June History Hits: The United Nations Charter

On June 26, 1945 in San Francisco, the United Nations Charter was signed. In the aftermath of the devastation caused by World War II, world leaders came together to establish an international organization committed to keeping the peace and protecting human rights.

After the second World War had ended, the leaders of countries around the world realized that the existing system of international relations was inadequate to prevent such catastrophic conflicts from taking place again. The world had witnessed horrors during the wars, including genocide and the use of nuclear weapons, which compelled nations to seek a new way to ensure that collective security would be prioritized over individual national interests.

Representatives from 50 countries gathered in San Francisco to draft and sign the United Nations Charter. The Charter established an organization that would serve as a forum for nations to resolve disputes peacefully. The United Nations Charter created several principles to guide the organization’s work.

The central goal is to maintain peace and security. The Charter encourages conflicts to be resolved peacefully and prohibits the use of force except in cases of self-defense or collective action authorized by the Security Council. The Charter upholds the sovereign equality of all member nations, but it recognizes the collective responsibility of nations to protect human rights. The Charter recognizes the worth of the individual and emphasizes social progress, equality, and the improvement of living conditions. The Charter also stresses the importance of international cooperation to address poverty, hunger, disease, and climate change.

According to the New York Times articles published on June 26, 1945 about the meeting, when the final text of the charter was approved, “an audience of more than 3,000 in the War Memorial Opera House jumped to its feet to cheer and applaud for a full minute” (Times Machine).

Over the years, the United Nations has addressed conflicts, including deploying peacekeeping missions to maintain stability worldwide, developing international human rights standards, creating Sustainable Development Goals to tackle pressing global issues such as poverty and inequality, and developing international law, including the prohibition of chemical weapons and the protection of the environment.

Despite its achievements, the United Nations faces ongoing challenges. Geopolitical tensions, resource constraints, and complex global issues demand renewed efforts to strengthen its effectiveness and adapt to evolving realities. Addressing climate change, gender equality, and socioeconomic inequality are among some of the most important tasks being addressed today.

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April 1986: Remembering the Chernobyl Disaster

The Chernobyl Disaster, which occurred on April 26, 1986 in the Ukrainian city of Pripyat (then a part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or “Soviet Union”), was an unprecedented nuclear disaster that rocked the world.  This event happened in the last stretch of the Cold War, which lasted from the late 1940s through the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The Chernobyl Factory, Source: Tiia Monto, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

I was about 13 years old when this accident occurred and had spent my early childhood being taught to fear the Soviet regime.  Our elementary schools held drills where we hid under our desks to prepare for potential fallout from nuclear missiles that might be lobbed at the United States from the Soviet Union.

Of course, I was raised in rural Texas, so the likelihood of those missiles reaching us were very slim, but then again, it is never too early to scare children.

So when the Chernobyl accident happened, I gathered all of the wrong facts based on my previous experiences and assumed it was a nuclear weapons facility rather than the nuclear power plant that it actually was.  

In reality, the explosion was the result of a failed safety test in nuclear reactor number four which also had flaws in its design.  Additionally, it is believed that operators were not properly trained to handle the safety test or design issues.

According to Wikipedia, Chernobyl “is considered the worst nuclear disaster in history both in terms of cost and casualties.”  The same article noted that the accident consisted of two explosions which ruptured the reactor core and a subsequent reactor core fire that burned for nine days afterwards dropping radioactive material throughout the USSR and Western Europe.  

The death toll within the first few months after the accident was 31 of which about 28 died from radiation sickness.  Since then another 15 people have died of Thyroid cancer, which is believed to be directly related to the incident.

The United Nations issued a report on the accident in September of 2005 stating that, “a total of up to 4,000 people could eventually die of radiation exposure from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant (NPP) accident.”

Dr. Burton Bennett, Chairman of the Chernobyl Forum and an authority on radiation effects said, “This was a very serious accident with major health consequences, especially for thousands of workers exposed in the early days who received very high radiation doses, and for the thousands more stricken with thyroid cancer.  By and large, however, we have not found profound negative health impacts to the rest of the population in surrounding areas, nor have we found widespread contamination that would continue to pose a substantial threat to human health, with a few exceptional, restricted areas.”

The city sign for Chernobyl, Source: Omar David Sandoval Sida, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The accident happened a little over a year after Mikhail Gorbachev rose to power in the Soviet Union and promised a thawing of the previous Cold War isolationist approach.  The Chernobyl accident, however, turned out to not only be a global catastrophe with far reaching implications, but also was a public relations nightmare for Gorbachev as the Soviet Union was slow to release information regarding the accident.

A Washington Post article written on May 1,1986 by Michael Dobbs explains, “Western officials and foreign policy analysts agree that the Kremlin’s failure to provide detailed information about what has happened at Chernobyl could turn out to be almost as damaging for Moscow as the accident itself. The initial news blackout provoked protests from practically every government in Western Europe and raised concern among ordinary citizens on both sides of the ‘Iron Curtain.’”

Further in the article, British Foreign Office minister, Tim Eggar, was quoted as saying “the ‘lesson’ of the Chernobyl incident was that ‘the openness which Gorbachev has said is necessary in Soviet society must become a reality.’”

As we all know, Gorbachev would go on to weather this storm and Eastern Europe including the Ukraine would break away by 1989 and by 1991, the Soviet Union would dissolve, but the tragedy and human impact of the Chernobyl accident will live on.

To learn more about Chernobyl, please visit these resources: