The Dark Side of the United Nations
A review of The UN Gang: A Memoir of Incompetence, Corruption, Espionage, Anti-Semitism, and Islamic Extremism at the UN Secretariat by Pedro A. Sanjuan, NY: Doubleday, 2005, 201 pages, $24.95
By David Krusch
The death and destruction caused by World War II and the Holocaust was something unprecedented in modern human history. The horrors of Nazism and facism led to the deaths of hundreds of millions of people, including the near destruction of European Jewry. After the ultimate victories in Europe and Asia, the Allies created an organization where the nations of the world could join together and strive to defeat future threats against international security. This organization, the United Nations, was to be a forum for the making and enforcement of international law, as well as a safeguard to protect peoples of the world against racism and genocide. According to author Pedro A. Sanjuan, the UN has done exactly the opposite, and its policies have been such that it actually aided in the spread of racism, anti-Semitism, and corruption throughout its member nations.
The UN Gang is Sanjuan's vivid personal account as a United States representative at the UN in the 1980s-1990s. Appointed by then-Vice President George Bush, his real job was to monitor Soviet activities in the UN for the United Staates. In the very early stages of his time at the UN, Sanjuan found that most of its important and strategic positions were controlled by the Soviet KGB, and strong Soviet influence went all the way up the ranks to the Secretary-General. This book is a testament to the absurd, and in his dry and biting sense of humor, Sanjuan chronicles his many awkward encounters with other UN diplomats and Soviet KGB agents.
From the time of his arrival to the UN, Sanjuan realized that the environment toward American diplomats, especially those appointed and confirmed by the U.S. government, was disturbingly hostile. He describes an incident about his first day of work at the UN, where he found a small bag of cocaine hidden in the receiver of his office phone, which he later discovered was placed there by Soviet agents. The security people at the U.S. mission simply told him this sort of thing happened all the time at the UN.
Expressions of anti-Semitism and other forms of racism occur regularly within the halls of the United Nations Secretariat in New York. According to Sanjaun, whose first encounter with Soviet Undersecretary-General Viacheslav Ustinov began with a question: "So your father was Jew, yes?" Through rumors and word of mouth, it had reached all levels of the UN that the new American "spy" was Jewish, and should be regarded as a hostile threat. Though he isn't Jewish, Sanjuan found himself in the position of defending himself against anti-Semitic remarks in encounters with other UN diplomats.
Sanjuan felt an obligation as a non-Jew to confront the bigotry he found at the UN: "Although I do not deny that Jews, deeply religious or merely bound by a tradition, would be expected to oppose anti-Semitism in any of its varied manifestations, I most certainly do not agree that combating anti-Semitism is the exclusive responsibility of the Jews...Knowing as I do the devastating effects of unchallenged anti-Semitism, I feel strongly that it is my responsibility to fight anti-Semitism wherever and in every way I can - for the very obvious reason that I am not a Jew."
Not only was the United Nations bogged down with hundreds of redundant offices and useless secretaries, corrupt diplomats, anti-Semitism, and an influx of KGB agents, it was also a place where Islamic extremists met freely to discuss jihad against America and Israel. The Islamist influence at the UN became so powerful that the UN, a supposedly secular organization, established a mosque inside the penthouse at the Dag Hammarskjold Library with scheduled prayer times, even though no other religious group at the UN had similar places for worship. Taking advantage of their diplomatic immunity, Islamic extremists posing as diplomats discussed jihad and attacks against the United States and Israel at the UN without ever having to worry about being arrested. In fact, Sanjuan believes the September 11, 2001 terrorists were so successful on such a limited budget, they must have had large quantities of information gathered and processed by other parties--possibly the extremists/diplomats at the United Nations. He offers no evidence to support this conspiracy theory, but he did observe that when news of the attack broke, "clusters of anti-American sympathizers on the staff openly expressed their glee that at last America was getting what it deserved, not very different from the celebrations by Palestinians captured on TV."
To conclude the memoir, Sanjuan proposes some reforms that would help clean up the UN. He suggests that religious activities should be kept out of the Secretariat, that racism and anti-Semitism cease to be the UN's institutional disease, and that it should be transparent when it comes to its accounting and spending practices. In order to stop the anti-Semitic culture at the UN, Sanjuan suggests that offenders should be expelled no matter what position they hold, including the Secretary-General. This book is a fascinating, and very important, account of the UN. After reading this book, no doubt many people will echo Sanjuan's sentiment, “Let us hope our leaders have the wisdom to save the UN from itself before it is too late.”