is still war in the world. There are still differences in the world. But I think what we can be very proud of tonight, as we present our distinguished guest, is that the world is a better place in which to live, this new world in which we live of new nations and new people, because the U.N. came into being 25 years ago.

It is our job, all of our jobs, to continue to support the United Nations, to improve it, to make use of its counsels as we work toward the goal, not of a perfect world, because there will never be a perfect world, but toward a world in which we recognize that nations and peoples are different, that they will compete, that they will disagree, but a world in which those differences and disagreements will finally be settled by the rule of reason, the rule of law, rather than the rule of force.

This is the objective for which the U.N. was founded. It is the objective to which every person in this room is dedicated. It is the objective to which our distinguished guest has given all of his life.

In a very personal vein, we have known him longer than all of the rest of you because in 1953, 17 years ago, when he was head of the Public Affairs and Political Affairs Section of the Burmese Government, he welcomed Mrs. Nixon and me to Burma.

He escorted us through his country. He was a gracious host on that occasion and we are always grateful for his reception.

As I present him today, I remember him then as a very distinguished citizen of his native country of Burma.

I present him to you tonight as a very distinguished citizen and civil servant of the world community.

[At this point Secretary General U Thant spoke. He concluded his response, which follows in the note, with a toast to the President and Mrs. Nixon. The President then resumed speaking.]

Ladies and gentlemen, I would request that you remain standing and let us drink to the United Nations.

1 Executive Order 11546, dated July 9, 1970, established the President's Commission for the Observance of the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the United Nations. An announcement of the appointment of the Commission's membership, also released by the White House on July 9, is printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 6, p. 922).

2 Dr. Ralph J. Bunche was Under Secretary General of the United Nations for Special Political Affairs.

3 Henry Cabot Lodge was U.S. Representative to the United Nations from 1953 to 1960.

Note: The President spoke at 10:30 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. Earlier the same day, the President signed Proclamation 3996, proclaiming October 24, 1970, as United Nations Day.

Secretary General U Thant responded to the President's remarks as follows:

Mr. President, Mrs. Nixon, Your Excellencies, distinguished Senators and legislators, ladies and gentlemen:

First of all, I must say that I am deeply touched by the very gracious words and tributes and references made to me from you, Mr. President, downwards.

Of course, first of all, I want to express my deep appreciation and sincere thanks for the speakers who have preceded me, Senator Mike Mansfield, Ambassador Yost, Mrs. Shirley Temple Black, and Dr. Ralph Bunche, for their over-gracious tributes and references to me, if I may say so.

They expressed particularly my qualities of so-called patience, coolness, tolerance, and absence of temper, and so on and so forth.

Well, Mr. President, with your permission, I want to take a few moments of your time on a brief elaboration of the background to my approach to all problems and my conception and my philosophy, if I may say so, toward the problems which we are facing today.

I have been brought up in a rather conservative Buddhist family as many of my friends know. I was trained in a very strict discipline of Buddhist religious belief. I was trained to believe in some fundamental concepts. For instance, to cultivate and develop the virtues which are the great keys to all great religions-like love, compassion, philosophy of live and let live, and the ability to see the other man's point of view.

Since I was a child, I have been brought up to observe five precepts and then eight precepts and then 10 precepts. So, my upbringing, Mr. President, is a little different from the upbringing of many of my friends in the United Nations and particularly in the Western World in the highly technological societies. As I have had occasion to observe on previous occasions and as I see the human situation today in the Western societies, and when I say Western I mean highly developed technological societies like Western Europe, North America, the Soviet Union, for instance, the stress on education is on the development of the intellect.

That is, the primary aim of education in these highly developed societies has been and still is to create doctors and scientists and engineers, to manufacture microphones and telephones and transistor radios, to discover outer space, to go to the moon and to Mars and the stars. This has been, understandably, the primary objective of education in highly developed technological societies.

While something external to us is clearly defined, in my view, Mr. President, what is happening inside of us remains a dark jungle tract. Not enough emphasis has been given, or attention paid, to understand what is happening inside of us, to develop these moral and spiritual virtues, as I said a moment ago, like love, compassion, understanding, brotherhood, peace, the philosophy of live and let live, and the desire to understand the other man's point of view.

That is my assessment of the educational philosophy in certain societies, very highly developed societies.

In my part of the world, Mr. President, traditionally, I would stress the word "traditionally the stress is the other way around. The stress is to discover what is happening inside of us, to cultivate these moral and spiritual virtues and values which are the main, essential keys to all great religions.

While, at the same time, what is happening outside of us, what is external to us, remains a dark jungle tract, traditionally.

So, in my view, Mr. President, what is necessary in these tense times to meet the extraordinary challenges of our times, is to harmonize these two concepts, to try to develop the integrated human being, fully developed in all aspects, intellectually, morally, and spiritually. Then only will we be able to face the great challenges of the second part of the 20th century.

In this respect, to apply this concept to the Charter of the United Nations, as I had occasion to address a very distinguished gathering of legislators at a lunch today, I feel very strongly that it is not the Charter which is to be blamed for the failure of the United Nations in many fields, in many areas of activity. It is not the Charter which is at fault. It is the member-states' primary concern who do not respect the provisions of the Charter, who do not honor the decisions of the principal deliberative organs of the United Nations which are at fault.

In other words, in order to develop a disciplined and orderly international organization, like any human organization, some ground rules need to be observed. In a local society or a club or an association, everybody knows there are certain rules and regulations to be observed by the members. And if the rules stipulate that by two-thirds vote that certain matters can be disposed of, and if the two-thirds of the members of that particular club or organization voted for a particular line of action, then the remaining one-third, despite their opposition or resentment toward the particular measure, have to go along with this in order to enable a human organization or international organization or a national organization or a regional organization to function in an orderly and disciplined manner.

I think it is an essential prerequisite that all members constituting that particular organization must respect the rules of the game. This applies, Mr. President, also to the United Nations organization which I have the privilege to serve.

From time to time I find myself in disagreement with some of the resolutions adopted by the General Assembly or the Security Council. Personally speaking, I do not agree with all the resolutions adopted by the principal organs of the United Nations, but for the sake of the orderly functioning of this great organization, I have to go along with the decisions, not only because I am the Secretary General of that organization but as one who wants to see the development of the United Nations as a strong machinery, as an effective machinery for the performance of all the functions outlined in the Charter.

Although I may not agree with some of the resolutions of the principal organs, I have to honor them, I have to comply with them, I have to support them and endorse them and advocate for their implementation.

This is the basic concept which I have held throughout the functioning of the United Nations.

Now, Mr. President, it is worth reiterating on this very special occasion which you, Mr. President, and Mrs. Nixon, are commemorating in a very fitting manner, the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Charter, to my knowledge, out of 126 member-states, over 80 member states have celebrated or are celebrating or will celebrate the 25th anniversary, approximate to this day, the 26th of June, some a little later, some a little earlier.

Of course, I got invitations to attend some of them, of course. But physically, it is impossible for me to comply with these very kind invitations, except, outside New York, I had the privilege of attending the celebrations in San Francisco, celebrations in Geneva, and celebrations in Washington, the seat of the Capital City of the host government.

It is my rare privilege to participate in such a very splendid and appropriate ceremony, Mr. President, and for this I am most grateful.

On this occasion, I hope the distinguished gathering will bear with me for a few more moments to share some thoughts with you on the basic objectives of the founding fathers 25 years ago when they launched the United Nations. In the language of the Charter, the United Nations was founded to prevent wars.

If I am asked to answer why was the United Nations launched, the simplest answer is that the United Nations was launched to prevent wars. In the language of the Charter, "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime"--once in 1914 and again in 1939--"has brought untold sorrow to mankind."

That was the primary objective of the founding fathers in 1945, "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war." Then the founding fathers have also prescribed certain lines of action to achieve this objective. One of these prescriptions is, "Ask member-states 'to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors.'" This is the actual language of the Charter, "to practice tolerance." If you believe in the United Nations you ought to believe in the Charter. If you believe in the Charter, you ought to believe in the main provisions of the Charter.

One of the main provisions of the Charter is to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors. This is a very essential provision of the Charter for the guidance of the member-states.

It is, of course, difficult to practice tolerance when it comes to a matter of ideologies, when it comes to a matter of economic and social considerations and tensions. But in order to practice tolerance we have to adjust our attitudes to the changing conditions.

To cite one example, as I said at the lunch today, politically speaking, in terms of political beliefs or convictions, those who know me for 40 years, almost 40 years, know that I am a strong believer in democracy. I am a strong believer in democratic processes and democratic procedures. I believe in parliamentary democracy. I believe parliamentary democracy is superior to any other political systems, political patterns. I believe in fundamental human rights. I believe in freedom of speech, freedom of writing, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of work, freedom of conscience, and so on.

But my conviction in the superiority of democracy does not blind me to the knowledge that there are hundreds of millions of people who disagree with me. That is my approach to the problem, in the same way as my conviction in the Buddhist religion. I am sure most of you are aware that I am a Buddhist. I believe very strongly that Buddhism is a very superior religion. Of course, I am not sufficiently knowledgeable about other great religions, but this does not detract me from the fact that I am a very staunch believer in the correctness of the teachings of Buddha.

But this conviction in Buddhism, in the superiority of the Buddhist religion, does not shut me off from the knowledge that there are hundreds of millions of people who disagree with me. So this, in a sense, is my conception of tolerance.

When I say that Buddhism is superior, many people will say that this religion is superior or that religion is superior. I have to place myself in the position of that other person and try to understand his point of view. That is why I have developed this concept which I have developed in the last 14 or 15 years. I believe that humanity is marching towards a great synthesis. It is true of religion because there was no such thing as religious tolerance, even late in the 18th century, even early in the 19th century. Of course, much earlier, these religious convictions brought about religious wars, as you know, the Crusades, for instance.

But now, religious tolerance is not only not regarded as a sin or a crime, but religious tolerance is now regarded as a very desirable attribute in civilized societies.

I believe the same is true of political ideologies. Humanity, as I said a moment ago, is marching toward a great synthesis, toward a dignity of men, toward a revival of human dignity, toward a revival of individualism.

I believe in the concept of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. I believe that all of humanity is marching towards a great synthesis. Then, and only with this attitude, will the United Nations be able to function in the way it is meant to function.

With this attitude, with this concept, with this spirit of tolerances with the spirit of harmonizing which is another essential provision of the Charter, the founding fathers wanted the United Nations to be a center to harmonize the actions of states, with a view to the achievement of common objectives.

This harmonizing function of the United Nations, Mr. President, is to me, one of the most important and essential provisions of the Charter.

Of course, I recalled at the lunch today that it was the late President Roosevelt who suggested in 1944 that the chief executive of the United Nations should be called "Moderator." Unfortunately, his suggestion was intercepted and he is called Secretary General of the United Nations. I still feel that the term "moderator" is a very appropriate description of the type of job I am supposed to perform.

Well, Mr. President, I will not take more of your time and more of the time of the distinguished guests gathered here. I just want to conclude my remarks with an observation, that when we say that the United Nations has failed in certain areas of activity, it is not the United Nations that failed, it is the human community that failed. If it is said that the United Nations has succeeded in certain areas of activity, it is not the United Nations that succeeds, it is the human community that succeeds, because the United Nations is just a mirror held up to the international community, with its faults, its blemishes, its virtues.

The United Nations will be as strong or as weak as its member-states wish it to be. If the member-states wish the United Nations to be strong, then it will be strong. If the member states wish the United Nations to remain weak, it will remain weak. But one of the most encouraging signs of the times is the devotion and dedication and trust and faith put in the United Nations by the vast majority of the member-states including your great country, Mr. President. Your country, needless for me to reiterate, is the greatest financial contributor to the operation of the United Nations organization. This is recognized with appreciation by all of us in the Secretariat.

In terms of tabulation, if I may say so, every American, young and old, men and women, contributes 20 cents a year for the operation of the United Nations office in New York and Geneva. Every American, young and old, men and women, contributes $1.25 per year for the operation of the United Nations and all the family of agencies like the UNESCO, ILO, and WHO, and so on and so forth. Every American, every one of the 220 million Americans, contributes $ 1 .25 per year.

Of course, in relative terms, that is not a very high price to pay, but I just want to take this opportunity of expressing on behalf of the United Nations, our sincere thanks and appreciation to you, and through you, Mr. President, to the people of America, for the sustained support and endorsement and material contribution for the successful operation of this great organization which I have the privilege to serve.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me request you all to raise your glasses and join me in a toast to the health of our esteemed host, the President, and Mrs. Nixon.

Richard Nixon, Toasts of the President and Secretary General U Thant at a Dinner Marking the 25th Anniversary of the United Nations Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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