Recently I stumbled upon a magic lamp. “What do you desire most?” the genie asked. “I want to go to the United Nations,” I told him. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” he replied. Angry, I asked, “What? You can’t grant my wish?” “No,” he said, “I’m just sorry to hear that the thing you want most is to go to the UN.”
And poof, there I was at the hive of scum and villainy itself.
Trivia: Did you know that the UN is international grounds and by stepping inside you technically leave the United States? Incredible.
So, rather than give this post any kind of structure, I’m just gonna show you some cool pics I took on the guided tour and add a little commentary.
Disclaimer: I’m not a great photographer.
Member states like to donate gifts. Yep.
This gift, from Italy, is titled Sphere Within Sphere. Very good. What do you think it represents?
I’d always pictured the famous twisted gun, a gift from Luxemburg, as some big statue. Actually, it’s tiny. Titled Non-Violence, it represents–well, take a guess.
This is from Finland and I really didn’t know what the heck it’s supposed to be . Upon further research, I found out that it honors a famous composer by the name of Jean Sibelius. Interesting. Behind this monument, you can see the Horsewoman of peace (badass, right?). If these sources are correct, the statue was a gift from Croatia.
This marble monument of sorts is a memorial to the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade. (From a distance, you can only see the globe through the opening, so imagine how jarring it was to peek inside and see a man.)
A gift from Malaysia. My Western ignorance had me guessing this was a tea set of sorts. Actually, it’s called a tepak sireh and it’s used to store betel leaves. It’s way prettier in person than in my lousy photo.
There were many other gifts that I didn’t get a chance to take pictures of. I couldn’t really find a good list; even the official page isn’t comprehensive. There’s apparently an elephant statue with a giant penis, too. Unfortunate that I missed it.
Luckily for me, there were no meetings going on in the Security Council chamber so I actually got to see the wonderous Den of Sin.
The Big Baddies
And why did I want to see it so badly? Because in this room reign five countries who either are or were the powerful and influential in modern history. I am, of course, talking about the permanent members of the Security Council. They are: the United States, Russia, China, and, uh… uhh… shit, who are the other two?
Anyway, I just think it’s incredible. I’ve become so invested in learning about these countries–from the good to the bad and everything in between–that it felt special to imagine powerful people in these chairs, all of them trying to shape the world into their own flawed versions of what it should look like. I know that international diplomacy isn’t always glamorous, but my fantasies are. It was also nice to be in the room where many of my stories take place; it made the stories feel a lot more real to me. As an author, I think authenticity is important.
(I’ll look like a fool if I don’t point out that the P5 aren’t the only ones who use this room. The Security Council actually has 15 members, 10 of which change regularly. All things passed here like resolutions, are binding. That’s why having a changing body is important. It lets the non-megalomaniacs have a chance to impact decisions.)
The UN General Assembly, where Mutually Assured Delusion takes place, is where some interesting shit happens. Like when, last month, Trump threatened to totally destroy North Korea and the whole room had an audible WTF moment. Nice one, Mr. President. (Fun anecdote: My friends didn’t believe me when I told them that North Korea was a member of the UN.)
Trivia: Do you know how they decide who sits where? They draw a name from a hat–that country sits in the very first seat at the front and then go down in English alphabetical order from there. Fairness, yall.
But the General Debate isn’t the only thing that happens here. Here, all member states get a voice and a vote, even if nothing passed here is binding. And as the guide pointed out, decisions passed here carry moral weight because, well, if the majority of the world thinks it’s a good idea, it might be a good idea. Though, who really knows how much value moral weight actually has.
You ever wanted a super close up of one of the UNGA desks? Go on. Drink it in. Enjoy yourself. 😉
I was immediately excited when we entered the Disarmament Room. As someone who writes about North Korea constantly, excessively, and against the wishes of my readers, nuclear disarmament is a topic near and dear to my heart.
Not surprisingly, there was nothing about North Korea in this room. Most of it was dedicated to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
I believe the items in the displays are either fragments of the bomb or pieces of things that were destroyed in the blast. Behind the displays are two geographical images. On the left is the city before the bomb. On the right, the city after the explosion. Everything was annihilated in a matter of seconds. It’s just too bad these probably won’t have any impact on the Internet-roaming intellectuals whos quick fix to any diplomatic problem is to “just nuke ’em.”
This statue of Saint Agnes was found in the ruins of a destroyed church in Nagasaki. Although the explosion took place half a kilometer away, the heat was so intense that statue began to melt. You can see the damage from the back.
Something I didn’t get a picture of was the world military spending clock. That’s totally not the official name, but that’s what I’m calling it. Every night at 12am it resets to $0 and then begins counting up how much money is being spent on arms. I’m not sure if it’s counting the whole world, just the UN, just the US, or what, but when we were there it had passed 31 million. Or was it billion? Either way, it was a hell of a lot of money.
After seeing the UNSC and UNGA and leaving the Disarmament Room, the tour was pretty much over. So I wandered around a little.
There was nothing really significant about this one, I just thought it looked awesome. I like flags. The Facebook logo is kind of off-putting, though.
Naturally, I spent way too much money in the gift store but I won’t go into the details of my shame. Just know that I got a sweet mug, two sick pens, and a cute mousepad. Was very tempted to buy a tumbler, but then I remembered that I’m cheap.
This was one of the first things you see before you even see the buildings themselves, but it’s also what I wanted to end on. It’s a wall with a quote etched into it:
They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Neither shall they learn war any more.
Yeah, the UN is bureaucratic. Yeah, the member states are all shitty in their own ways. And yeah, the UN is not perfect or always effective, and it doesn’t always do the right thing. But, despite all my sarcasm and snark, I still believe in what it stands for; I believe in nonproliferation, in peacekeeping, in disarmament, in a thriving world. So as long the United Nations hinders wars and tries to act as a force for good in the world, I’ll stand behind it and the principles it represents.