United Airlines, China and Course Corrections

This United Airlines travel poster from the 1950s sold for nearly $900 at a July 2017 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1985, a man by the name of Richard Ferris, CEO of United Airlines, developed an innovative one-stop shopping strategy (Fly-Drive-Sleep) and then bought Hertz and Hilton hotels to add the two legs he needed. The expected synergies did not materialize, but he did manage to alienate his pilots and their powerful union. Rumors circulated that he had to travel incognito – under an assumed name – to avoid “last-minute mechanical failures” if his employees discovered him onboard.

In April 1987, barely two years into the new program, the angry pilots’ union made a hostile takeover bid, which effectively put the entire company “in play” on Wall Street. A compromise was reached for Ferris to resign, sell Hertz and Hilton, and change the company name from Allegis back to United Airlines. Everyone was happy except Ferris and the customers, who had suffered through two years of lousy service due to the squabbling.

The new UAL management aggressively decided to rebuild their frayed customer relations. Nancy and I were invited to go on a multistep goodwill tour to China and back. This was our first (of many) long, international flights to Asia that included a stop in Hong Kong, Guangzhou (Canton), Beijing, Shanghai and back to Hong Kong. Everything was first class-plus and I met some interesting CEOs from several major corporations. There were only 20 people (plus crew) on a specially outfitted 747 with fully reclining seats … a novelty in those days.

The food and beverage service was exceptional. However, what impressed me the most was the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. I could finally grasp what Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521) and his crew encountered when they miscalculated, ran out of food and were so desperate they survived on a tasty dish of rat droppings mixed with sawdust. There were also stories of men gnawing on the ropes that lashed the mainsail. Only 18 men survived, and that did not include Captain Magellan.

The Pacific Ocean is the oldest of the world’s seas, a relic of the once all-encompassing Panthalassan Ocean that opened up 750 million years ago. It is by far the world’s biggest body of water – all the continents could fit easily within its borders, with ample room to spare. It is the most biologically diverse and seismically active, and holds the planet’s greatest mountains and deepest trenches. Its chemical influences and weather systems affect the entire orb we call home.

Most think of the Pacific Ocean in parts … a beach here … an atoll there … a long expanse of deep water. Captain James Cook wrote that by exploring the Pacific, he had gone “as far as I think it is possible for man to go.” Cook was not aware that it is 64 million square miles and humans are still exploring it.

Even the highly revered British Admiralty’s chart room bible “Ocean Passages for the World” still cautions sailors embarking on a crossing: “Very large areas are unsurveyed … no sounding at all recorded … only safeguards are a good lookout …”

The Chinese have always had good lookouts and now view the Pacific Ocean as their next area for expansion and dominance. They tell me to consider the past 4,000 years when judging their progress and to view the 20th century as an anomaly. They made a course correction to compensate for Mao Zedong and are now back on track for the next 1,000 years. They studied the flaws in our last financial system meltdown (greed and overleverage) and decided to create their own World Bank. They view our form of democracy with disdain since we appear irreparably divided over every single important strategic issue, with our economy bankrupt and elected officials in Washington, D.C., as the only ones with good health insurance, pensions and job security … hopelessly gridlocked.

They think it is better to have a strong leader and a navy capable of dominating the South China Sea with impunity. The great battle for the 21st century is essentially over. However, what they don’t understand is that we always find a way, then come together as needed. Winston Churchill put it best: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

How We Record History Has Evolved Over the Ages

A 1935 copy of The History of Herodotus of Halicarnassus (Nonesuch Press) sold for $1,125 at an October 2013 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

We often fail to remember that history (itself) has a history. From the earliest times, all societies told stories from their past, usually imaginative tales involving the acts of heroes or various gods. Later, civilizations kept records inscribed on clay tablets or the walls of caves. However, ancient societies made no attempt at verification of records, and often failed to differentiate between reality and mythical events and legends.

This changed in the 5th century B.C. when historians like Herodotus and Thucydides explored the past by the interpretation of evidence, despite still including a mixture of myth (“history” means “inquiry” in Greek). Still, Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War satisfies most criteria of modern historical study. It was based on interviews with eyewitnesses and attributed actual events to individuals rather than the intervention of gods.

Thus, Thucydides managed to create the most durable form of history: the detailed narrative of war, political conflict, diplomacy and decision-making. Then, the subsequent rise of Rome to dominance of the Mediterranean encouraged other historians like Polybius (Hellenic) and Livy (Roman) to develop narratives to capture a “big picture” that made sense of events on a longer time frame. Although restricted to just the Roman world, it was the beginning of a universal history to describe progress from origin to present, with a goal of giving the past a purpose.

In addition to making sense of events through narratives, there was a tradition growing to examine the behavior of heroes and villains for future moral lessons. We still attempt this today with a steady stream of studies of Lincoln, Churchill and Gandhi, as well as Stalin, Hitler and Mao.

But there was a big hiccup with the rise of Christianity in the late Roman Empire era, which fundamentally changed the concept of history in Europe. Historical events started to be viewed as “divine providence” or the working of God’s will. Skeptical inquiry was usually neglected and miracles routinely accepted without question. Thankfully, the Muslim world was more sophisticated in medieval times and they rejected accounts of events that could not be verified.

However, neither Christians nor Muslims produced anything close to the chronicle of Chinese history published under the Song Dynasty in 1085. It recorded history spanning almost 1,400 years and filled 294 volumes. (I have no idea how accurate it is!)

By the 20th century, the subject matter of history – which had always focused on kings, queens, prime ministers, presidents and generals – increasingly expanded to embrace common people, whose role in historical events became more accessible. But most world history was written as the story of the triumph of Western civilization, until the second half when the notion of a single grand narrative simply collapsed. Instead, the post-colonial, modern world demanded the study of blacks and women’s histories, in addition to Asians, Africans and American Indians.

Now we are in another new place where it is increasingly difficult to know where to find reliable accounts of real events and a flood of “fake news” is competing for widespread acceptance. Maybe Henry Ford was right after all when he declared that “History is bunk!”

Personally, I don’t mind and still enjoy frequent trips to the past … regardless of factual flaws.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

When Britain Needed Help to Fight the Nazis, FDR Came Through

A Franklin D. Roosevelt inscribed photograph signed, circa 1930s, sold for $1,625 at an October 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Franklin Delano Roosevelt introduced the idea at a press conference on Dec. 17, 1940, in typical homey, easily comprehended language:

“Suppose my neighbor’s home catches on fire and I have a length of garden hose 400 or 500 feet away. If he can take my garden hose and connect it up to his hydrant, I may be able to help him put out the fire. Now what do I do? I don’t say to him, ‘Neighbor, my garden hose cost me $15, you have to pay me $15 for it.’ No! What is the transition that goes on? I don’t want $15 – I want my garden hose back after the fire is out.”

The neighbor on fire was England, facing the full ferocity of the Nazi blitz. England was the only major European power still resisting (barely) the German juggernaut. The formal cry for help, a desperate letter from Winston Churchill to FDR, had been received eight days earlier on Dec. 9 when a navy seaplane had touched down next to the USS Tuscaloosa off of Florida’s southern coast. The president was on board the heavy cruiser recuperating from the rigors on his November reelection campaign when the seaplane crew delivered the letter.

The Prime Minister had written, “The moment approaches when we shall no longer be able to pay cash for shipping and other supplies” … pointing out that the Exchequer was down to its last $2 billion – with $5 billion in orders from American munitions factories outstanding. Roosevelt knew the answer was to find some way around the Neutrality Acts, an isolationist ploy that stipulated that any war belligerents had to pay cash for weapons – and loans were prohibited to any nation that had not repaid debts from WWI.

Harry Hopkins – FDR’s man for all seasons – wrote that his boss mulled it over for two days, then one evening came up with the whole program! The “whole program” quickly became House Resolution 1776, better known as “Lend-Lease.” It granted the president the authority to lend tanks, planes, ships and other aid not only to England but to “any country whose defense the president deems vital to the defense of the United States.” Leaders across the political spectrum rallied to support H.R. 1776.

One was Wendell Willkie, the Republican candidate just defeated in the 1940 presidential election and a staunch opponent of the United States entering the war in Europe. When the Senate quizzed him about this obvious contradiction, he smiled broadly and said, “I struggled as hard as I could to beat Franklin Roosevelt and didn’t pull any punches. He was elected president. He is my president now … I say a world enslaved to Hitler is worse than war, and worse than death.”

The opposition was organized and very powerful. Colonel Charles Lindbergh had even assured the Senate that Britain was already doomed. Fortunately, Congress had more faith in FDR and passed H.R. 1776 by large margins on March 11, 1941. The bill provided Roosevelt with $7 billion in appropriations – the first of $50 billion to be used by the end of hostilities in 1945.

Churchill famously called Lend-Lease “the most unsordid act in the history of any nation.”

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Churchill’s Successor Left a Lasting Mark on Great Britain

A gelatin silver print of Winston Churchill, 1941, by photographer Yousuf Karsh sold for $11,352 at a May 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

When Clement Attlee was asked if he wanted to comment on the campaign of 1945, his response was a simple “No.” During this election for Prime Minister of Great Britain, he and wife Violet traveled the countryside extensively in their modest (battered) family car, advocating for a totally new, post-war social policy. One of his more effective political slogans was “You Can Trust Mr. Attlee.” It worked surprisingly well as he led the Labour Party to an upset, landslide win over the venerable Winston Churchill.

Attlee became one of the most successful leaders in modern Britain, despite being habitually shy, laconic, self-deprecating and excessively modest. As Churchill once quipped, “Clement Attlee was a modest man who had much to be modest about.”

Churchill respected Attlee for his basic honesty and firm dedication to accountability. They had served together during World War I and Attlee was even part of the British Army during the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign, which Churchill had conceived while the First Lord of the Admiralty. The strategic premise was to knock Turkey out of the war by attacking the Dardanelles. The campaign went so badly that Churchill was demoted, resigned from the Conservative Cabinet, and ended up commanding an infantry battalion of the Royal Fusiliers.

Clement Attlee

Attlee naively believed that the plan had been sound strategically and had only failed due to poor military execution. In Attlee’s own words, “There was only one brilliant strategic idea in WWI and that was Winston’s ‘the Dardanelles.’” Historians still argue over this yet today, but it was enough to form a bond between the two future prime ministers … one a pure socialist and the other an imperialist of the first order.

During the Second World War (which was just a continuation of the first with a 20-year pause), Attlee served under Churchill in the coalition government of 1940-45 and was the first person to hold the office of Deputy Prime Minister. He somehow held the Labour Party together despite numerous divergent viewpoints and personal ambitions. The colossal egos of Herbert Morrison, Sir Stafford Cripps (reputed to have the finest mind in England), and union strongman Ernest Bevin (dedicated to absolute equality throughout the British Empire) required a rare blend of political leadership – perhaps unique to Attlee.

It is here (in my humble opinion) where we start to witness the real decline of the British Empire. Independence in India, the partition of Pakistan, independence in Burma (Myanmar), Sri Lanka, Palestine and Jordan and exiting Greece. This was followed by the inevitable nationalization of the Bank of England, along with the iron, coal and steel industries. Then, importantly, there was the creation of a comprehensive welfare state. To the United States, the phrase “British socialism” signified economic and political bankruptcy; one of the few things Democrats and Republicans could agree on.

In Attlee’s rationale, these Labour Party policies were merely measures to ensure full employment and welfare based on managed capitalism; “accomplishments” that remained in place until his death in 1962 and beyond. Fortunately, a research chemist-turned-barrister was elected to Parliament in 1959, and 20 years later became the first woman to hold the office of Prime Minister. She was the longest-serving British Prime Minister in the 20th century. Her name was Margaret “The Iron Lady” Thatcher.

The small island that had once ruled the seas and oceans of the world – along with much of its land – was about to enter an era known now as “Thatcherism.” Many, including me, appreciate strong, enlightened leadership grounded in economic and political freedom. She fit the model perfectly.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Webster Considered the ‘Father of American Scholarship and Education’

A first edition of Noah Webster’s An American Dictionary of the English Language, with a four-page manuscript in Webster’s hand concerning word origins, sold for $34,655 at a February 2010 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Noah Webster published his American Dictionary of the English Language in 1828 when he was 70 years old. It was printed in two quarto volumes with 70,000 word entries. (A quarto was typically 9 x 12 inches or roughly the size of modern magazines.) About 12,000 of the words had never appeared in a published dictionary and Webster tried to harmonize the spelling of a word with its common pronunciation.

Another unique feature was the inclusion of words used in America that were not in British dictionaries. Perhaps that is why George Bernard Shaw – the Irish playwright who won the Nobel Prize in 1925 – is said to have coined the phrase “The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language.” (There are several variations of this, including one by Winston Churchill.)

Noah Webster

Webster (1758-1843) also collaborated with Alexander Hamilton and other prominent Federalists, which made him a rich target for Jeffersonian-Republicans who peppered him with insults: a prostitute wretch, incurable lunatic, spiteful viper, pusillanimous traitor, to list just a few. He founded the first daily newspaper in New York, The American Minerva, and a semi-weekly publication later known as the New York Spectator. He was a prolific writer and earned the imposing sobriquet as the “Father of American Scholarship and Education.”

I have gradually abandoned the use of printed dictionaries, but a copy of the old reliable Merriam-Webster still occupies a handy spot in the bookcase. One who didn’t was Emily Dickinson, who used Webster as a reference “obsessively.” Scholars studying her immense body of work routinely turn to Webster for clarification. She was such an eccentric recluse that only a dozen of her 1,800 poems were published while she was alive. The hodgepodge of short lines, unconventional punctuation and slant rhymes make her work difficult to appreciate. But the lady could write and may be the finest American poet of the 19th century.

Webster’s name is still synonymous with “dictionary” despite becoming generic and hyphenated long ago. He died in 1843 after playing a critical role in the Copyright Act of 1831.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

As War Loomed, Hospitals Lacked Drugs to Treat Wounds, Infections

This 1939 original newspaper political cartoon by Joe Parrish (1905-1989), depicting Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini about to plunge into war, went to auction in November 2014.

By Jim O’Neal

In September 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich and infamously declared he had an assurance for “Peace for our time.” The phrase was an optimistic borrowing from a versicle in the Anglican service of evensong: “Give peace in our time, O Lord, because there is none other that fighteth for us, but only Thou, O God.”

Chamberlain was wrong on several levels since Germany (Adolf Hitler) had no intention of granting peace to Britain and its European neighbors. Secondly, Britain had a true leader-fighter in Winston Churchill, who had warned the British Parliament in 1935 of “Germany arming at breakneck speed, England lost in a pacifist dream, France corrupt and torn by dissension, America remote and indifferent.” A year later, this was no longer a rhetorical flourish, but a dangerous fact as Britain would soon be at war.

From the largest cities to the smallest villages, citizens prepared their civil defenses: air-raid shelters designated, blackout curtains for homes sewn, gas masks delivered, and fire marshals named. Trading cards in cigarette packs showing film stars and athletes were replaced with a series of 48 “Air-Raid Precautions.” Plans were made to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people from large cities to remote rural areas.

Major hospitals were organized into emergency medical facilities. A blood transfusion system was set-up, with widespread training under the Red Cross First Aid course. Prominently missing in all this was the critical supply of penicillin … for one simple reason: It did not exist. Neither did any other vital drug to treat wounds and other infectious diseases common to war casualties.

History credits the discovery of penicillin many years earlier (1928) to Sir Alexander Fleming at St. Mary’s Hospital in London after a serendipitous encounter with a mold growing in an untended Petri dish. However, he was such a poor communicator and orator that his work was largely ignored. Plus, he found the substance “too frustrating and difficult to work with” and abandoned it.

Fortunately, a small group at Oxford recognized the substance’s potential as a “miracle drug,” although they did not have the resources to manufacture commercial quantities until grants from the Rockefeller Foundation spurred the installation of small production sites.

Even more astonishing was that the first major application occurred in November 1942 when a fire at Boston’s Cocoanut Grove nightclub killed 492 people. Several hundred people survived life-threatening burns after treatment with a penicillin variant. The fire started after a club employee changed a light bulb in a darkened area, lighting a match to see what he was doing. With Freon in short supply due to the war, a highly flammable gas (methyl chloride) was being used as a substitute. Boom … the fire engulfed the entire building.

Of course, tens of millions of people were subsequently saved on many battlefields and in hospitals and emergency rooms all over the world. The worry now is that that through overuse, bacteria have developed resistance strategies, leading to new “super bugs.” Survival of the fittest seems to be an immutable law of nature.

Remember to eat your spinach and wash your hands!

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Our Wishes, Passions Cannot Alter the State of Facts

“The Big Three” – Churchill, FDR and Stalin – at the Yalta Conference, Feb. 4, 1945.

By Jim O’Neal

In February 1945, with the war in Europe winding down, the time had come for President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin to decide the continent’s postwar fate. They agreed to meet at the Black Sea port of Yalta to discuss the plan.

Each man arrived on Feb. 4, along with an entourage of diplomats, military officers, soldiers and personal aides. Among those attending for Great Britain were Alexander Cadogan, under-secretary for foreign affairs, and Anthony Eden, Britain’s foreign secretary. Stalin was accompanied by his minister of foreign affairs, Vyacheslav Molotov, and the Soviet ambassador to the United States. Roosevelt brought Secretary of State Edward Stettinius and Averell Harriman, U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union.

Roosevelt, recently elected to a fourth term, also brought along daughter Anna as his personal assistant, instead of wife Eleanor.

Aside from agreeing to the unconditional surrender of Germany, their agendas could not have been more different. While Stalin was firmly committed to expanding the USSR, Roosevelt and Churchill focused on the war in the Pacific. They hoped Stalin would declare war on Japan once Germany surrendered. Unbeknownst to Churchill, Roosevelt secretly secured the Soviet dictator’s cooperation by agreeing to grant the Soviets a sphere of influence in Manchuria once Japan capitulated.

The Allied leaders also discussed dividing Germany into zones of occupation. Each of the three nations, as well as France, would control one zone. Churchill and Roosevelt also agreed that all future governments in Eastern Europe would be “friendly” to the Soviet Union. Stalin agreed to allow free elections in each of the liberated Eastern European countries.

There was also a great deal of debate over Poland, but it was all a series of empty, almost laughable promises from Stalin in return for consenting to help with the establishment of the United Nations, which Roosevelt desperately wanted to create. He sincerely believed this new organization would step in when future conflicts arose and help countries settle their disputes peacefully.

The initial reaction to the Yalta agreements was one of celebration, especially in the United States. It appeared that the Western Allies and the Soviets would continue their wartime cooperation into the postwar period. Some historians continue to debate the impact of the conference. However, the facts are crystal clear. By spring, hopes of any continued cooperation had evaporated. After Yalta, Stalin quickly reneged on his promises concerning Eastern Europe, especially the agreement to allow free elections in countries liberated from Nazi control.

The USSR created an Iron Curtain and installed governments dominated by the Soviet Union. The one-time pseudo Allies found themselves on a more treacherous and dangerous path to another more ideologically driven one – the aptly named Cold War. Was FDR too tired and sick? He died two months after Yalta on April 12, 1945, at age 63. Was Churchill out of the loop or drinking heavily (or both)?

Seventy-plus years later, we are still consumed with Russian aggression in Crimea, Ukraine, Syria and the Baltics.

“Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence,” said lawyer and future president John Adams in 1770, while defending British soldiers in the Boston Massacre trial.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Concerns Over Harry Truman Vanished as New President Exerted His Leadership

1945-white-house-press-release
A 1945 White House press release signed by Harry S. Truman as president announcing the bombing of Hiroshima realized $77,675 at an October 2010 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In February 1945, Franklin Delano Roosevelt traveled to Yalta in southeastern Russia to discuss plans for peace with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. He reported to Congress that plans had been arranged for an organization meeting of the United Nations on April 25, 1945. He said, “There, we all hope, and confidently expect, to execute a definite charter of organization under which the peace of the world will be preserved and the forces of aggression permanently outlawed.”

Upon his return, he looked tired and older than his 63 years. Late in March, he went to Warm Springs, Ga., for an overdue rest. On April 12, 1945, he was working at his desk as an artist painted his portrait when he suddenly complained of “a terrible headache.” A few hours later, at 4:45 p.m., he died of a cerebral hemorrhage. The last words he had written were “The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.”

harry-s-truman
Truman

His successor, the first president to take office in the midst of a war, Harry S. Truman, said he felt “like the moon, the stars and all the planets had fallen on me.” The nation and world wondered if he was capable of taking Roosevelt’s place. His background and even his appearance added to the nervous uncertainty. He was the first president in 50 years without a college education. He spoke the language of a Missouri dirt farmer and World War I artilleryman – both of which he had been. Instead of talking like a statesman, he looked like a bank clerk or haberdasher – both of which he had been. And worst of all, everyone knew that for more than 20 years he had been a lieutenant of Tom Pendergast, one of the most corrupt political bosses in the country.

What most people didn’t know was that he was scrupulously honest, knew his own mind and was one of the most knowledgeable students of history ever to enter the White House. Importantly, he understood the powers of the president, and knew why some men had been strong chief executives and others had been weak leaders.

When he learned about the atomic bomb, there was no soul-searching or handwringing debates. He ordered it dropped on Japan because he was sure it would save American lives and quickly end World War II. It did not bother him in the least that years later, intellectuals would question whether one man should have made such an awesome decision alone. He knew in his heart that he was right … period.

Two of his well-known sayings capture the essence of Give’m Hell Harry Truman: The Buck Stops Here (a sign on his desk) and my favorite … If you can’t stand the heat, stay the hell out of the kitchen!

Leaders get paid to make tough decisions.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Idea of a ‘United Nations’ Enthralled the Country … but Surprises Remained

A print of the famous “Dewey Defeats Truman” photo dated November 1948 and inscribed by Harry S. Truman sold for $10,157.50 at an April 2013 Heritage auction.

“If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”

“The buck stops here!”

“Give me a one-handed economist. All my economists say, ‘On the one hand … on the other.’”

– Quotes attributed to President Harry S. Truman

By Jim O’Neal

It was during Harry S. Truman’s years that America irrevocably joined the community of nations. The phrase “United Nations” had occurred to Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the middle of the night during the bleak Christmas of 1941, while Winston Churchill was a guest at the White House. In its Jan. 10, 1942, issue, Time reported that “a new phrase, the United Nations” had slipped into the world’s vocabulary.

The year before, a Fortune survey had found that barely 13 percent of the electorate wanted to see the United States in any international organization. However, by 1944, 68 percent did and college students endorsed the proposal to send a U.S. delegation to a permanent U.N. by 50 to 1. The House, on a motion by J. William Fulbright from Arkansas to support “the creation of appropriate international machinery to establish and maintain lasting peace among the nations of the world … and participation by the U.S. therein,” resolved 360 to 20 to do so.

In the Senate, the measure also had bipartisan support.

Competition was fierce between Philadelphia, Atlantic City, Chicago, San Francisco and the Black Hills of South Dakota versus New York for the honor of providing the U.N. headquarters with a tax-free location. Only tiny Greenwich, Conn., voted not to receive it, probably more about an anti-One World sentiment.

Then there was the dramatic speech by U.S. Sen. Arthur Vandenberg making his historic pivot toward the viability of international independence that was given a standing ovation by senators of both parties. The press hailed him for delivering a speech of “unquestioned greatness” … “the most important address to come from the senate in the last 80 years” … “a courageous pledge to meet all aggression with force” … “a promise on no more Munichs.”

In the excitement, no one heard a shot fired on the other side of the world. Returning from Paris in a rage, Ho Chi Minh declared the independence of Vietnam, proclaimed himself president and took to the hills. The State Department yawned. After all, these were only natives who could be handled by a few companies of U.S. Marines and even that wouldn’t be necessary. The French Foreign Legion was on hand to suppress any issues.

Besides, we had more important work to rescue and rebuild our Allies in Europe with the new Marshall Plan. Remote places like Korea and Vietnam could wait as we established world order and focused on our domestic priorities. War was now passé and polls confirmed we would have peace for the rest of the 20th century.

As usual, the future would be laden with surprises.


Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Seventy-one Years Later, U.N. Still Ironing Out the Kinks

A United Nations flag flown aboard Apollo 11, from the personal collection of Buzz Aldrin, sold for $10,157.50 at an April 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

After years of conflict, devastation and privation, there was a shared determination to avoid another World War. Gradually, this determination evolved into action. The seeds had been sown in August 1941 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill issued the Atlantic Charter, a statement that listed their postwar goals for international security.

These goals appeared again in January 1942 when the 26 Allied nations signed the United Nations Declaration, which bound them to a common purpose of victory over the Axis powers. It also resolved to protect liberty and human rights and to respect the self-determination of all people.

In April 1945, with the end of the war in sight, representatives of 50 nations met in San Francisco to write a charter for the new organization. The charter established the mission of the United Nations: to prevent war; to affirm fundamental human rights; to facilitate international peace and security; to promote improved living standards; and to support social progress and economic advancements.

Disagreements based on national interests plagued the discussions at the April conference, but they did not prevent the formation of the United Nations. On June 25, the delegates unanimously adopted the charter and the next day they all signed the document. The United Nations was officially established on Oct. 24, 1945.

The world had entered a new period of international collaboration … “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war … to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights.”

Seventy-one years later, they are still trying to get some of the kinks worked out.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].