COUNTENANCE OF TRUTH: The United Nations and the Waldheim Case by Shirley Hazzard
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COUNTENANCE OF TRUTH: The United Nations and the Waldheim Case

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From acclaimed novelist Hazzard (The Transit of Venus, 1980, etc.), an unsparing indictment of the United Nations, which persuasively presents the Walheim scandal as merely symptomatic of structural defects that help explain the organization's delinquency in honoring its founding principles. A ten-year veteran of the Secretariat staff, Hazzard (who dunned the UN in a previous book, Defeat of an Ideal, 1973) looks back in sorrow as well as anger at the checkered record compiled by the UN. Topping her larger agenda is the charge that the global body has neither kept the peace nor prevented armed hostilities anywhere in the world--the very missions for which it was created. An important reason for this failure, the author argues, is that (at the behest of superpower members like the US and USSR) professional personnel lack civil-service protection. As one result, the ranks are filled with time-serving hacks and senior aides who, reluctant to risk their jobs, soon become unwilling to exercise independent initiative or speak out on vital issues. As another, high-level administrators (along with agency heads) run the UN with an eye to the often narrow political interests of the countries that control their appointments. In a purposefully bureaucratic and autocratic environment of this sort, Hazzard asserts, there's precious little to encourage leadership, let alone stewardship. As a practical matter, she contends, pliancy is the main qualification required of Secretaries General. Documenting how the handful of men who have held this elective office resolutely avoided actions that might ambush or otherwise discomfit countries with clout, the author deals dismissively with Waldheim. Despite a Nazi-tainted past that could not have stood up to even cursory investigation, she points out, the Austrian careerist gained preferment and served his masters well, e.g., forbearing condemnation of America's 1972 bombing of dikes in North Vietnam. In the meantime, Hazzard concludes, Waldheim's sorry tale only exemplifies the moral bankruptcy and debilitation of the UN in its ongoing denial of experience. A damning case, passionately made, against a transnational institution evidently content with its self-imposed fate as an impotent debating society.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1990
Publisher: Viking