I SAW IT HAPPEN
By Howard FastAfter a week of it, with the next ten years being made or torn to shreds on the green campus of Hunter College, the only piece of complete sanity that emerges are the children. Children are there by the thousand, and it see to me that there are more children in this part of the Bronx than anywhere else in the city--anyhow, more concentrated, more of them at one time--watching outside, pressing their nose against the wire fences, as if expressing wordlessly, the only plea that might have some effect on the impeccable and incredible diplomats who drive in and out each day in their black limousines.
The children will remember these sessions someday, if there are any children. Inside the gymnasium, for week, I watched the delegates sit and talk about that; in three languages they debated the matter of whether or not there would be children. At the moment, I don't know. I only know that what went on there last week was not good for a sane man to see and hear.
IN SOME way, there is ironical and merciless humor attached to all of it: the fact that here, in the world's richest country, it is necessary for the world's highest tribunal to sit in a gymnasium, for the press to occupy a swimming pool, for the information service to be located in a toilet. But that is only the beginning of the descent to Alice's Wonderland. Come to the tribunal itself, and you have no less a burlesque than that courtroom scene, where Alice was tried by a deck of cards.
You've seen pictures of the council room. Behind the bleached. mahogany table sit the eleven member nations; behind each delegate is a cluster of advisors; left and right are two press galleries; and what we might call the mezzanine has several hundred seats, for a few of the public, important characters of many categories, and more of the working press. The audience and its relationship to the council is of some importance; all in all, the forty of the general public excepted, this is perhaps the most cynical, knowing, and diversified audience in the world. Here is everyone you have ever met, whether in London, Paris, Calcutta, San Francisco, or The Pen and Pencil or The Algonquin; here are the so-called cream of the press, the radio commentators, the professional crystal-ball gazers, and with them all those curious shadow-figures of the trust-international, the striped-suit boys who might be called the tramps of diplomacy.
And during this past week, they watched a gorgeous frameup, a piece of business so dirty it stank to the highest heavens--they watched a piece of business so crass, so vulgar, so obvious that it was completely beyond belief, and their only reaction was to laugh and nudge each other, and then dash for the telephones. I insert this to remark upon the difference between what actually happened and what was pictured to have happened in the press.
I want to tell, in the little space I have here, what I saw happen. It was not the end of the world, not the end of the UNO; if it were that, then it would he pointless to write this piece. It was a diversion, a diplomatic stroke intended to discredit and isolate the USSR--and because the USSR, having given millions of its lives to the cause of world peace, would not accept the insult, would not be used in a manner so shameful, the stroke went further than ever intended.
But the UNO will go on because it must; the alternative is too dreadful for even Mr. Byrnes and Mr. Truman to contemplate with any pleasure.
AS SIMPLY as I can line it out, here is what happened at the Hunter gymnasium this first week.
A plan was projected by the imperialist Anglo-American bloc; the plan was not very complicated and not very clever. Russian troops were in northern Iran. Iran is a private preserve of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. It was important to the imperialists that an independent democratic movement in northern Iran should not endanger these oil interests. Now, in previous discussions of the UNO council, Russia had agreed to negotiate with Iran. But such agreement was not enough; here, an opportunity presented itself to discredit Russia, and for America and England to emerge as the champion (sic) of small nations and as the foe of imperialism.
Thereupon, a character called Hussein Ala, ambassador from Iran, presented the UNO secretariat with a series of letters which charged the Soviet Union with violating her agreement to evacuate her troops from Iran, and demanded that the case of Iran come before this session of the UNO Security Council. Ambassador Gromyko of the USSR replied by letter that discussions were under way between Iran and the USSR, and asked, quite reasonably, the Iran hearing be postponed to April 10.
When you consider that only a two-weeks postponement was asked for, that one of the great powers of the earth was involved, that this power was our recent ally in a mighty war for freedom--then, indeed, it does not seem that the USSR was demanding the moon and the stars, or plotting to wreck the peace. But let us see what happened.
The meeting opened. The first two matters of business were disposed of in less than an hour. Then the question of Iran was raised. Ambassador Gromyko asked for the floor, and after stating that negotiations between Iran and the USSR were proceeding, that the USSR was already evacuating her troops from Iran, that the evacuation would be completed within a few weeks if nothing unforeseen happened, he asked that the matter of Iran be stricken from the agenda. He pointed out that the Security Council was set up to consider only those questions which could not be solved by bilateral discussion of the nations involved and which thereby threatened world peace. Since the question of Iran was so far on its way to a conclusion, he did not think it was properly the business of the meeting.
At this point, in the light of what happened after Gromyko's opening speech, we might consider why he took the stand he did. Quite obviously, he saw that the Iranian issue would used to slander the Soviet Union, and he saw the Soviet Union put in a position where she could not prevent a group of powers from using the Security Council as a weapon against her. Therefore, from the very beginning, Gromyko stated that the USSR, being in the process of solving the problem, did not wish it on the agenda--and shortly after this, he added that if the matter did come on the agenda, the USSR would not participate in discussion of it before April 10.
He put himself on the record from the beginning. How, then, were so many people surprised and astounded when Russia finally left?
Now, after Gromyko's initial speech, every effort and word of the Anglo-American bloc was directed toward steam-rollering the Iran matter through. Only Dr. Oscar Lange of Poland voted with Gromyko to keep the subject off the agenda. Mahmoud Hassan Pasha, representing Egypt, whose own people are being murdered by British bullets, made the leading motions and abased himself to his smooth masters. Byrnes wept for the small nations, not mentioning, of course, certain small nations as, for example, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Cuba. Cadogan of England wept copious tears along with him, likewise neglecting certain small nations--Greece, for example--where British troops and British bayonets "uphold" the rights of small nations to the integrity of their soil--not mentioning the two dozen small nations of the Empire, where the iron heel of Britain murders freedom, day in and day out. Van Kleffens of Holland joined in the chorus, having put out of his mind the screams of Indonesians, murdered by British and Dutch troops at this very moment. Najera of Mexico added his voice--but not the voice of his countrymen, who their own ideas about imperialism.
And so it went. It was a circus, believe me. Only Poland and Australia raised their voices, and in the face of the solid anti-Russian pressure, Hodgson of Australia, who reminds one with his evident integrity of a middle-western liberal American, withdrew. When the going got rough, Byrnes dropped any pretense of fair play, and the urbane chairman, Quo Tai-chi of China, readily surrendered even nominal leadership to him.
Through all of this, there was no doubting that Gromyko was stalling for time. He had no desire to be forced out of the council. He knew that whatever he did, the American press would gang up on the USSR; he evidently had no illusions about fair play, decency and an objective view of the situation by our press. He was stalling with a purpose, and against that purpose, Byrnes forced discussion. When Quo would have adjourned the second session at 1 P.M. Byrnes kept it going until after 6 P.M. But on the third day, Gromyko received what he had been waiting for. With just the faintest note of triumph in his voice, he read a message from the Soviet official news agency, Tass, in which the premier of Iran expressed confidence that the problems would be solved bilaterally, reproved Hussein Ala, the ambassador, and warned against such performances in the future.
But from what followed, you would have thought that Gromyko had not spoken at all. His words were ignored. The Egyptian motion, to admit the twice-discredited Ala to the council table, was voted upon and passed, and Gromyko had. no other recourse than to rise and leave. Otherwise, he himself would have cast the dignity and integrity of his nation in the dust.
VERY briefly, that is what happened during the first four days at Hunter College. I spoke of the press before; sitting in a gallery, surrounded by newsmen, their reactions become part of the drama. When Gromyko left, the chairman would have adjourned to the next day; but again Byrnes forced the council to remain in session. So overtly, so crassly did he lead into the Iran thing, inviting Ala up, allowing Ala to launch a long, vitriolic attack on the USSR, interrupting it when it became ludicrous to remind Ala that they were considering procedure and not yet the case of Iran versus the USSR, then asking Ala leading, obvious questions, that the gallery around me rocked with laughter. If peace and hope were being murdered, it was not done subtly, and no newspaperman there was deceived.
All through those first sessions, Gromyko had dignity and right on his side; I must have spoken to very many of the working press, and Gromyko had their undivided sympathy. Whatever they felt about the Soviet Union, they respected the one man at the council who was outstanding for his directness, his forthrightness and his firmness in a dangerous and provocative situation.
As I said before, I don't think this is the end of either the UNO or of hope; only one who sees life and history as a static array of power would believe that. Byrnes played a crude hand of cards, and Gromyko called him--but it goes further than that. Great powers are not poker players, and the lives of my children and yours are not proper stakes for a gambling cloth. It is time we let those who rule this land know that the most precious thing on earth is not their power or their lust for power, but the lives of human beings.