Global Policy Forum

Immigrant to What?

November 25, 1946

In 1902, a Norwegian carpenter named Martin Lie, leaving his wife and a small son, went off to the fabulous world which Oslo still called new. Driven by the instincts common to migrants of all time in quest of adventure or security or freedom (or simply of wider skies and unfamiliar faces), he sailed toward the west. The hard but hospitable shores received him and he vanished, unknown and untraced, in the fertile chaos of a country's growth. No one ever knew whether he found what he sought. He didn't write home.

Forty-four years later, the carpenter's son Trygve came, with all possible public attention, to the same shores, driven by the old longing of an intolerably troubled civilization for security and wider skies. He too was an emigrant who had left his country for a new and larger allegiance. Trygve's destination was less substantial than the U.S. of 1902, but not necessarily less important or less noble. The entity to which Trygve Lie had sworn loyalty was known to the world as the United Nations; no one was quite sure what that meant. Was it a new world, also? Or a legal figment, spinning a web of Whereases and Be it Resolveds between a war and a war?

That, in the fall of 1946, was the world's most fatal question. A large part of the answer depended on the new immigrant himself, but Trygve Lie, sawing and smoothing and (sometimes) hacking brusquely away at tasks immediately before him, was no man to waste time wondering whether he was building Utopia or merely providing material for a footnote on how two civilizations (and some threescore sovereignties) catastrophically clashed.

Foreshadowings. The U.N., in its 13th month of existence, was no longer in acute danger of disruption, as it had been at its first meeting in London, early this year. It now faced the chronic and perhaps more serious crisis of paralysis through the stubborn inflexibility of its component parts. To stave off U.N.'s slow death by deadlock, many people looked to Trygve Halvdan Lie (pronounced Lee), the U.N.'s Secretary-General, its chief administrative officer, the man who stood closer than any other single individual to U.N.'s mechanism, if not to its heart.

Internationalism Lie had known ever since his childhood. He grew up in an exciting era, when the battle for the receivership of the 19th Century had just begun. His mother's boardinghouse in Grorud, near Oslo, was cosmopolitan-Swedish, Finnish, Polish, German, Russian workers paid mother Lie 20¢ a day for room & board. In the evening, around the table, Trygve heard them talk of the Russo-Japanese War, of the abortive Russian revolution of 1905, of Norway's breakaway from Sweden, of syndicalism and the brotherhood of all workers. In those days Trygve Lie also acquired a faith: Socialism. But even then, his faith was tempered-as it would be through all his later life-by a cool, stolid pragmatism.

Young Trygve tried to read Marx and Engels, but, says he: "I didn't get very far." (He hasn't yet; Lie's reading is confined almost exclusively to official reports and books directly connected with his work.) At 16, he was a practical local politician, driving voters to the polls in a borrowed sledge. And as Secretary-General of U.N. he once admonished a friend: "Say nothing against local politics. From local politics I came and to local politics I may some day have to return." His favorite proverb is: "A snuffbox has many sides." Lie has seen many sides of many boxes. Despite his Socialism, he accepted a scholarship from one of Norway's wealthiest men. As Norway's young (39) Minister of Justice, he sent police to maintain order during strikes and at the same time called the strike leaders with a warning: "You must keep quiet; I've just had to send the police over." By the simple device of sticking with the majority, he managed to steer smoothly through the splits of the Norwegian Labor Party when, in 1921, it briefly entered the Communist International. Appointed a member of a Labor Party delegation to visit Lenin in Moscow, Lie was impressed with the honor, but not wholly absorbed in his mission; he took his young wife along for a belated honeymoon trip.

Lie gleefully remembers this junket, which today makes him one of the world's few non-Communist statesmen who saw Lenin plain. Lie recalls sitting .at the back of the room as a junior delegate, while Lenin ("eating apples all the time") asked innumerable questions about Norway's vital statistics. Lie frantically produced them from a pocket almanac. In the end, Lenin prophesied glumly that as Britain went, so would go Norway.

Forbearance. Lenin was spectacularly correct. When Norway fell to the Nazis in 1940, Lie followed his King to London, where he became Foreign Minister of the Government in Exile, a friend of Anthony Eden, and a great favorite of Allied diplomats. He frequently played tennis with Anthony Drexel Biddle, U.S. Ambassador to the Governments in Exile, whose tricky chop and drop shots kept Lie puffing around the court, muttering: "Damn that Biddle! Damn that Biddle!" Diplomacy smoothed him out a bit, but he still hates stiff collars and is uproariously impatient with bureaucratic gobbledygook, which he calls "American experts' language." He eats and drinks with Falstaffian gusto (his favorite dish: mutton stew with cabbage and caraway seeds as prepared by Mrs. Lie), but claims defensively that he breakfasts lightly on coffee, milk and toast. Lie's girth is increasing steadily: he admits to weighing 200 lbs., but friends maintain that his real weight is nearer 240.

In his rather lonely spot among the nations, he is heavily dependent on his family, of which he is undisputed hero. In the U.S. Lie lives in a large (suburban Norman) house in Forest Hills, L.I. with his wife and two younger daughters Guri and Mette (the eldest, Sissel, is married in Norway). He usually tries to get home for lunch, spends most of his evenings in. The one thing that bothers him about his new home is its huge weather vane. He fretted to friends that it was the worst possible symbol for a politician. So far, he has not got around to removing it.

To illustrate Lie's even-keeled forbearance, associates tell about the time last spring when U.S. radio commentators criticized him for his intervention in the Iran issue in the Security Council. Nervous aids urged Lie to answer the radio pundits, but he merely grinned: "These commentators, they certainly are bad fellows. You know, one of them said Ed Stettinius was the handsomest man at the Security Council table-where I sit too. You can imagine the effect that kind of talk had on my family." Lie has iron nerves, can go to bed at the end of a troubled day with a child's placidity and (reports a friend) the pragmatic exclamation: "I have done all I can-now I might as well sleep." Typically, he believes that he is doing all he can for U.N. under present conditions. Immigrant Lie has built a roof over his and U.N.'s head, has kept the organization running. Since he took over, he has recruited from 45 nations a Secretariat of 2,992 men & women, ranging from hat-check girls to high-powered economists.

Most of them now work in a reconverted wing of the Sperry Gyroscope Plant at Lake Success, L.I. Their offices, nicknamed "rabbit warren," are cramped, mostly without windows, and erratically air-conditioned. The international civil servants work hard, gripe some, get on without nationalist friction but also without ardent international friendship. Few of them have a sense of high mission in their work; last week, their foremost hope was that the Assembly would get done before Christmas. But most observers agreed that they were doing a workmanlike job of keeping the Assembly grinding away at its curiously varied tasks.

From his huge, simply furnished office in the Sperry building, Lie runs the Secretariat smoothly with the aid of eight Assistant Secretaries-General. In charge of Conference & General Services, a catch-all for every conceivable service from interpreting to pencil-sharpening, is Adrianus Pelt, a mild-mannered Dutch veteran of the League of Nations. The other day Lie paid him a chuckled compliment: "There are no interpreters left in the world-Pelt has them all."

Chile's Benjamin Alberto Cohen, flyweight diplomat, welterweight newsman, and heavyweight samba & rumba expert, heads the Department of Public Information, which distributes painfully impartial U.N. news to the world. Arkady Alexandrovich Sobolev, a Soviet expert on international law and one of Russia's less prickly emissaries, heads the Department of Security Council Affairs. The others: Economics-David Kemp Owen, mountain-climbing, poetry-loving Welshman and Foreign Office career man; Administrative & Financial Services-Kentucky's thin-shelled John B. Hutson, former director of the tobacco, sugar, rice & peanuts division of AAA; Social Affairs-sharp-eyed Henri Laugier, former professor of physiology at the Sorbonne; Legal Affairs -Ivan Kerno, Czech jurist, veteran of the League and the French underground; and Trusteeships-Dr. Victor Hoo, witty Washington-born Chinese diplomat, who makes a sweeping claim to be a citizen of the world: "It's merely accidental that I'm not an Occidental." In front of strangers these eight and the rest of his staff refer to Lie by a code name: Rodney.

Forebodings. In his Forest Hills house and in his Lake Success office, Lie treasures a secret gadget: a loudspeaker connected with the U.N. public-address system which permits him to follow the debate in any U.N. committee room. Frequently, when he hears something he dislikes, Lie picks up the phone and passes a tip to an aide on the scene. By such quiet intervention, Lie has made the job of U.N. Secretary-General more influential than many U.N. delegates expected. He intervened (rather clumsily) in the Iran issue last spring and bluntly stated his anti-Franco views on Spain at the present Assembly's opening. He managed to get the Council's rules of procedure revised so as to give the Secretary-General the right to "make either oral or written statements : . . concerning any question under consideration. . . ." Last week, in a speech before Committee No. 5 in defense of U.N.'s proposed budget, Lie, on grounds of international principle, came out against the suggestion that the U.S. pay almost half of U.N.'s administrative costs.

So far so good. But what of the larger issues? Lie says: "I like to meet difficulties and see them settled-in the best way. I don't like difficulties that remain unsettled." Unhappily, the major issues plaguing U.N. are not susceptible of quick settlement. Lie's pragmatism serves U.N. well when, like his mother, he is merely caring for the daily needs of his cosmopolitan guests. But the world's governments and peoples will not get from Trygve Lie the vision and leadership necessary to transform U.N. from a mere Council of Ambassadors, waiting docilely for instructions from their capitals, into something resembling a world government. Such a transformation depends more on the big nations than on the U.N. or its Secretary-General.

Last week, finally stirring before the small nations' campaign against the "hateful privilege," the Big Five took the veto issue out of U.N.'s committee rooms to their Waldorf-Astoria Tower, in an attempt to reach agreement on curbing the veto's use. U.N.'s Preparatory Commission had written eleven months ago: "If by its early action the new organization can capture the imagination of the world it will surely not belie the expectations of those who see in it the last chance of saving themselves and their children from the scourge of war." So far, U.N. has captured few imaginations. Insofar as they paid any attention to it at all, the world's plain people watched how their own national leaders were doing in the U.N. arena. It was typical of the state of the United Nations that Trygve Lie enjoyed clamorous popularity in Norway, where he was feted on his soth birthday last summer by everyone from Crown Prince Olaf to Communist Party leaders; but when a TIME correspondent asked a Warsaw hairdresser last week for her opinion of Trygve Lie, she merely asked: "What is that?" London's man-in-the-street (and many an intellectual) has never heard of Lie. In Paris, an unusually well-informed headwaiter exclaimed: "Ah out, isn't he that Swede who presides over U.N., makes $20,000 a year and pays no income tax? Quel veinard (what a lucky guy), I'd like to be tax-exempt myself." Lie, to do him justice, would sacrifice his tax exemption and much more to see U.N. grow strong enough to keep the peace. He believes passionately, however, that the infant U.N. must learn to crawl before it can stand up to the great nations whose veto almost nullifies U.N.'s peace-loving powers. Learning to crawl toward peace will be a slow process, Lie says: "This task, to make life richer for ordinary human beings everywhere, must occupy us throughout our lifetimes, and it will occupy those who follow us in time to come."

More Information on UN Reform
More Information on Secretary General Trygve Lie's Reform Agenda


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