Security at the Security Council, 1947
by Mary O'Brien, C.P.
THE PLACE: Bishop McDonnell Memorial High School, Brooklyn. The time: A reasonably mild January day in 1947. Afternoon classes have been canceled for some reason. A teacher announces to her class of seniors that she has some tickets to the UN.
I am sitting at one those desks. The General Assembly meets at its temporary headquarters in the old World's Fair grounds -- practically in my backyard. I can stop by, take in some of the proceedings, and still be home earlier than usual. So I join the seven or eight girls who are taking advantage of the offer.
The subway line they decide on is not the one I would have chosen, but it is a perfectly reasonable route -- at least until nobody stands up at the transfer point. I begin to grasp that we are not heading for the General Assembly but for the Security Council at its Lake Success headquarters. Moreover, once we emerge at the end of the line no one has a clear idea of how to get there. We catch an eastbound bus and appeal to the driver for assistance. He lets us off at the point on his route nearest to the UN: at the side of the road in an empty, totally undeveloped landscape. (Hard to imagine when I pass that way today!)
What to do next? Before long a delivery van comes by. The driver is sympathetic. We climb into the back of the van and crouch there in the darkness until, true to his word, the driver pulls up at the service entrance of the Council's building.
There is no one around, so we try the door. It opens and we find ourselves in a long corridor, empty except for two figures approaching from the far end. As they come closer it is clear that they are deep in conversation. One is a man in African dress. It takes a second or two longer to recognize the other as Eleanor Roosevelt. An electric current passes through the high school contingent. We exchange glances, but do not speak, and keep on going. As for those two conversing, I don't think they even notice us.
By this time we are at the end of the corridor and approaching another door. On opening it, we find ourselves looking over the heads of several rows of people seated on a slightly raised platform and facing a crowd of a hundred or so on-lookers. Those in the front row are equipped with microphones. We tiptoe as gracefully as possible through the ranks of the world's delegates and find seats in the audience. right: Eleanor Roosevelt at Lake Success; UN Photo
Looking back over the years, the strangest part of that afternoon's proceedings is that I didn't find anything strange. The innocence of a vanished era versus the security-ridden present? Perhaps. And yet, the world of 1947 was just as troubled as ours. The discussion we finally got to listen to had everything to do with the rapidly developing Cold War.
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