Signing of the United Nations Charter in San Francisco on Jun 26, 1945
On October 24, 1945, the United Nations officially came into existence when its Charter was ratified by the five permanent members of the Security Council (France, Republic of China, Soviet Union, United Kingdom and United States) and a majority of other 46 member countries.
To celebrate the UN's birthday (actually, celebrated as the "United Nations Day" in many countries), here are a quick 10 fun facts about it:
1. Failure of the League Of Nations
first world organization of countries was the League of Nations, founded
after the World War I (back then it was called the Great War or the War
to End All Wars - yes, ironic). The aim of the League of Nations was to
prevent the repeat of the war.
Benito Mussolini, the prime minister of Italy back then, famously said "The League is very well when sparrows shout, but no good at all when eagles fall out." And indeed, just three decades after the founding of the League of Nations, the world plunged into another war, World War II.
2. Churchill in a Bathtub: The Origin of the Name
The name "United Nations" was proposed by US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Winston Churchill back in 1942. Churchill was in Washington, D.C. then - in fact, he was sitting in a bathtub when FDR was wheeled into the bathroom and proposed that the Allies of World War II be called the United Nations. (Source)
FDR and Churchill thought that "United Nations" sounded better than the "Alliance," a name they were thinking of first. Churchill noted that the poet Lord Byron had used the name to describe the Allies at the Battle of Waterloo in his book Childe Harold's Pilgrimage:
Here, where the sword United Nations drew,
Our countrymen were warring on that day!
And this much—and all—which will not pass away.
Ironically, the Allies of the 1815 Battle of Waterloo, which included the Prussian Army (which later became part of Germany in 1919), fought the French Empire. France, of course, was later part of the Allies of World War II, who fought Nazi Germany.
3. Rockefeller's Gift: Land for the UN Headquarters
The land of the United Nations Headquarters in New York City was purchased from real estate mogul William Zeckendorf with money donated by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Zeckendorf was going to use it to build X City, a futuristic real estate development that failed to get off the ground (Source). The UN Headquarters building was designed by Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer, and built with an interest-free loan from the United States.
The land and the building of the United Nations Headquarter are considered international territory. It doesn't even meet all of New York City's fire safety and building codes.
4. United Nations Stamp
The United Nations has its own post office and its own postage stamp! Though mostly collectibles, you can actually mail stuff using the UN stamps from UN premises in New York, Geneva, and Vienna.
5. The UN Logo Was First Designed for a Lapel Pin
The logo of the United Nations was designed by Donal McLaughlin, who worked for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor of the CIA. Donal described the UN logo as an "azimuthally equidistant projection showing all the countries in one circle, flanked by crossed olive branches." The logo was first designed as a lapel pin. (Source)
6. UN Flags and One That Just Gotta Be Different
Agencies and organizations of the United Nations all have their own flags:
The UN official colors are light blue and white. For some reason, World Food Programme just has to be different: its flag colors are reversed!
7. UN Secretary-General Fun Facts
The head of the United Nations is the Secretary-General. They are appointed based on geographical rotation, but never from the five permanent Security Council member states.
The current Secretary-General is Ban Ki-moon from South Korea. He has been described by many as "bland" (indeed, his nickname is Ban-chusa, or "the bureaucrat" in Korean). When he was elected Secretary-General, however, Ban surprised everyone by singing a version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" with the lyrics "Ban Ki-moon is coming to town" instead).
Another interesting facts about past UN Secretary-Generals:
- Kofi Annan is a twin, a particularly respected thing in Ghanaian culture. The Akan people of Ghana often name their children after the day of the week they were born. His name, Kofi, is given to boys born on a Friday.
- Let's face it: Boutros Boutros-Ghali has a funny name. Indeed, an Icelandic soccer team has been named after him! "Boutros Boutros" once said "The best way to deal with bureaucrats is with stealth and sudden violence." We can't agree more!
- Kurt Waldheim got embroiled in the "Waldheim Affair" when it was discovered that he was an intelligence officer for Nazi Germany during World War II.
- Forget "Boutros Boutros," the UN Secretary with the best name has got to be U Thant. Actually "U" is an honorific in Burmese, roughly meaning "mister" - his actually name is only "Thant."
- Dag Hammarskjöld was killed in a mysterious plane crash (it was rumored that the British MI5, the CIA, and the South African intelligence services were responsible). He is the only UN Secretary-General to die in office and the only person ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize posthumously.
8. Does it Pay to be an Employee of the UN?
The UN Secretariat employed some 15,000 people worldwide (in comparison, the Pentagon employed 23,000 people in Washington D.C. alone!). Salaries for professional staff of the United Nations are determined by the "Noblemarie Principle," named after the chairman of a committee of the League of Nations who first formulated it in 1920.
The Noblemarie Principle holds that the UN must pay its staff equally for work of equal value, despite differences in levels of pay in various countries from where they are drawn. This translates to a base salary of $113,000 for the Under Secretary-General, to the bottom salary of $32,000 (Source)
Being a diplomat to the United Nations, on the other hand, has its benefits: because of their diplomatic immunity, many of them refuse to pay parking tickets. Indeed, 6 countries have an average of over 100 parking tickets per diplomat! (Source)
9. Newest Member: Welcome Montenegro!
The newest member of the United Nations is Montenegro, who became the 192nd member in 2006. Besides member states, there is one non-member observer state, the Holy See in Vatican City.
10. Who Pays for the United Nations?
The UN budget comes from the member states, determined by their ability to pay (for example, France and the UK were assessed 6% of the budget, whereas Liberia was assessed 0.001%, the minimum rate). The United States shoulder the lion's share: it pays 22% (and 27% of the peacekeeping budget, which is assessed separately). In 2006, this turns out to be $423 million or $1.42 per American citizen.
Despite being assessed the most, the United States is constantly late in payment. By 2005, the US owed more than $960 million in arrears. Thankfully, it's not alone: only 40 out the 192 members paid on time - in fact, late payment is considered standard practice by many nations! (Source)