How California Got Expensive: Remembering the Gold Rush

While it took some time for the news of gold in California to make it all the way back to the President and Congress, the precious metal was actually discovered at Sutters Mill in Coloma, California on January 24, 1848.

California Gold Miners, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

US President, James K. Polk then announced the discovery in an address to Congress on December 4, 1848, nearly a year later and set off the greatest gold rush in history.  According to Wikipedia, nearly 300,000 people “rushed” to California to search for gold and were dubbed the forty-niners because they didn’t start coming en masse until 1849.

In his address to Congress, Polk says: “It was known that mines of the precious metals existed to a considerable extent in California at the time of its acquisition. Recent discoveries render it probable that these mines are more extensive and valuable than was anticipated. The accounts of the abundance of gold in that territory are of such an extraordinary character as would scarcely command belief were they not corroborated by the authentic reports of officers in the public service who have visited the mineral district and derived the facts which they detail from personal observation.”

On December 11, 1848, a few days after Polk’s announcement, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that “Already people have become California mad.” The article goes on to talk about all of the boats set to leave from New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore in search of “El Dorado.”

The Gold Rush helped San Francisco evolve from a tiny settlement of a couple hundred people to a city of about 36,000 in roughly three years.  The toll of the Gold Rush on indigenous peoples was, of course, terrible, many Native Americans were pushed from their homes to make way for the miners. 

Levi Stauss, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Additionally, while many miners made some profit, very few became enormously rich and many were just lucky if they came into contact with gold residue let alone big chunks of gold.  One study mentioned by Wikipedia suggested that the merchants providing services to the miners become more rich than the miners themselves. Levi Strauss, the inventor of blue jeans and founder of famous clothing company, Levi Strauss & Co., became incredibly wealthy from selling his tough work pants to the local miners and other workers in San Francisco.

The Gold Rush also gave California a nickname which stuck, the “golden state,” and also inspired the term the “California Dream,” which for many supplanted the idea of the “American Dream.”

It also kicked the area into high gear in terms of development, becoming a proper state and creating infrastructure for its newly growing population.

Polk told Congress that, “This abundance of gold and the all-engrossing pursuit of it have already caused in California an unprecedented rise in the price of all the necessaries of life.”

So basically, California got expensive and stayed that way.

Want to know about the California Gold Rush?  Here are some great resources to get you started:

January 1972: Japanese Soldier Found in Guam 28 Years after the End of WWII

In our modern minds this might seem like an unbelievable story, that a Japanese soldier hid out in the jungles of Guam rather than face his country’s defeat in WWII.  But Soichi Yokoi, who was discovered in the jungles of Guam on January 24, 1972, was actually not the only one.  Another Japanese soldier, Hiroo Onoda was found in the Phillipine jungles in 1974, after hiding there for 30 years.

投稿者が出典雑誌より取り込み, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

According to a New York Times article about Soichi’s death in September of 1997, “Japanese troops were encouraged to fight to the death and taught that surrender was deeply shameful, and so when American troops seized control of Guam in 1944, Mr. Yokoi and more than 1,000 other Japanese soldiers hid in the jungle rather than give up or commit suicide.”

Soichi spent his time in Guam, according to Wikipedia, hunting and fishing and built himself an underground living space. Soichi had been a tailor in Japan before being drafted in 1941 and arriving Guam in 1943.

Upon his arrival back in Japan, he uttered his now famous statement, “It is with much embarrassment that I return.”  The New York Times interpreted this statement a little differently as, “I am ashamed that I have returned alive.”

Soichi wanted to meet the Emperor to express his regret at not having done more to win the war, but was never given an audience. He did, however, receive a hero’s welcome and quickly settled back into regular life.

He even married six months after his return and spent 25 years with his wife until his death from a heart attack at the age of 82. 

According to the New York Times, “He was the epitome of prewar values of diligence, loyalty to the Emperor and ganbaru, a ubiquitous Japanese word that roughly means to slog on tenaciously through tough times.”

A nephew, who wrote a book about Soichi’s journey said that toward the end of his life, his uncle became very nostalgic about his past and returned to Guam to visit several times with his wife.

It’s nearly impossible to envision a world where hiding in the jungles is preferable to taking your chances in civilization….or maybe it isn’t that hard to imagine.

Here are few resources to help you learn more about Soichi Yokoi:

Stick with Love: Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In 2021, what ode can we write, what words can we say that will adequately honor the legacy of civil rights activist, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?  

We can talk about the basic facts of his life– that he was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia and was descended from ministers and farmers, that he attended Morehouse College in the tradition of his father and maternal grandfather, that he earned his doctorate at Boston College and married Coretta Scott in 1953.

But it all seems inadequate when compared to what he really meant to history.

We can remember that moment in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama– where King was serving as the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church– when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus and was arrested. This was the second incident of its kind and the catalyzing event that led to the 365-day Montgomery Bus Boycott.

And it was this moment that brought him from a very gifted pastor to a global symbol of the fight for equality and civil rights.

We can stop and ponder what it meant to walk to work or to the grocery store or to church, regardless of the distance for one full year.  That meant getting up early and staying up late and enduring threats along the way.  

King said of the boycott, “I want it to be known that we’re going to work with grim and bold determination to gain justice on the buses in this city. And we are not wrong.… If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong.”

Of course King was not wrong, the courts moved to end segregation of the buses in Montgomery,  and in the backwards glance of history, it is so easy to see the glorious change this moment brought to the world, and so easy to forget what he and others went through to get there.  King was arrested and his house was bombed during the boycott, and as we know, he would go on to pay larger and larger prices for his activism including surviving a knife attack, a total of 29 arrests and eventually, he would pay the ultimate price.

And through it all, he decided, as he said in 1967, to stick with love, “And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems…and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear.”

From the sit-ins and non-violent demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama in April of 1963 to his iconic “I have a dream” speech given at the March on Washington in August of that same year, King’s rhetoric and calls to action inspired a generation to no longer quietly acquiesce to the segregation and inequality of the past, but to fight for freedom from oppression.

At the March on Washington, he said, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’”

An amazing video of this speech can be seen here

Had he lived, Dr. King would have celebrated his 92nd birthday this week, but sadly, he was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee at the age of 39.  He once beautifully wrote:

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

I believe that despite all of the ways in which progress has just been too slow and systemic racism has gone on for far too long, that he would still, despite everything “stick with love.”

For more on the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., visit these resources:

The 40th Anniversary of the Release of 52 American Hostages Held in Iran

On January 20,1981, a full 40 years ago, 52 Americans who had been held hostage for 444 days in Iran were released.  This event took place as US President Ronald Reagan gave his 20 minute inaugural address.  I was in the first grade at the time, and I remember the collective rejoicing of friends and neighbors as we hung signs and tied yellow ribbons around the trees in our front yards and sang the 1973 hit, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the ‘Ole Oak Tree.”

The US hostages were primarily diplomats, embassy employees and members of the military, who had been taken hostage during a siege of the US Embassy in Tehran, Iran on November 4, 1979 by university students.  The siege and subsequent hostage situation were ignited by anger at the American government for having allowed the recently overthrown, Shah Pahlavi, to enter the US for cancer treatment.  The Iranians wanted the Shah to stand trial for crimes in his home country.

The hostage crisis dominated world news and foreign policy at the time and many believe that the devolving situation which included a failed rescue attempt called Operation Eagle Claw, was a key factor in then US President Jimmy Carter losing his re-election campaign in a landslide to Ronald Reagan. The Secretary of State at the time, Cyrus Vance, resigned as a result of the botched rescue attempt.

According to an article published in the Washington Post on January 20, 1981, written by Richard Harwood and T.R. Reid, “The political impact of all this on Carter’s fortunes was mixed. Initially, the public rallied to his support and the crisis undoubtedly contributed to his renomination. But his failure to secure the hostages’ release just before the election was, in the opinion of his own political advisers, a major factor in his loss of the presidency.”

The article goes on to cite a Tehran radio commentary at the time that asserted the hostages were not released prior to the inauguration as expected in order to “deprive Carter of the opportunity to greet them as his last official act before Reagan’s inauguration.”

In fact, Carter did meet with the hostages in Germany, but as a former president acting as an emissary for Reagan.  The release negotiations, which were mediated by Algiers, were believed to finally reach an end in part because Iraq had invaded Iran in September 1980, beginning the Iraq-Iran war, which took the attention of the Iranian government. The agreement to free the hostages in part required the US to return billions of dollars in Iranian assets that were frozen after the hostages were taken.

Harwood and Reid, reporting for the Washington Post, eloquently said, “Thus ended a nightmare that had preoccupied the international community and had threatened world peace since Nov. 4, 1979.”

Series: Reagan White House Photographs, 1/20/1981 – 1/20/1989, Collection: White House Photographic Collection, 1/20/1981 – 1/20/1989, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

For his part, in mentioning foreign adversaries in his famous 1981 inaugural address, Reagan said, “Above all, we must realize that no arsenal or no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. It is a weapon our adversaries in today’s world do not have. It is a weapon that we as Americans do have. Let that be understood by those who practice terrorism and prey upon their neighbors.”  

A poignant video clip of this quote with Reagan and Carter in the frame can be seen at the Reagan Foundation website,  click here to view it.

To learn more about the Iran Hostage Crisis, visit these resources:

HBD Benjamin Franklin: The Fun Genius

Few historical figures have as many talents and accomplishments as Benjamin Franklin.  He was born in January of either 1705 or 1706 in Boston, Mass in what was then the British colonies.  According to published sources, his impressive list of roles include: writer, printer, political philosopher, politician, Freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, humorist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat.

It’s impossible in the space of this blog to do them all adequate justice, so let’s hit on the key themes that ran throughout his life.  First and foremost, he was a writer and this served him well in all of his roles from printer to journalist to politician to inventor to scientist.  He was adept at getting the word out and loved to use pseudonyms for his writings.  When one thinks of the sheer enormity of his writings scratched out by hand using dipper pens and feather quills, the fact that he was a hard worker becomes abundantly clear.

He was also a busy body, and by that I mean a body perpetually in motion. He got a lot done, traveled extensively and was constantly experimenting.  Oh, to have been a guest at one of his dinner parties, especially the ones where he killed the turkey to be eaten with electric shock and cooked it on an electrical spit.  He wrote that this made the turkey “uncommonly tender.” He also humorously penned a series of essays called busy body in which he describes real busy bodies gossiping and such.

On that note, he was also very humorous.  So many of our favorite sayings actually came from his incredibly popular publication, Poor Richard’s Almanack, which is the business venture that made him the most money.  It was a yearly publication that had a circulation of 10,000 and ran from 1732 to 1758.  The almanack was published under the name Richard Saunders, but it was no secret that Benjamin Franklin was the author and featured humorous lines like “He that lies down with Dogs will rise up with Fleas;” “A True Friend is the Best Possession;” and “Haste makes waste.”

Franklin was also a largely self-made man, though it was clear that he had no problem drumming up investors in his businesses. He had no schooling past the age of 10, but was self educated and a voracious reader and the founder of the Library Company of Philadelphia, which was a subscription library where member dues were pooled together to purchase books for lending.  Today the Library Company of Philadelphia is a large and successful public research library. 

Although he was born in Boston, he spent much of his adult life in Philadelphia except for large amounts of time spent working in London on both scientific and diplomatic issues, and the years he served as the American Ambassador to France and Sweden.  

His many experiments and resulting inventions are legendary including the lightning rod- which was inspired by his efforts to conduct electricity- the Franklin stove, the glass harmonica and bifocal glasses.

Franklin held many public offices and participated in numerous political groups.  Most well known was his participation in the Second Continental Congress in 1775-1776 as the representative for the Pennsylvania Assembly where he was one of five authors of the Declaration of Independence.  According to his Wikipedia page, he is also, “the only Founding Father who is a signatory of all four of the major documents of the founding of the United States: the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Alliance with France, the Treaty of Paris and the United States Constitution.”  He also served as the Postmaster General of British America from 1753 to 1774.

Oddly, when I attended high school, we were made to read his essay, “Dialogue Between Franklin and the Gout.”  Therefore, I have always associated Franklin with the gout, which plagued him in his later years.  Here is a funny, brief excerpt from that essay:

FRANKLIN.  Eh! Oh! eh! What have I done to merit these cruel sufferings?

GOUT.  Many things; you have ate and drank too freely, and too much indulged those legs of yours in their indolence.

FRANKLIN.  Who is it that accuses me?   

GOUT.  It is I, even I, the Gout.

Certainly, if I had the chance to sit down with Benjamin Franklin, he might have something funny to say about my associating him entirely with the gout over his other notable achievements.

Benjamin Franklin died at the age of 84 in Philadelphia from pleurisy, an inflammation of the membranes in the lungs and chest cavity, and had over 20,000 attendees at his funeral.  

Here are some resources to help you learn more about Benjamin Franklin:

Gaudí’s Grandeur: The Breathtaking Beauty of the Basílica de la Sagrada Família

Spain is not easily attached to a European tour.  It is out of the way and therefore, if you go there, it must be the destination unto itself.  It was this out of the wayness that had kept me from it all of these years, until a fortuitous business trip corrected the situation. And once there, I immediately regretted not having prioritized a visit sooner.

Barcelona itself is a dream.  The topography, the architecture, the food…all of it are just amazing.  I could write 1,000 blogs on that topic alone.

But experiencing the genius and magic of famed architect, Antoni Gaudí, is an entirely separate subject and what brings us together today. Of course, when I think of Gaudí, I think of the word “gaudy,” which was termed from his work and means “excessively showy.”  And his buildings are just that.  The term is correct, but in my world, we apply that word to mean “too much” or “tacky” and the real structures designed by Antoni Gaudí are certainly not tacky and definitely not too much.

The thing that makes his excessiveness so beautiful, the thing that makes it work…is that he draws all of his inspiration from nature.  Every bit of the immense Basílica de la Sagrada Família is an ode to nature and God. The interior columns are trees.  Ornately carved leaves and vines crawl up the outer doors.  The intense colors in the stained glass windows correlate to the colors of nature.  It’s like the Garden of Eden in stone, wood and glass. Gaudí himself famously said, “Nothing is art if it does not come from nature.”

It’s like the Garden of Eden in stone, wood and glass.

Gaudí took over as chief architect of the cathedral in 1883 from architect Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano, who had begun the work in 1882.  Gaudí’s efforts on the project consumed his life and went very slowly.  He worked on it until his death in 1926 and was still only 25% finished.  Using Gaudí’s plans, construction on the cathedral continues to this day and is projected to finally finish in 2026.  Throughout la Sagrada Família, there is a mixture of old and new…100 year old stone laid next to new sculpture.

In remarking on the slowness of the construction, Gaudí said, “My client is not in a hurry.”

I often wonder about how Gaudí would feel about the use of computers and modern technology in the construction.  I think he would have loved the potential it opened up and the allowances it provides for the sort of detailed work he loved.

Gaudí was a Catalan by birth and a major figure in the Modernista art movement.  He was heavily influenced by the Gothic era.  If you travel to Barcelona, you can not only visit la Sagrada Família, but also, he has several incredible homes that he designed in town.

Gaudí, who never married or had children, had the look of a sophisticated architect in his youth, but as he aged and his obsession with la Sagrada Família intensified, he let his appearance go and was often mistaken for a beggar.  He was struck by a bus on June 7, 1926, and it was days before anyone even knew  that the man who had been hit was Gaudí.

He is buried in the crypt at la Sagrada Família in the middle of his life’s work.  When asked about how it felt to know that some future generation would finish his cathedral, he said, “There is no reason to regret that I cannot finish the church. I will grow old but others will come after me. What must always be conserved is the spirit of the work, but its life has to depend on the generations it is handed down to and with whom it lives and is incarnated.”

Here are a few resources to help you learn more about la Sagrada Família and Gaudí:

January 1935: The King of Rock and Roll is Born

Happy Birthday Elvis Aaron Presley! One of the most significant figures in music history was born on January 8, 1935 in Tupelo, a small town in northeastern Mississippi.  

He was preceded in life by a stillborn twin brother, and spent his early years with his parents, Vernon and Gladys, in a two-room, shotgun house built by his father.  He would get his first guitar around age 11 and would become obsessed with music, often playing at school.  

What a gift it is to find your talent and passion at such a young age and despite being told to give up on music by both school teachers and music professionals alike in his early years, Elvis pressed on. He began recording music around 1953, and the rest is in actuality history.

Many music greats including John Lennon, Elton John, Rod Stewart and Bruce Springsteen credit Elvis with inspiring them to create music.

In addition to making the famous statement that “Before Elvis, there was nothing,” Lennon also said, “Nothing really affected me until I heard Elvis. If there hadn’t been an Elvis, there wouldn’t have been The Beatles.” 

To really understand the magic of Elvis, you have to watch one of his early performances.  Youtube has several amazing videos of Elvis singing and dancing in 1956 including this video of Jail House Rock, and another of him singing Hound Dog on The Ed Sullivan Show. These videos really capture the energy and intoxicating nature of his performance style. So many have emulated him since that to our 2021 selves, it seems almost everyday, but when watching the videos, try to remember that he invented this genre, this was literally a first.

Of course, during the conversative social setting of the 1950s, Elvis’ dancing and singing was seen by many as lurid.  Elvis himself said of his style, “Some people tap their feet, some people snap their fingers, and some people sway back and forth. I just sorta do ‘em all together, I guess.”

As we know, his adult home, Graceland, in Memphis, Tennessee has become a major tourist destination.  I visited Graceland during the late 1990s and I don’t think I was in a place to really appreciate it back then. I remember being shocked by the shag carpet and overly trendy 1960s-era furnishings.  I need to go back as a proven and seasoned adult to appreciate better what that home meant to him and to music.

Elvis died of a heart attack at a very young 42 years of age in 1977.  His excessive drug use was causative in bringing on an early death.  Had he lived, he would be a grandfather in his eighties today, and most certainly would have given us all waves upon waves of additional musical delight.

I think Dolly Parton, my own favorite musical legend, said it best, “If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then you have accomplished something. Elvis did that and more for me and so many others.”

Happy birthday to the one and only king.

Here are a couple of good resources to help you learn more about Elvis Presley:

January 1972: Nixon Approved $5.5B to Build the Space Shuttle with Promise of Cost Savings

It was hopeful thinking, even at the time.  But on January 6, 1972, then US President, Richard Nixon, authorized $5.5B (a fortune in any era) to initiate the space shuttle program with the goal of reducing costs for space travel through partially reusable space vehicles as opposed to the disposable Apollo launchers that had been used up to that point.

In his written statement on the matter, which is still available on NASA’s website, he said, “I have decided today that the United States should proceed at once with the development of an entirely new type of space transportation system designed to help transform the space frontier of the 1970’s into familiar territory, easily accessible for human endeavor in the 1980’s and ’90’s.” 

His big pitch centered on taking the “astronomical costs out of astronautics.” 

According to a Wikipedia article on the subject, Nixon approved the space shuttle program with the idea that launches would come out to be about $188 per pound (or $558 in 2019 dollars), but actually ended up costing something like $27,000 per pound or $1.5 billion per launch. The same article goes into a lot of detail as to why the costs skyrocketed (pun intended).

In addition to being costly, the space shuttle program also had several high profile disasters including in 1986 when the Challenger shuttle burned on the launch pad while millions of Americans watched on television. I was in elementary school at the time and remember the trauma of it all.  And later in 2003, the space shuttle Columbia broke apart upon re-entry.  In both events, the entire crew of each shuttle were killed totaling 14 astronaut deaths overall.  US President, George W. Bush retired the program in January 2004. 

All of that being said, the space shuttle program was instrumental in building the International Space Station and the Hubble Space Telescope, and it did realize one of Nixon’s ambitions, which was to “evolutionize transportation into near space, by routinizing it.”

Additionally, the space shuttle program was more like a bit actor playing a part in the never-ending, complex political drama around how NASA is funded and what projects are green-lighted, which tends to fluctuate depending on who is in the White House.

One other interesting tidbit from Nixon’s original announcement that feels painful to read now is his nod toward using the space program to manage pollution control.  In the full statement, he lines this ambition up with several other items on his wish list. 

“We are gaining the capability to use satellites as tools in global monitoring and management of nature resources, in agricultural applications, and in pollution control,” he said.  While satellite technology has substantively increased our understanding of these issues, it has not gone as far as his sweeping statement might suggest.  

It gets even more eerie and sad when he says, “Views of the Earth from space have shown us how small and fragile our home planet truly is. We are learning the imperatives of universal brotherhood and global ecology learning to think and act as guardians of one tiny blue and green island in the trackless oceans of the Universe.”

Yeah, not so much.

Nixon’s historical legacy is challenging to say the least, and in the long expanse of time, neither the space program nor his hopes that we would use it to become better stewards of the earth are actually his biggest problems.  

To read more on this topic, here are some great resources:

January 1925: Nellie Tayloe Ross Becomes the First Female Governor in the US

Nellie Tayloe Ross, much like Miriam “Ma” Ferguson in Texas, found entry into the then male-dominated world of politics through her husband.  In Nellie’s case, her husband, William B. Ross, the sitting governor of Wyoming had recently died of appendicitis.  For Ma Ferguson, her husband had been removed from office through impeachment.

Nellie was asked by the Democratic party in Wyoming to run shortly after her husband’s passing and accepted, according to relatives, in part because she needed the job.  She was easily elected even though Wyoming at the time was a predominantly Republican state and she was subsequently inaugurated on January 5, 1925, just days before Ma Ferguson was sworn in.

Within her first few days of leadership, she shocked the New York Times when on January 16, 1925, she wore her hat and gloves while addressing the Wyoming legislature and “defied precedent.”

Her time as governor was short-lived.  She finished her husband’s term, and did her best to further the populist agenda he had introduced, which included, according to the  Wyoming State Historical Society, issues like spending cuts, state loans for farmers and ranchers, prohibition, school budgets, stronger bank regulation, funding for universities, safety for coal miners and for women in industrial jobs among several other pursuits. Nellie lost re-election in 1926, but that was not the end of her political career.  

A campaign card, from Gov. Ross’s 1926 re-election campaign. American Heritage Center.

In 1928-29, she moved to Washington to work full time as a Director at the Democratic National Committee, and helped to drive women to vote for presidential candidate, Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1933, Roosevelt appointed Nellie to a position as the Director of the Bureau of the Mint, which is a government agency responsible for printing and distributing currency.  She served in this role for the next 20 years having been appointed to three, five-year terms by Roosevelt and one, five-year term by his successor, Harry Truman.  She retired in 1953 and spoke and wrote widely until her death at 101 years old!

Some critics felt like Nellie did not do enough to help other women get ahead in politics, but whether she was as woke as she could have been, Nellie still seized opportunity when it fell in her lap and helped to break a key glass ceiling in the United States.

Want to know more about Nellie?  Here are some sites to visit:

When FDR and Churchill Created the United Nations

People have varying opinions about the United Nations (UN), which is a 75-year-old intergovernmental peacekeeping organization. But whatever your opinion, there is no doubt that the UN has played a major role in shaping world history since its inception on New Year’s Day, January 1942.

Source: Wikipedia The Poster, created by United States Office of War Information and made by the United States Government Printing Office.

Before the United Nations, there was the League of Nations, which was initiated at the close of World War I during the Paris Peace Conference. The Covenant under which the League of Nations was organized only involved the five major superpowers at the time, namely, France, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US, a fact that is pointed to as a reason the organization failed.  Also, there is the not so small issue that regardless of covenants or organizational structure, the League of Nations failed to prevent World War II.

The United Nations, whose name was coined by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was formed during the course of World War II, not after, and consisted of a group of countries intent on putting down the Axis powers and reinstating world peace.

Roosevelt and British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, led the charge to form the United Nations and were initially joined by the head of the USSR and China in signing the initial brief declaration document on January 1, 1942. The next day, 22 other countries joined the party including Australia, Belgium, Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Poland, Union of South Africa and Yugoslavia.  

Later this group was joined by Mexico, Philippines, Ethiopia, Iraq, Brazil, Bolivia, Iran, Colombia, Liberia, France, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Paraguay, Venezuela, Uruguay, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Lebanon. (Source: The UN)

The initial declaration talked about the “common struggle against savage and brutal forces seeking to subjugate the world.”  These were powerful words during a frightening time.

Three years later in June of 1945, the details of how the United Nations would work and exist were hammered out at the San Francisco Conference by the initial signers of the declaration (a/k/a the group listed above). 

By the time the San Francisco Conference was held, Roosevelt had died and Harry S. Truman was now President. Truman spoke to the delegates ahead of the conference with eloquent wisdom that really captures the focus on the UN at that time. He said: “If we do not want to die together in war, we must learn to live together in peace.” (Source: UN Foundation)

Another famous quote about the United Nations that is often wrongly attributed to Churchill read, “The UN was not created to take humanity to heaven, but to save it from hell.” If you are thinking about buying a kitchen magnet on Amazon with Churchill as the author, don’t.  That comment was actually made later during the 1950s by the second secretary-general of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld.

What Churchill did famously say, which many people attribute to the UN was, “It is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war.”

If you have the opportunity to buy THAT refrigerator magnet, do it, but just know that Churchill didn’t actually say it about the United Nations.  He said it in June 1954, while speaking to Congress about the threat of the spread of communism, as reported by the New York Times.

But the UN has used that line, often, even in their job recruitment materials.  And they should, it’s classic Churchill, and perfect.

Through the years, the UN has expanded to include agency organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and further extended its initial charter beyond peacekeeping to other issues such as human rights.

World leaders have remained largely supportive of the UN, but there have also been a few critics.  US President Donald J. Trump voiced his opinion in a 2017 speech arguing that the United States “bears an unfair cost burden, but to be fair if it could actually accomplish all of its stated goals — especially the goal of peace — this investment would easily be well worth it.” (Source: GlobalCitizen.org)

Despite these comments, the United States, even during the Trump presidency, has remained the largest supporter of the UN and has not followed through with any significant funding cuts.  Trump has, however, been incredibly critical of the WHO’s handling of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic.