August 8

This Day in History

Cold War

Aug 8, 1945:

Truman signs United Nations Charter

President Harry S. Truman signs the United Nations Charter and the United States becomes the first nation to complete the ratification process and join the new international organization. Although hopes were high at the time that the United Nations would serve as an arbiter of international disputes, the organization also served as the scene for some memorable Cold War clashes.

August 8, 1945, was a busy day in the history of World War II. The United States dropped a second atomic bomb on Japan, devastating the city of Nagasaki. The Soviet Union, following through with an agreement made earlier in the war, declared war on Japan. All observers agreed that the combination of these two actions would bring a speedy end to Japanese resistance. At the same time, in Washington, D.C., President Truman took a step that many Americans hoped would mean continued peace in the post-World War II world. The president signed the United Nations Charter, thus completing American ratification of the document. Secretary of State James F. Byrnes also signed. In so doing, the United States became the first nation to complete the ratification process. The charter would come into full force when China, Russia, Great Britain, France, and a majority of the other nations that had constructed the document also completed ratification.

The signing was accomplished with little pomp and ceremony. Indeed, President Truman did not even use one of the ceremonial pens to sign, instead opting for a cheap 10-cent desk pen. Nonetheless, the event was marked by hope and optimism. Having gone through the horrors of two world wars in three decades, most Americans--and people around the world--were hopeful that the new international organization would serve as a forum for settling international disagreements and a means for maintaining global peace. Over the next decades, the United Nations did serve as the scene for some of the more notable events in the Cold War: the decision by the Security Council to send troops to Korea in 1950; Khrushchev pounding the table with his shoe during a U.N. debate; and continuous and divisive discussion over admission of communist China to membership in the UN. As for its role as a peacekeeping institution, the record of the U.N. was not one of great success during the Cold War. The Soviet veto in the Security Council stymied some efforts, while the U.S. desire to steer an independent course in terms of military involvement after the unpopular Korean War meant less and less recourse to the U.N. to solve world conflicts. In the years since the end of the Cold War, however, the United States and Russia have sometimes cooperated to send United Nations forces on peacekeeping missions, such as the effort in Bosnia.

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