History Today eBook: The Second World War

The United Nations: The Free World's Great Parade

Dan Plesch describes how President Roosevelt’s introduction of a global day of solidarity in June 1942 successfully promoted the ideals of the United Nations and his Four Freedoms, boosting morale in the worldwide fight against fascism.

June 14th, 1942 was the first United Nations Day. An event launched by US President Franklin Roosevelt six months after the United Nations was established on New Year’s Day that year, it was celebrated around the world. Nowadays UN Day is October 24th (marking formal ratification of the UN in October 1945). The connection between the United Nations and the Second World War has almost entirely been forgotten and the date is more likely to be remembered as the day that Anne Frank began her diary. If it is marked at all it is as a non-governmental occasion at the fringes of national life. But between the first United Nations Day in June 1942 and spring 1945 (the time of the creation of the UN Charter at San Francisco) the United Nations became a political-military alliance without which the outcome of the Second World War would have been different and the UN we know today non-existent. During this period, United Nations Day played an important part in the international political mobilisation for the war and the peace that followed.

In the spring of 1942, with the Japanese threatening to repeat Pearl Harbor and bomb targets on America’s West Coast, and with U-Boats sinking ships in sight of Long Island, Roosevelt needed to boost morale. In the 1930s he had used parades as a means of getting across the idea that his New Deal was getting people back to work. He used a similar approach on a global scale in the Second World War. The rousing of martial spirit was underpinned by the ideals Roosevelt had espoused first in his Four Freedoms speech of January 1941 and then in the eight point Atlantic Charter of war aims issued with Churchill that August. These points included social security and labour rights alongside free speech and self-government. 

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