President Truman (left) watches Edward Stettinius sign the UN charter on behalf of the United States, June 25, 1945

V-E Day had come and gone six weeks previously when representatives of fifty countries gathered in San Fransisco in late June 1945 for the signing if the United Nations charter. The war was still very much going on, quite brutally in fact. It is easy to think today that everyone knew that the war in the Pacific would be over by summer’s end, but of course no one could have predicted any such thing on June 25-26 when Edward Stettinius, President Truman, and others gathered at San Fransisco’s War Memorial Opera House to prepare for the future, whatever it might look like. The seeds of the creation of the international organization date to the start of American involvement in the Second World War: on New Years Day 1942 the United States and over two dozen other countries issued the United Nations Declaration expressing their cooperation in defeating the Axis Powers.

Truman speaks to UN closing session, June 26 1945

In an ironic way it is easier and more comforting to study war than it is peace; battles have a beginning, middle, and end, and easily recognizable sides to go with their timelines. Orders of battles imply the illusion of, well, order. Peace is messy and more often than not comes filled with ironic and bitter compromises. Truman of course was a veteran of the Great War and knew the failures of Versailles. The day before his speech in San Fransisco the president told a hospital ward full of wounded soldiers that “in the next generation the veterans of this war are going to run this country.” And that is essentially what happened.

Over the past several days I have been listening daily to Bob Dylan’s “Murder Most Foul,” the seventy-nine-year-old musician’s recent single about the Kennedy assassination. Kennedy had fought in the Pacific. Thinking of the signing of the United Nations charter seventy-five years ago this week I can’t help but think now of JFK’s words from his first inaugural, just sixteen year later, “that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans–born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace.”

(images/Truman Library Institute)