The U.N.'s Theater of the Absurd
by Edward Cline (June 28, 2004)

Summary: The United Nations is a moral theater of the absurd, largely subsidized by the United States, charged by it with the price of unqualified submission to its alleged moral authority.

In a classic instance of the obsessive/compulsive myopia of modern journalism, The Washington Post and other newspapers on June 24th reported that the U.S. had "dropped its plan Wednesday to seek renewal of a U.N. resolution shielding U.S. personnel serving in U.N.-authorized peacekeeping missions from prosecution by the International Criminal Court, citing fierce opposition to the initiative."

The Post noted that the opposition "marked the most concrete evidence of a diplomatic backlash against the scandal over abuse of U.S. detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq."

The U.S. abandoned its resolution when it could not secure enough votes for its passage on the Security Council. "The withdrawal represented a major victory for the strongest court advocates," which included France and Germany.

Now, in drama, the Theater of the Absurd, first defined by French playwright Albert Camus, depicts the impotence of human reason in the face of a hostile and indifferent universe. Other Existentialist and Absurdist playwrights more frequently pit human reason against an irrational society. The irrationality of man and the malevolence of his existence are treated as metaphysical givens.

The United Nations is a moral theater of the absurd, largely subsidized by the United States, charged by it with the price of unqualified submission to its alleged moral authority.

Cartoon by 
Cox and Forkum

The Post's bland reporting of the setback can be described as obsessive/compulsive myopia because, as it gallops neck-in-neck with The New York Times in a constant race to be the first to condemn the U.S. and find fault with it, it exhibits a selective blindness to a score of absurdities in the rush to judge American policies and actions. Here are some of those absurdities:

The first is that the United Nations is an exemplar of moral impotence, whose membership consists largely of tyrannies, theocracies, one-man dictatorships, people's republics, half-baked "democracies," and totalitarian regimes. Not to mention a handful of free countries, such as the U.S. and Britain, that actually take seriously the U.N.'s exotic definition of "human rights." If the organization were not so insidiously corrupt and venal, it could qualify for scathing satire. Yet, this organization feels free to pass moral judgment on the U.S., not only in respect to the right of the U.S. to defend itself against its sworn enemies, but in respect to the "scandal" of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. No laughing matter.

I stress the term "scandal." The Holocaust was not a scandal. The deaths of millions in Soviet Russia and Red China were not scandals. Nor were the mass murders in Cambodia, Vietnam, the Sudan, and in other countries scandals. Atrocities, yes. Abominations, yes. Unimaginably evil, yes. But, the actions of a handful of Americans in an Iraqi prison, culminating at most in the discomfort, loss of sleep, and purported humiliation of suspected or proven enemy combatants and collaborators, is held to be the equivalent of mass murder, without reference to the guilt of governments that actually killed millions.

The Post reported also that "Secretary General Kofi Annan appealed to the council to oppose the resolution, saying that it would 'discredit' the United Nations and undercut its promotion of the rule of law."

That is the second absurdity. The dismal record of U.N. peacekeeping efforts over half a century has already "discredited" it as a civilizing body. Focusing as it does on preventing "violence" between nations, it can be counted on to promote more of it. As a champion of the peaceful resolution of differences between nations, it usually sides with the aggressor and demands that the victim cease its violent resistance. The predicaments of Israel and Taiwan are cases in point.

And, the U.N. cannot promote the "rule of law" when the majority of its members are lawless governments. It has little or nothing to say about the regimes in Cuba, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania, which regularly take the lives, property and futures of those countries' citizens. It is deaf to the murderous depredations of Palestinian terrorists, but vocally condemnatory of Israel when it takes actions in its self-defense. Yet it is eager to judge American soldiers in the International Criminal Court, which is charged with prosecuting individuals responsible for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

The ultimate absurdity, the mother of all the other absurdities, is the continued presence of the U.S. in the U.N. In the "multiculturalist," "moral equivalence" environment of that body, the U.S. regularly swallows its "pride" and dares not judge other countries' systems and crimes. At the same time, a smidgen of self-respect caused it to propose an exemption of American soldiers from criminal prosecution by a lawless court, but then, when its "allies" on the Security Council abandoned it, withdrew it, as the Post reports, to "avoid a prolonged and divisive debate."

Which countries abandoned the American exemption resolution? Those pillars of moral purity, Russia, Red China, Algeria, and Chile. The U.N. ambassador of the latter country assured our ambassador that "This was not a vote against the United States."

Now, that's satire.

As a kind of consolation prize, the U.S. managed recently to sign agreements "with 90 countries not to surrender U.S. personnel to the court." But, if the U.N. asserts that its "law" is the supreme measure of its commitment to prosecuting "crimes against humanity," of what value will be those agreements if those same U.N. members decide to surrender their treaty-signing sovereignty to the U.N.? What protection will American soldiers -- who have bled and died to liberate other countries from tyranny and other "crimes against humanity," and whose country has expended incalculable treasure in the process -- have against the envy, malice, and killer instincts of the cannibals, vampires and miscellaneous vermin that populate U.N. Plaza?

The absurdities, the contradictions and outrages tolerated by the U.S. are possible because it is governed in its foreign policy by a mortally wounding self-doubt of the superiority and legitimacy of its own existence. It continues to believe that the U.N. can be an agent for global peace and amity, when the record of that organization and the nature of its member composition constitute evidence to the contrary. Only a policy of pragmatism, moral relativism, and "peace through appeasement" allows it to subscribe to that delusion. Such a policy stops it from wondering why it encounters hostility and veiled hatred in the General Assembly and on the Security Council.

Reason would dictate the U.S.'s withdrawal from the U.N. and the eviction of that "irrational society" from American shores. Then that particular theater of the absurd would close for good. However, it will never come to pass for as long as the U.S. fails to realize that, to paraphrase a communist certitude, it is hanging itself by the philosophy of irrationalism generated in its own universities.

About the Author: Edward Cline is a novelist who has written on the revolutionary war period and is a guest writer for the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, California. He is author of the Sparrowhawk series of novels set in England and Virginia in the Revolutionary period, the detective novel First Prize, the suspense novel Whisper the Guns, and of numerous published articles, book reviews and essays. Visit his website at