From 1944 to 1946, as the world pivoted from the Second World War to an unsteady peace, Americans in more than two hundred cities and towns mobilized to chase an implausible dream. The newly-created United Nations needed a meeting place, a central place for global diplomacy–a Capital of the World. But what would it look like, and where would it be? Without invitation, civic boosters in every region of the United States leapt at the prospect of transforming their hometowns into the Capital of the World. The idea stirred in big cities–Chicago, San Francisco, St. Louis, New Orleans, Denver, and more. It fired imaginations in the Black Hills of South Dakota and in small towns from coast to coast.
Meanwhile, within the United Nations the search for a headquarters site became a debacle that threatened to undermine the organization in its earliest days. At times it seemed the world’s diplomats could agree on only one thing: under no circumstances did they want the United Nations to be based in New York. And for its part, New York worked mightily just to stay in the race it would eventually win.
With a sweeping view of the United States’ place in the world at the end of World War II, Capital of the World tells the dramatic, surprising, and at times comic story of hometown promoters in pursuit of an extraordinary prize and the diplomats who struggled with the balance of power at a pivotal moment in history.
I knew the ending of Capital of the World. We all do. The United Nations is headquartered in New York. What I didn’t know was how it ended up there. I definitely didn’t know how many cities were begging for the UN to set up camp in their backyard.
Some of these towns went to great lengths to lure the United Nations to their neck of the woods. Ridiculous lengths really. Perhaps I only think they were ridiculous because I know where the UN ended up? Still, some of their shenanigans made me giggle.
There were serious matters to consider. The United Nations was to be a venture that promoted peace and equality. It wouldn’t do to put the headquarters in places where equality was regularly tested. (In 1945? A LOT of places had troubles with that particular issue.) The UN had to be fairly accessible to people from around the world. Even though San Francisco successfully hosted the charter conference of the UN, the powers that be decided that any city on the West Coast was out.
This book is well researched and full of interesting historical tidbits. Entertaining and spirited, Capital of the World hits the right notes.
|The author: Charlene Mires is Associate Professor of History at Rutgers University-Camden.
She is the author of Independence Hall in American Memory and a co-recipient of a Pulitzer Prize in journalism.