Published Date

January 1, 1946

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 19: Building a Workable Peace (1946)

The men who forged the Charter of the United Nations had a solemn task. While the most destructive war in the world’s history was still going on, and in the knowledge that any future conflict would be infinitely worse, they sought at San Francisco a solution to the age-old problem how to prevent war.

The representatives who met in San Francisco from April 25 to June 26, 1945—representatives of the 50 nations then at war with Germany or Japan or both—were by no means breaking new ground. For centuries philosophers and kings, diplomats and ordinary citizens have hunted for the key to lasting peace. In the course of time, every conceivable variety of general principle and detailed plan has been put forward. But not until 1919 was a full-fledged organization established among the nations with the purpose of keeping the peace.

The League of Nations failed of that purpose. The men who created it predicted that a recurrence of world conflict would be certain disaster for humanity. But in the years that followed, men became less conscious of the costs of war and more preoccupied with the price of peace. Statesmen and students discussed at length the economic and social measures necessary to relieve political unrest but little was done to solve the critical problems. Nations, when the pinch came, hesitated to take direct action against aggression.

In Manchuria, in Ethiopia, at Munich, and elsewhere, however, the world learned that aggression cannot be stopped by diplomatic protests, halfway economic penalties or appeasement. It will take at least as much cooperation and determination to use joint force-if necessary-to keep the peace as it has taken to win the victory.


Another chance and another try

The military developments of this war-jet propulsion, rockets, atomic bombs-show what could be expected in a future war. They make the creation of a workable system to maintain world peace look like plain common sense. Whatever peace may cost in the sacrifice of traditional ideas and policies would seem to be not merely worth while but indispensable. As Senator Vandenberg said to the Senate in his report on the San Francisco Conference, “If World War III ever unhappily arrives, it will open laboratories of death too horrible to contemplate. … They must be closed all around the earth (for keeps) because neither time nor space any longer promises to shield the victims of treacherous attack.”

At San Francisco the United Nations laid the foundation and erected the framework of another world peace system. In some ways it resembles the League of Nations. In other ways it is different. But it faces the same basic difficulties and over it hovers the same big question mark: Will it succeed?

Charter of the United Nations



We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

and for these ends

to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors, and to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,

have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims

Accordingly, our respective Governments, through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present Charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations.

Next section: What Lay Behind the San Francisco Conference?