MAY 16, 1955
NEW YORK—As I go around the country I hear much unfounded criticism about the U. N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, known as UNESCO. I think perhaps we should take the trouble really to know a little more about this organization, so that we do not find ourselves stirred up unnecessarily. You will hear people say, for example, that UNESCO is engaged in spreading world Communism, yet in the same breath that it is fanning the flames of nationalism. You hear also that it is tearing down our patriotic traditions by teaching a concept of one world, and again that it is preaching the interests of international capitalism.
What UNESCO was really set up to do was expressed in rather broad phrases in its constitution, such as "erecting the defenses of peace in the minds of men." This is quite an undertaking, and under such a mandate you can do a great variety of things. Of course, some of the things tried have not been completely successful, and these became easy targets for the critics. But on the whole, the program is developing slowly into a very valuable international effort.
Today, eight years after its founding, UNESCO has a membership of 72 nations and an annual budget of $10,800,000. Its policy is laid down in a general conference of its members which meets once a year, just as the members of the U. N. meet once a year in the General Assembly and develop the policy of the U. N. The UNESCO executive board meets regularly between conference sessions. It has 22 nations now represented, and its members are responsible to their governments, following a decision taken with U. S. support at the Montevideo meeting on December 11, 1954.
The broad phrases of the constitution are slowly being developed in programs which might be summed up in the words, "the spread of knowledge." This is wide enough to cover such activities as training better grade school teachers or acquainting more people with the masterpieces of painting.
One of UNESCO's most recent moves has been to aid the establishment of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, made up of 12 European countries with Dr. Felix Bloch , an American physicist and Nobel Prize winner, as its director general. The purpose of this center is to pool European resources to carry out research with a budget too costly to be carried by the individual nations.
To spread knowledge we need books, and UNESCO has convinced 18 countries, including Great Britain and France, to wipe out customs duties on books, periodicals and newspapers.
Many of us are apt to overlook two unpleasant facts—first, that a very large portion of the peoples of the world cannot read or write; and second, that two-thirds of humanity scrape along on a yearly income averaging less than $100. The growth of knowledge helps to raise living standards and to wipe out illiteracy, and this leads into a great many activities. It is because we know so little about these in the U. S. that people can be made to resent an organization which is vital in helping people learn to live in a peaceful world.
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About this document
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, May 16, 1955
Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007
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