Coordenação de Raul Mendes Silva

War and Peace. The San Francisco Conference

Ambassador Mario Gibson Barboza

Here is a place of disaffection (...)
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning

Tumid apathy with no concentration

Men and bits of paper; whirled by the cold wind

That blows before and after time

T.S.Eliot, Four Quartets

 It was wartime when I arrived in the United States in April 1943 to take over my first overseas posting as Vice-Consul in Houston, Texas, after an exhausting three-day journey by plane from Rio de Janeiro and Miami.

My travelling companion was João Augusto de Araújo Castro, a classmate of mine who had been appointed Vice-Consul in Puerto Rico and like myself was on his maiden trip out of Brazil. We had become good friends in Rio, and in the course of time this friendship was to grow all the more solid.

On leaving Brazil I had left a country at war, a war in which we took part to the utmost of our ability, assuming risks, losing practically all our merchant marine fleet to Italian and German submarines, dispatching an Expeditionary Force to the theatre of war operations in Europe, and making economic sacrifices such as setting a preferential exchange for North-American purchases. Moreover, Brazil offered our Recife and Natal bases to the United States military air force, a decision of paramount importance to the conducting of the Allied military operations in leaping across the Atlantic, which Churchill called the “trampoline to victory”.

But it was in the United States that I was given the opportunity to see and feel a country totally mobilised by the war effort. One did not actually feel the war proper in the sense that no destruction was felt, no bombing, there was no real risk of life. But we breathed the war and lived for the war, and all efforts were directed towards winning the war. This was a nation in arms. The workers in all the factories, especially those in the arms industry, civil servants, farmers and so on, everyone was at war, not just the members of the military. The draftable young - and even the not so young – were in uniform, men and women alike. The mobilisation for war was so sweeping that more than once I was approached in the street and questioned why I was not wearing a uniform, looking as I did like a young man eligible to be called up for military service.

These were heroic times, with the immense potential of that powerful nation coming together, congregating and organising for war under the leadership of a providential statesman, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and with everyone aware that there was no alternative to victory at all costs. Europe was defeated and on her knees, all that remained was the shining lighthouse of the British resistance. The East had been overwhelmed by the ferocity of the Japanese dominion, in its seemingly unstoppable wave of expansion.

The propaganda apparatus was fully mobilised to pointing out the horrors of Nazi-fascism, the genocide of the Holocaust, the sinister farce of the Fuehrer and the Duce ... and the supposed genetic inferiority of the Japanese, who were scornfully called “the Japs” in an attitude that was to be expected of a country that, albeit the maximum defender of democracy and freedom, nevertheless paradoxically practised racial discrimination. As to the profound ideological divergence in respect to the Soviet Union, made all the worse by the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact that sanctioned the invasion of Poland and consequently the outbreak of the Second World War, this was momentarily set aside by the alliance with Stalin, who in the United States official propaganda symbolised the heroic sacrifice of a people martyred by the military machine of the Reich.

So as a young man I arrived in a great, strong, young country that defended good against evil in contrast with the “decadent” values of an old and wasted Europe where the Apocalyptic beast of Nazi-fascism held sway. I felt a considerable shock, for the most prominent characteristics of Europe – art, literature and music – were unquestionably legacies to be revered and preserved. But the future – the brave new world – was there in the United States of America.

* * *

Roosevelt chooses Truman as a companion on the same slate at his last presidential election, then he dies and suddenly that figure without any great political significance, the very incarnation of the common man – the man in the street – is astonished and almost apologetic atfinding himself raised to the summit of world power, which to everyone’s surprise he governs as a genuine statesman, leaving his name registered in history as one of the greatest Presidents of the United States. An American friend once told me during the Eisenhower Administration that the United States had learned from its last three Presidents the following truths: from Roosevelt, that if you want to, you can become President four times; from Truman, that anyone can become President; and from Eisenhower, that a President is not even necessary.

But Truman proved that he was not just anyone. He grew in power, matured and learned how to exercise it. And our Ambassador Carlos Martins became more important in Washington during the presidency of his friend Truman, who never forgot the days when for him it was an honour to be invited to our Embassy. In the artistic and intellectual world, Ambassadress Maria Martins, a fine sculptor with a keen sense of aesthetics, as well as an infallible scout of fresh artistic talents, contributed greatly to strengthening her husband’s position.

With the support of Getúlio Vargas, his friend and countryman, and strengthened in his exceptional position as dean of the diplomatic corps and Ambassador of the only Latin-American country to take part in the war effort, with Osvaldo Aranha as brilliant, inspired and energetic leader of our diplomatic staff, Carlos Martins was a great asset in obtaining advantages for Brazil, such as the installation of our first steel mill in Volta Redonda.

* * *

In the two theatres of military operations, the war was coming to an end in Europe with the foreseeable victory of the Allies in the short run. In the Pacific, although there too the outcome was certain, there were still fears of a prolonged campaign, with the tenacious resistance of the Japanese and an incalculable loss of lives. One way or the other, the state of spirit of the Allies was euphoric, given the perspective of a victorious ending to the vast conflict. Above all, a new alignment of world power was clearly being outlined.

In such circumstances it became indispensable and urgent to plan for peace. Not only an armistice but peace that would eliminate any possibility of another world war, a definitive and safe peace based on justice and freedom.

Today, after decades of peace, restricted and even so maintained only because of the terror of the possibility of nuclear destruction, the hopes raised at that end of the war in 1945 now seem naive and unrealistic. Yet at that time, in the euphoria of anticipating the termination of the most devastating conflict ever witnessed by the world, all seemed possible: the common enemy had been routed by a coalition of forces with the decisive participation of a great power, the Soviet Union, that had formerly seemed to represent politically and ideologically the biggest threat to the survival of Western democracies. Why should a reliable ally in wartime not be otherwise in peace? A modus vivendi with communism seemed to be possible through Soviet non-interference in the internal affairs of democratic countries, now that the war alliance had demonstrated the need for an understanding in peace.

And so, following preparatory meetings at Dumbarton Oaks and Chapultepec, the San Francisco Conference was called in April 1945 for the purpose of setting up an organisation called the “United Nations” – a name created by Roosevelt and Churchill at their famous Atlantic meeting – through broad, unrestricted and open discussion of the draft document to constitute the Organisation.

The Brazilian delegation, headed by Pedro Leão Velloso, the interim Minister for Foreign Affairs, included outstanding names in our diplomatic history, such as Carlos Martins, Cyro de Freitas Valle and Antonio Camillo de Oliveira. There were only three secretaries: Henrique Valle, my brilliantly intelligent companion in Washington, Carlos Jacyntho de Barros, Vice-Consul in New York, and myself.

Despite the high level of the delegates and one or other more capable advisor, our representation was not properly prepared for a meeting of that importance and for those objectives. A common guideline was missing, a plan of action, a vision of the set of objectives to be pursued. The delegation had a single aspiration, but an all-important one: for Brazil to become a permanent member of the Security Council of the future organisation. We would be the representatives of Latin America in the supreme executive body of the United Nations, a position that we could justifiably claim due to our position as continental leader and given our unique and effective participation in the world conflict among all the Latin-American countries, with sacrifices and risks that no other country in the hemisphere had had to suffer or undergo .
I am not quite sure whether our claim was defended with vigour and competence, but I suspect otherwise, because of what we humble delegation secretaries heard. In spite of our natural hierarchical limitations, we were often witness to the discussions and conversations of the more highly qualified members of our representation. Thus, it struck me that our performance in defending our claim was not all that satisfactory. At the same time it is only fair to recognise that this was an extremely difficult matter because, while counting on the discreet sympathy of the United States, for that very reason the delegation faced the determined opposition of the Soviet Union, who viewed the possibility of Brazil’s permanent presence on the Security Council as an automatic reinforcement of the United States’ future positions in that organ of capital importance to the keeping of world peace and security.

The fact is that our intention was fruitless. And once the composition of the permanent members of the Security Council was decided, the next battle to be fought involved the veto statute claimed by the five permanent members: the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, France and China.

The issue here was to grant a special status to the holders of world power, who claimed a privilege that was legally indefensible and certainly iniquitous, but politically indispensable. This was the reality of power, with its many faces and multiple disguises, harsh and secular Realpolitik reborn in the clothes of yore: the world as it is. The argument in our favour that was formally presented was simply that, without the veto, there would be no Security Council, since the major powers could not commit themselves to obey the resolutions of an occasional majority that would even oblige them to use their armed forces. In addition, without the Security Council there would be no international organisation as projected, designed to keep world peace and security. Brazil, represented by Cyro de Freitas Valle, voted against instituting the veto, despite the strong pressure from the United States. Later it gave in, just like all the rest.

* * *

This was my first frustration. I had arrived in San Francisco a young and inexperienced idealist, keen and thrilled to participate, albeit in a very humble role, in setting up an organisation designed to keep a just and permanent peace that would forever remove the threat of world conflict. I was not alone in my naivety: from the darkness and horror of the vast and bloody conflict there appeared a light of trust and optimism all over the world among those who do not wage war but suffer its direct consequences: unarmed men and women. People.

A breath of hope was felt in the city of San Francisco. It could be felt walking down the streets, going into a shop or a restaurant, being approached by passers-by who asked for news of the Conference when we were recognised as participants because of the badges we wore. I remember my surprise and emotion when an old woman stopped me in a city street, held my hand and kissed it, saying: “God bless you, son. You are helping to build peace for ever.”

At that time I already knew that peace was not being built, I had already woken up to the cold cynical realities of power. You can imagine my embarrassment. In fact it was not just the institution of the veto in the Security Council, it was actually the Cold War that was beginning in that year of 1945, even before the war operations had come to a close. The famous speech delivered by Winston Churchill in Fulton, Missouri, the historic pronouncement of 5 March 1946 when the former British Prime Minister denounced the “iron curtain” that had dropped over Europe and divided it so tragically, can be considered the “official” start of the so-called “Cold War”. But I believe that it really began in San Francisco.

* * *

The end of hostilities in Europe - VE Day – took place right in the middle of the Conference. With the phantom of the war out of the way, another duende appeared: the Soviet Union’s ambition of world dominance – which had been left to slumber during the conflict – served by the ideological arm of international communism. In all the debates that I attended during the Conference, the Soviet position was always one of utter intransigence in defending their mediate and immediate interests. Every draft resolution discussed in the plenary or committees was examined, discussed and voted on by the Soviet delegates from this prism, with the annoyingly aggressive repetition of positions defended not with logical and acceptable arguments but simply with the arrogant reiteration of sheer will, often without any explanation. The impression given was that of a steamroller smashing everything that stood in its path without stopping to examine whether it was following a fair or reasonable course. Holy Russia had emerged strengthened and reinvigorated by the alarming losses she had suffered during the bloodshed, from which she seemed to have learned just one lesson: the best defence of the motherland is to conquer the world.

Molotov headed the Soviet delegation (he was replaced in the final stages by Gromyko, then the young Ambassador in Washington) and was the right man to assume this position in the field of international relations, with his implacable coldness and absolute loyalty to Stalin. It was a meeting of world stars, the stage lights centred mainly on Molotov for the Soviet Union, Anthony Eden for Great Britain, and Henri Spaak for Belgium. The United States had a strong delegation that was weakly headed by Secretary of State Stettinius, inexperienced in matters of foreign policy, a successful businessman who was always smiling, a nice and inexpressive fellow. And an easy prey in the claws of Molotov. Truman was only beginning his term as President.

At first the frequent and exasperating discussions between the USSR and Western democracies were held behind closed doors, in committees that were barred to the press. Slowly, however, as was inevitable, they began to leak out, dramatised with episodes such as Molotov refusing to stay in a hotel and remaining on board a Soviet war ship in San Francisco Bay where he was served only the food brought from Moscow. Then there was his turning up at the meeting with Stettinius, protected by a crowd of guards wielding machine-guns and positioned along the walls inside the meeting room. Molotov’s unsociability was his normal behaviour. But the truly revealing incident for the public at large was the admission of Poland to the Organisation in detriment to Argentina.

The Conference steeringcommittee discussed the admission of the two countries. The United States was opposed not exactly to accepting Poland but rather to its recently installed government, a puppet of the Soviet Union formed after the appalling massacre of the Polish resistance at Warsaw by the German troops as a result of the deliberate lack of support on the part of the Soviets. The latter, standing at the gates of Warsaw, agreed with the non-communist Polish resistance to rise up as the Soviets entered the city. The resistance fighters arose, but the Russians never came. Not until the resistance was massacred, then they launched a massive attack that occupied Warsaw easily and quickly. They next set up a government to their design , completely under their domination. This was the government that they wanted recognised and accepted by the organisation that was being founded.

The Soviet theory was cynically simple: how could the United Nations refuse admission precisely to the first country that had fallen victim to German ferocity, the country where the war broke out: Poland? It was argued in vain that it was not a question of Poland as such but rather the Polish government, which had been so scandalously installed by the USSR, but the Soviet delegation kept on repeating the same thesis over and over again, to the point of exhaustion, without paying the least attention to the opposing arguments. In counterpart – and with the objective of creating an impasse - Molotov spoke against the admission of Argentina, sponsored by the United States, with the argument that that country had taken sides with the Axis during the war and that Buenos Aires had become a veritable lair of German espionage that was mainly responsible for most of the torpedo attacks in the Southern Atlantic. What the Soviet Union was really seeking was to play the admission of Poland against that of Argentina.

The discussions on the issue were held in private behind closed doors, observing a kind of gentlemen’sagreement in order not to aggravate the matter by disclosing it. And then, all of a sudden, in a plenary session open to the public in the San Francisco Municipal Theatre, Molotov asked permission to speak, climbed on stage and amidst general commotion brought the question to open discussion. He set out by saying that he was going to speak in Russian, as that was the language of truth (pravda). And then he launched himself into an impassioned defence of Poland and violent accusations against Argentina.

Amidst the perplexity of several delegations, the head of the Peruvian representation, Victor Andrés Belaúnde stood up (I came to know him well in New York years later when I served in the United Nations; he was afterwards to become President of the General Assembly of the Organisation). He began his improvised speech by saying that he would speak in Spanish, the language of justice. He did not attack Poland, but defended the Argentinean claim, referring to her important position in Latin America and the need for “the blue and white flag to wave beside the flags of the member countries of the United Nations”. An eloquent, lengthy and passionate speech filled with rhetorical flourish and the dramatic gesturing that was Belaúnde’s style, as he spoke of San Martín, the heroic crossing of the Andes, and the glorious history of the Argentine.

Then Henri Spaak rose, requested the floor, went to the stage and with a subtly ironic smile delivered a calm and moderate speech, saying: “Gentlemen, you have heard the language of truth and justice. Allow me now to speak in French, the language of conciliation. Let us accept the admission of both countries, Argentina and Poland.” This was the mot juste uttered at exactly the right time. There was general applause and right there and then the Belgian statesman’s proposal was accepted. It was surprising that this conciliatory solution had not been reached in the successive meetings held behind closed doors. But parliamentary diplomacy is odd in that way: often, when the debate turns public, results are reached that seemed unattainable. As in internal politics.

* * *

The heroic years of the United Nations have passed, those of the early post-war period when public opinion and the world press followed with interest the debates and decisions of the Organisation. Also gone are the years when the annual General Assembly of the Organisation would gather together (such as the one I attended in 1960) leaders such as Khrushchev, Tito, Nasser, Nehru and Fidel Castro. Today, for all the immense development of communications, satellite television – the extraordinary instrument that enables us to accompany a war conflict “live,” as in the case of the war in Iraq – the United Nations is given very little space in the news. The General Assemblies are held each year without the newspaper publishing their agendas; we do not even know what is being discussed. And nevertheless, the work that is carried out there is exhausting, intense and often enervating, in the intrepid struggle to have a phrase of a paragraph approved in a draft resolution through exhaustive negotiations, backstage arrangements, exchanges of concessions, language subtleties, as if anything decisive were to happen as a result of the text that is finally approved. I remember endless nights dedicated to work of this nature. But I no longer even remember what it was about. Speeches are meticulously articulated, the words chosen with great care, then submitted to a thorough inspection in order to avoid (or achieve) a certain semantic interpretation, and finally heard with scant and dubious attention, each one more interested in what he is going to say than in what the others are saying.

In this unreal atmosphere that is often experienced in the United Nations, the characters behave as if they were members of a club in which hierarchy counts for little or almost nothing, for all of them are on the same level as members: a secretary will be more considered and sought out than an ambassador if he has more intellectual worth, more ability, a deeper knowledge of his dossier.

As in a club, new members feel they are being scrutinised on arrival . And especially when they make their debut in a debate. And even more so if he speaks for the first time in the plenary of the General Assembly, which is a test that has no sympathy for the timid. There criticism is implacable and irreverent on the part of those who “count,” those who are heard and listened to whatever their rank as diplomats or even the relative importance of the country they represent. To address the General Assembly is an unforgettable and moving experience. However much I repeated it, it never failed to move me, alone up there in the rostrum facing that vast plenary, with the lights of the television and the cameras, especially on those occasions when for four consecutive years I was responsible for opening the debates of the General Assembly as our country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. Brazil has held this privilege ever since the first conclave, by decision of the preparatory committee that met in London right after the end of the Second world War, a decision taken as a result of an conciliation arrangement between the United States and the Soviet Union, who refused to grant this primacy to one another.

Despite the vicissitudes of our internal policy, it is thanks to the coherence and cohesion of our diplomatic service that Brazil has always managed to maintain a participatory , effective and respected presence in the United Nations. It is therefore not inappropriate for us to aspire once more to a permanent place on the Security Council, where we would certainly be a factor of peace, harmony and conciliation, in keeping with our national character. It is not inappropriate. But it is extremely difficult to accomplish.

(Translated by JM)

Chancellor Mario Gibson Barboza

Franklin Roosevelt, President of the United States

British Field Marshal Montgomery commanded the Allied troops in the African campaign

Chancellor Oswaldo Aranha

Harry Truman, President of the United States

United States General Eisenhower, Commander of the Allied Armies