Unesco 1945: birth of an ideal
The origins of war are intermingled with the origins of mankind. Indeed, history was for long summarily reduced to little more th an a catalogue of a series of conflits. There was not only one"Hundred Years War", but centuries of waste of human lives.
The desire for peace, however, is just as ancient as the instinct to destroy, and the vision of a united planet had haunted mankind long before it assumed definite shape at a Conference in London in 1945, when men and governments decided to give it a new meaning. Scarcely had men emerged from the bloodiest of human confIicts than they suddenly seemed to become aware of the unity of their species, proposing to create what the French poet Paul Eluard called"Man with the face of man". They wished to turn values upside down.
This was no longer the isolated cry of a poet, a prophet or a visionary preaching to an indifferent world, but the commitment of men and women speaking different tongues but a common language: "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed". More than an act of faith, the words of Archibald MacLeish spell out the lesson learned from a grim and horrifying reality. Crimes against humanity had been committed by men who knew how to read. Medical doctors, in the name of science, had used women and children as guinea pigs, as fuel. Men of taste had provided a theory for this carnage and encouraged it, just as they had ordered Heine's poetry to be burned. And so, in 1945, on the banks of the Thames, governments affirmed that education, science and culture should no longer be a law unto themselves, nor a servant for Caesar.
How do things stand now? Such an objective is not achieved from one year to the next, nor from one plan to the next. Even today, on the fortieth anniversary of the signing of Unesco's Constitution, we still have to fight against that ignorance of each other's ways and livets [which] has been a common cause, throughout the history of mankind, of that suspicion and mistrust between the peoples of the world through which their differences have ail too often broken into war."
This is why, at a time when the United Nations system as a whole is undergoing a searching re-appraisal, it was decided that this issue of the Unesco Courier, should commemorate not the customary anniversary (4 November 1946, the date on which Unesco's Constitution came into force) but the birth, with the signing of the Constitution on 16 November 1945, of the Unesco ideal and the efforts of the men and women whose passionate commitment made possible this expression of belief in mankind and hope for the future. If anniversaries are occasions for reftection, may this anniversary be an occasion for us to meditate on this message, too often ignored or lost sight of, from the founding fathers.
Editor-in-Chief : Edouard Glissant