In a ringing declaration indicating that America’s pre-World War II isolation was truly at an end, the U.S. Senate approves the charter establishing the United Nations. In the years to come, the United Nations would be the scene of some of the most memorable Cold War confrontations between the United States and the Soviet Union.
In 1919, following the close of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson implored the U.S. Senate to approve the charter for the League of Nations. Postwar isolationism and partisan politics killed U.S. participation in the League, however. In July 1945, with World War II coming to a close, the U.S. Senate indicated the sea change in American attitudes toward U.S. involvement in world affairs by approving the charter for the United Nations by a vote of 89 to 2. President Harry S. Truman was delighted with the vote, declaring, “The action of the Senate substantially advances the cause of world peace.” Acting Secretary of State Joseph Grew also applauded the Senate’s action, noting, “Millions of men, women and children have died because nations took to the naked sword instead of the conference table to settle their differences.” The U.N. charter would provide the “foundation and cornerstone on which the international organization to keep the peace will be built.” Once the charter had been ratified by a majority of the 50 nations that hammered out the charter in June 1945, the U.S. Senate formally approved U.S. participation in the United Nations in December 1945.
Whether the United Nations became a “foundation and cornerstone” of world peace in the years that followed is debatable, but it was certainly the scene of several notable Cold War confrontations between the United States and the Soviet Union. In 1950, with the Russians absent from the U.N. Security Council, the United States pushed through a resolution providing U.N. military assistance to South Korea in the Korean War. And in one memorable moment, during a speech denouncing Western imperialism in 1960, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev took off one of his shoes and pounded his table with it to make his point.