From the Stars and Stripes archives

The United Nations set up shop in Paris

Secretary of State (and retired 5-star general) George Marshall at the U.N. meeting in Paris in 1948.


By SHIRLEY KATZANDER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 25, 1948

PARIS — One world's business is a complicated affair. This week's opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations proved it takes more than protocol to keep the wheels turning. It takes, among other things, tons of plaster, plenty of paint, a fleet of taxis, lots of wood, clerks, messengers, advisers, telephones, and — above all — paper.

The delegates to the General Assembly met for the opening session in an atmosphere of relative calm and quiet — but beyond the walls of the handsome, red

carpeted, underground theater of the Paris wing of the huge Palais de Chaillot, workmen were still scraping floors, putting up partitions, laying straw mats, slapping paint on one thing and another and generally pushing people around from one freshly-plastered spot to another.

As it was almost impossible to hitch a ride on the crowded elevators, one of which stuck between floors the opening day, UN employes and observers made

their way from floor to floor on stone steps overhung with canvas and strung with ladders.

One hopeful clerk who asked a blue-bereted workman balancing a large beam on one shoulder, when the work would finished, was told "maybe by Christmas.” Most delegates hoped the session would be over by then so they could be home for the holiday season. The only thoroughly-completed jobs in the Paris wing were the theater and two bars, one for the press and second, a more elaborate affair for the delegates-each equipped with two television sets which faithfully recorded the doings in the assembly hall.

But, in the other wing, the maritime museum, where more UN offices are to be set up, one secretary said they still "had the arrowheads on show," and only one bureau was operating.

As usual in the confusion that surrounds the opening days of any huge meeting, no one knew where anything was. One woman with a message for a member of the Security Council asked a guard where the council was meeting.

He looked completely bewildered. She repeated her question in French, repeating "Conseil de Securite." "Ah," he finally answered, "you mean the French security police." Non, non, she insisted, the "Conseil de Security." "Ah, oui," he said his face lighting up, "you mean where one keeps one's hat safely." She finally impressed him with the fact that it was a meeting of men and minds she sought. Well, he shrugged, there's some meeting or other downstairs. Perhaps that's it. It was.

Many delegates had complaints. The head of one delegation was bitter and voluble about elaborate preparations for the press. He said of the 3,000 seats in the assembly hall, 1,200 were reserved for members of the delegations, 900 for the press, 900 for "distinguished guests.'' At the same time, he moaned, every member of every embassy or legation in Paris was clamoring for a seat in the assembly hall.

Meanwhile, other delegates lamented that clerks and secretaries, who had been transported to Paris to do a UN job, had wandered off and were lost in the mysteries and beauties of the city. When found, they were frequently too dreamy to work.

And, he virtually screamed, all of them wanted the delegations to foot the bill for private transportation — it costs $10 a day to hire a car. All wanted apartments and never mind the housing shortage. And they all said their expense accounts would need revising. Paris was expensive and they needed more money.

The consensus was that the American, Chinese and French delegations were off to a head start. The French, of course, were on home ground, and the Americans and Chinese had their offices open and ready for business days before the assembly met. The others, it seemed, were still floundering about in the physical process of setting up desks. The Americans, with their offices in the Hotel d'Iena, were still unscrambling frantic workmen who continued to hammer away at new partitions.

The opening of the assembly was the least spectacular and most orderly of the proceedings going on in Paris, where the preparations to welcome the UN went on against a background of recurrent governmental crises, strikes and riots in the streets. In spite of the barrage of kliegs, photographers, broadcasters and "distinguished guests" who insisted on leaning far over balconies to get a look at the famous personalities in the assemblage, the opening got off to a solemn start.

In the huge hall, as the gavel came down, the only color came from the splendid uniforms of the Gardes Republicains and the clothes of chic women guests.

The assembly, otherwise, was strictly a dark business suit affair. Secretary of State George C. Marshall, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, of Britain, and Russia's Andrei Vyshinsky drew the most attention.

Meanwhile, the hall was dotted with the striking costumes of the Arab delegation, the Indian women guests who wore filmy saris and golden slippers and the white leggings and leopard-trimmed caps of others of the Indian guests. One Indian, an elderly man, swathed in white and brown wrappings, climbed over seats to get a look over the balcony. As he lifted his stately robes he exposed brown brogues and maroon socks held up by Hickok garters.

On every seat was a set of earphones and the magic little black box equipped with dials so that a listener might tune in on any of the five official languages of the session; English, Russian, Chinese, French and Spanish. Beyond the clear voice of each translator, there was a babel of voices in the background, translating the proceedings into other tongues.

Although everything on the main floor, where the delegates were placed, was orderly, there was confusion above. Usherettes, experienced by hundreds of concerts and meetings in the same hall, for some reason forgot to hang out the SRO sign in the balconies. Spectators crowded the steps and many a visitor fell to the bottom.

Meanwhile, restaurants, nightclubs and theaters were packed. Hotels were crowded and preferred to take non-UN guests. Telephone lines were so busy it was sometimes necessary to wait five minutes before the line cleared.

Taxis were hard to find and many taxi drivers refused to go anywhere near UN where traffic was constantly thick and furious. The only sure way to get through traffic was to latch onto a blue and white UN sticker It was magic. Police stopped all cars, waved UN autos through.

To Parisians, still in the midst of a government crisis, this was another big convention for their city. Some scattered spectators leaned on the wooden barriers blocking off the entrances to the Palais, some were glib enough to talk their way through police lines.

The attitude of the, French shocked a British chauffeur for Sir Alexander Cadogan. "Why, when Auriol walked up the steps," he gasped, "they didn't do a thing. Not a handclap in the mob. Not like our people, y'know."

A six-block area around Trocadero was blocked off, except for UN cars.

The day after the opening of the General Assembly, most French papers devoted page one to the greatest morale booster the country has had in weeks. It wasn't UN. It was Marcel Cerdan's TKO over Tony Zale in the 12th round at Jersey City.

Soviet delegate Andrei Vyshinsky instructs a member of his staff. The next day, Vishinsky delivered what was described in news accounts as ''a furious 50-minute speech ... (that) blasted the U.S. as leading a 'wild armaments race' and seeking to dominate the world.''


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