Posts Tagged ‘United Nations’

The Offices of the United Nations

The Offices of the United Nations

In recognition of the United Nations designation of today as “International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict,” I stopped by some of that organization’s offices in D.C. on this bike ride. Although the organization’s headquarters is located New York City, there are also offices in D.C. and throughout the world, including the United Nations Foundation at 1750 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.; the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Office, at 1775 K Street (MAP) in northwest D.C., and; the United Nations Offices in D.C. at 2175 K Street (MAP), also in northwest D.C. 

The United Nations is an intergovernmental organization established in 1945 to promote international cooperation. It replaced the ineffective League of Nations, an organization that had previously been created following World War II to prevent another such conflict. The United Nations originally had 51 member states, but there are now 193.

Though mankind has always counted its war casualties in terms of dead and wounded soldiers and civilians, destroyed cities and livelihoods, the environment has often remained an unpublicized casualty of war as well. There are numerous instances in which water wells have been polluted, crops torched, forests cut down, soils poisoned, oil fields set on fire, and animals killed to gain a military advantage. And new technologies that are used for war, such as chemical and nuclear weapons, means that the destruction and damage of the environment is more serious and the long-term consequences in terms of impairing ecosystems and natural resources can be worse, with the potential to last long after the period of conflict.

The United Nations has found that over the last 60 years, at least 40 percent of all conflicts have been linked to the exploitation of natural resources, whether high-value resources such as timber, diamonds, gold and oil, or scarce resources such as fertile land and water. Conflicts involving natural resources have also been found to be twice as likely to relapse.

By designating November 6th of each year as International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict, it is intended to educate people about the damaging effects of war and armed conflict on the environment. On this day, many people around the world, including government officials, scientists, journalists, educators, and business people, observe the day by spending time discussing how the effects of war are damaging to the natural environment, and how everyone can work together to find ways to limit environmental destruction caused by armed conflict and war, because a durable peace is less likely if the natural resources that sustain livelihoods and ecosystems are destroyed.

Preventing war by saving the environment is a concept that would be difficult for anyone to oppose.

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The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

When it comes to Presidential memorials in D.C., there have been occasions when people decide after the memorial is completed that it is not quite right, or not big enough, or somehow unbefitting the president who it is intended to honor. And instead of accepting or even modifying the original memorial, they build a second, grander presidential memorial, often in what is considered a more prominent location. And interestingly, it is usually the second memorial with which the public is most familiar.  This happened when The Original Washington Monument was deemed insufficient, and the giant obelisk on the National Mall was erected to honor our nation’s first president.

The same type of thing happened again more recently when the existing memorial to our nation’s 32nd president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was deemed inadequate, and another, larger memorial was constructed near the Tidal Basin (MAP), which is considered one of the most prominent locations in the national capitol city. It was to this memorial that I went on today’s bike ride.

The Original FDR Memorial, which relatively few people know about, is located near the corner of 9th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. In accordance with Roosevelt’s expressed wishes, the original memorial was erected in 1965 “in the center of the green plot in front of The National Archives and Records Administration Building (and) consists of a block about the size of (his) desk.”

Thirty-two years later, in contradiction to Roosevelt’s specific wishes, the more well-known FDR Memorial was dedicated.  The newer memorial is large, even by D.C. standards. Spread out over seven and a half acres on the southern side of The Tidal Basin, it traces 12 years of the history of the U.S. through a sequence of four outdoor “rooms,” one for each of his terms in office, from 1933 until his death in 1945.

The design of the memorial, by landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, was chosen in 1978, and it opened to the public in 1997 after a dedication ceremony led by President Bill Clinton.  As an historic area managed by the National Park Service, the memorial is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The memorial contains a number of sculptures inspired by famous photographs of Roosevelt. One depicts the 32nd president alongside his pet Scottie named Fala. It is the only presidential pet to be memorialized. Other sculptures depict scenes from the Great Depression, such as listening to a fireside chat on the radio and waiting in a bread line. Also included is a bronze statue of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt standing before the United Nations (UN) emblem, honoring her dedication to the UN. It is the only presidential memorial to depict a First Lady. Water is also used prominently in the memorial as a metaphorical device, including waterfalls depicting World War II and the Great Depression, and a still pool representing the 32nd president’s death.

However, like many memorials and monuments in D.C., the FDR Memorial is not without controversy. Taking into consideration Roosevelt’s disability, the memorial’s design is intended to make it accessible to those with various physical impairments. For example, the memorial includes an area with tactile reliefs with braille writing for people who are visually impaired. However, the memorial faced serious criticism from disabled activists because the braille dots were improperly spaced and some of the braille and reliefs were mounted eight feet off of the ground, placing it physically above the reach of most people.

Another controversy involves one of the statues of Roosevelt. Against the wishes of some disability-rights advocates and historians, the memorial’s designers initially decided against plans to have Roosevelt shown in a wheelchair. Although Roosevelt used a wheelchair in private, it was hidden from the public because of the stigma of weakness which was associated with any disability at that time. So instead, the main statue in the memorial depicts the president in a chair, with a cloak obscuring the chair, which is how he usually appeared to the public during his lifetime. In a compromise, casters were added to the back of the chair, making it a symbolic “wheelchair”. However, the casters are only visible from behind the statue, and this compromise did not satisfy either side. Eventually, an additional statue was added and placed near the memorial’s entrance which clearly depicts Roosevelt in a wheelchair much like the one he actually used.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

The Korean War Veterans Memorial

The Korean War Veterans Memorial

On this ride Julius and I went to one of D.C.’s “major” memorials, the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Located in southwest D.C.’s West Potomac Park, just south of The Reflecting Pool on the National Mall (MAP), the memorial commemorates the sacrifices of the 5.8 million Americans who served in the U.S. armed services during the three-year period of the Korean War.

On June 25, 1950, North Korean military forces surprised the South Korean army, and the small U.S. force stationed in the country, and quickly headed toward the capital city of Seoul. The U.S. responded by pushing a resolution through the United Nations Security Council calling for military assistance to South Korea. The Soviet Union was not present to veto the action as it was boycotting the Security Council at the time. With this resolution in hand, President Harry Truman rapidly dispatched U.S. land, air, and sea forces to Korea to engage in what he termed a “police action.” The U.S. intervention turned the tide, and U.S. and South Korean forces marched into North Korea. This action, however, prompted the massive intervention of communist Chinese forces in late 1950. The war in Korea subsequently bogged down into a bloody stalemate. On July 27, 1953, the U.S. and North Korea signed a cease-fire that ended the conflict. The cease-fire agreement also resulted in the continued division of North and South Korea at just about the same geographical point as before the conflict.

The Korean War was the first “hot” war of the Cold War. Korea was the first “limited war,” one in which the U.S. aim was not the complete and total defeat of the enemy, but rather the “limited” goal of protecting South Korea. For the U.S. government, such an approach was the only rational option in order to avoid a third world war and to keep from stretching finite American resources too thinly around the globe. It proved to be a frustrating experience for the American people, who were used to the kind of total victory that had been achieved in World War II. The public found the concept of limited war difficult to understand or support and the Korean War never really gained popular support.

The war was one of the most hard-fought in American history. During its relatively short duration, 54,246 Americans died in support of their country. Of these, 8,200 are listed as missing in action or lost or buried at sea. An additional 103,284 Americans were wounded during the conflict.  An estimated 2.5 million civilians were also killed or wounded.

The main portion of the memorial honoring these men and women is in the form of a triangle intersecting a circle. Within the walled triangle are 19 stainless steel statues, which represent an ethnic cross section of America. Each statue is larger than life-size, measuring between 7 feet 3 inches and 7 feet 6 inches tall, and weighing nearly half a ton. The figures represent a squad on patrol, drawn from each branch of the armed forces; fourteen of the figures are from the U.S. Army, three are from the Marine Corps, one is a Navy Corpsman, and one is an Air Force Forward Air Observer. They are dressed in full combat gear, dispersed among strips of granite and juniper bushes which represent the rugged terrain of Korea.

The main reflection wall along the south side of the triangle is 164 feet long, 8 inches thick; and made from more than 100 tons of highly polished “Academy Black” granite. More than 2,500 photographic, archival images depicting soldiers, equipment and people involved in the war are sandblasted onto the wall. When the statues are reflected on the wall, there appear to be 38 soldiers, representing the 38th parallel. To the north of the statues is a path, forming another side of the triangle. Alongside the path, forming the second side of the triangle is the United Nations Wall, a low wall listing the 22 members of the United Nations that contributed troops or medical support to the Korean War effort.  The third side of the triangle, facing towards The Lincoln Memorial, is open.

The memorial’s circle contains the Pool of Remembrance, a shallow pool 30 feet in diameter lined with black granite and surrounded by a grove of linden trees with benches. The trees are shaped to create a barrel effect, which allows the sun to reflect on the pool. Inscriptions list the numbers killed, wounded, missing in action, and held as prisoners of war, and a nearby plaque is inscribed: “Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.” Additionally, next to the information about the American soldiers is information about the United Nations troops.

The meaning of the memorial is perhaps most captured by a message embedded in one of its granite walls, which bears the simple message, inlaid in silver: “Freedom Is Not Free.”

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The Pan American Health Organization / World Health Organization Building

The Pan American Health Organization / World Health Organization Building

The national capitol city has a number of architectural styles that are exemplified by buildings and memorials that are universally recognizable and seem to define the cityscape.  From the iconic neoclassical style of the U.S. Capitol Building, to the neo-classical Federal style of The White House, to the Greek Revival architecture of the Lincoln Memorial, much of the architecture of D.C. is distinctive.

One building which stands out in stark contrast to the architectural styles most commonly associated with the city is the Pan American Health Organization / World Health Organization Building.  Located at the corner of 23rd Street and Virginia Avenue in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood (MAP), it is Corbusian modernism with the facade of brise soleil and pilotis.

Named after the Swiss-French architect Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, better known as Le Corbusier,  who is considered one of the pioneers of what is now called modern architecture, the style was incorporated into the design of the building by Uruguayan architect Roman Fresnedo Siri, who won an international competition.  It was built in 1965.

The World Health Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations that is concerned with international public health. It was established in 1948, with its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Pan American Health Organization is also an international public health agency.  It works with the peoples of the Americas to improve health and living standards of the people of the Americas.  It was founded in December of 1902, and now serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization.

Like its people, the buildings in D.C. are too diverse to be easily characterized by just a few architectural styles, but this is one building that stands out from the norm, and is certainly worth a visit.

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