Brian Urquhart is a former Undersecretary-General of the United Nations. His books include Hammarskjöld, A Life in Peace and War, and Ralph Bunche: An American Life. His article in this issue draws on his essay in Tyringham Topics.
 (February 2013)

My Father Murray Urquhart

Self-portrait by Murray Urquhart, circa 1930
My father was single-minded to a fault. Painting took absolute priority in his life, and his wife and children—not to mention national events and international disasters—were all secondary. He painted during daylight hours wherever he happened to be. What he did for money remained a mystery, except that we evidently had very little of it and lived in a primitive farm cottage without electricity or running water. For my first five years my father was a distant figure, but at least he was living with us. In 1925, when I was six, my father, carrying his easel and paintbox, rode away on his bicycle and never came home again.

The Turbulent Giant

A British sailor signaling a merchant ship as it passes the naval control base in the Thames estuary, November 1939
Simon Winchester has often written of great events that have been largely forgotten, of remarkable human beings who have quietly changed the world, and of places the rest of us wish we had seen. He is an adventurous and indefatigable traveler as well as a brilliant explorer of arcane problems …

Revolution Without Violence?

Václav Havel leaving an unofficial meeting with Lech Wałesa at the Czech–Polish border, March 17, 1990
Amid both the gloom of the season and the recent uprisings in the Arab world, it is bracing to look back at the last thirty years or so and see how much has actually gone more or less well. The end of the cold war, the demise of communism, and the emergence of new democratic states of varying quality all represent important historical change. Most of the radical political and economic transformations of the last quarter-century, moreover, have been brought about with little or no bloodshed.

How Great Was Churchill?

Winston and Clementine Churchill inspecting damage done by German bombs in the City of London, December 1940
Code word “Cromwell”—the warning that German invasion was imminent—was communicated to British army units on September 5, 1940. The 130th Infantry Brigade of the 43rd (Wessex) Division, in which I was serving, was rushed to the southeast coast to take up positions in and around Dover, the British port nearest …

Finding the Hidden UN

UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld and General Assembly President Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit at a meeting of the assembly, September 1953
In its first sixty-five years the United Nations has been called many things—“a permanent partnership…among the peoples of the world for their common peace and common well-being” (President Harry Truman) and a “cesspool” (a mayor of New York). In the memoirs of a recent US ambassador to the UN, we …

A Contest in the Cold

Paul Nitze and George Kennan at Kennan’s farm in Pennsylvania, mid-1950s
The hopes for a peaceful, rational world, which had sustained so many of those who struggled through World War II, did not long survive the peace. The smiles of the San Francisco Conference, which, in June 1945, had agreed on the Charter of the United Nations, soon faded. Two months …

Blundering in the Mideast with Prince Bandar

George W. Bush and Saudi Arabian Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan at the President's ranch, Crawford, Texas, August 27, 2002
Can a negotiatior for a Middle East settlement be both objective and produce results? Can a national negotiator ever be completely objective? How much does it matter? Dag Hammarskjöld, the UN’s famously principled second secretary-general, wrote personal guidelines for his task that included the following: “If, while pleading another’s cause, …

What You Can Learn from Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr, 1963
A fog of know-nothing ideology, anti-intellectualism, cronyism, incompetence, and cynicism has, for eight years, enveloped the executive branch of the United States government. America’s role in the world and the policies that should shape and maintain it have been distorted by misguided decisions and by willful misinterpretations both of history …

The Middle East: What to Do?

Sari Nusseibeh is a Palestinian philosopher and currently president of Al-Quds University in Jerusalem. His ancestors accompanied the soldier and second caliph (“successor to the prophet”) Omar when he captured Jerusalem in AD 638. From that time to the present the Nusseibehs have been an institution in the Holy City.

The UN and the Race Against Death

Jan Egeland’s A Billion Lives is about human disasters, current efforts to deal with them, and what could work better in the future. The billion lives of the title are those “of fellow human beings without drinking water, daily food, or even a dollar a day to survive on” and …

One Angry Man

A strong ideological fixation is not a promising basis for a responsible foreign policy. During their first four years, President George W. Bush and his administration made intransigent unilateralism, American exceptionalism, and preemptive military action the watchwords of United States foreign policy, with abysmal results. The position of the United …

Are Diplomats Necessary?

Diplomacy is one of the world’s oldest professions, although diplomatic practice as we know it is a relatively recent development. Using ambassadors and envoys, often distinguished personalities of the time (Dante, Machiavelli, Peter Paul Rubens), was an accepted practice throughout recorded history. It was also regarded, in Europe at least, …

India’s Great Tragedy

In my childhood, the Indian Mutiny, as it was then exclusively called in England, was still a subject of high emotion—presented as an inexplicable outrage in which Indian soldiers, trained by the benevolent British, had suddenly turned on their benefactors and massacred large numbers of them over some question of …

Disaster: From Suez to Iraq

Only seventy years ago, Great Britain ruled over more than one quarter of the land surface of the planet. It policed, as far as anyone did, the oceans and seas, and it was the most important force in world finance, trade, and economy. All this was a source of national …

Living in an Impasse

Was ever a place on earth so haunted as the Middle East by the arrogance and thoughtlessness of the past, by the special interests and irresponsibility of powerful outsiders, and now by the cycle of outrage and revenge that consumes Israelis and Palestinians in an unequal but deadly struggle? Has …

The Outlaw World

Philippe Sands is a practicing international lawyer and professor in London. Having been involved in many cases before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, he took part in the effort to deny Augusto Pinochet immunity in the UK and has represented the British detainees at Guantánamo. Along with …

The UN Oil-for-Food Program: Who Is Guilty?

The shadow of potential disasters, some global in scope, mostly man-made in origin, hangs heavy over the fifth year of the new millennium. There is a widespread feeling that our planet is out of sorts—maybe out of control—and that there is little sign of the leadership or strategy that might …

The New American Century?

The need, even the necessity, for United States leadership in international affairs has, at least since 1945, been taken for granted by most of the world’s governments. Great international projects, including the United Nations itself, were carried out as the result of American initiatives. In the immediate postwar years when …

Humanitarianism Is Not Enough

The word “humanitarian,” as it is now commonly used,[^1] is relatively recent; in many languages it does not even exist. The idea of a country or a people or even the “international community” having a responsibility for a particular people’s calamities is also relatively recent and by no means universally …

Extreme Makeover

For more than two centuries, nationalism in all its various forms—from the high-minded chauvinism of the British Empire to the virulent poison of Nazism—has been a familiar, and often negative, phenomenon. Emerging first in Europe, which it nearly destroyed and which has now apparently learned to control it, extreme nationalism …

The Election and America’s Future

For what has been called “the most consequential election in decades,” we have asked some of our contributors for their views.—The Editors   K. ANTHONY APPIAH Princeton, New Jersey If there’s one thing that supporters of the current administration insist upon, it’s that George W. Bush “is a …

The Good General

In the twentieth century war was pronounced, belatedly, to be too important to be left to the generals; in the twenty-first century peace, prosperity, and security have already turned out to be much too complex to be left to the politicians. In a dangerous, high-speed, information-logged, globalized world, disastrously divided …

A Cautionary Tale

So far, 2004 is the year of the singing insider. In January Paul O’Neill, the former secretary of the Treasury, ascended to a high place on the best-seller list. In March the former counter-terrorism coordinator, Richard Clarke, vaulted over him to the top. In April the journalist/insider extraordinaire, Bob Woodward, …

A Matter of Truth

During an election year in Washington, there is no such thing as an election-free statement. This phenomenon has reached a climax of sorts with the publication of Against All Enemies, Richard Clarke’s account of his ten years as the country’s leading counterterrorism coordinator. The hostile reaction of the administration has …

Hidden Truths

The first four years of the twenty-first century have produced enough strange and unsettling developments to haunt a far longer period. They include the September 11 attacks and widespread terrorism by suicide bombing; the descent into savage despair of that wellspring of hatred and violence, the Israeli–Palestinian problem; the opening …

‘A Great Day in History’

In April 1945, as the Allied forces poured into Germany, Franklin Roosevelt’s dream of an international security organization, conceived in the heat of war, was about to become a reality. The arrangements for the San Francisco Conference were nearly complete, and the poet Archibald MacLeish had started work on the …

World Order & Mr. Bush

One of my earliest memories is of being taken in 1924 to the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley on the outskirts of London. Although the Wembley Exhibition presented, with a banality that was widely commented on even at the time,[^1] an imperial dream that was already melting away, a surprising …

The Rights Stuff

In all the bloodshed and violence of the twentieth century, a conspicuously hopeful development was the emergence of human rights as a concern that governments can no longer ignore. The official reaction to the 1915 massacre of 800,000 Armenians by the Turks or to Hitler’s first anti-Semitic atrocities was that …