KENILWORTH, NJ — “There’s always a negative perception of the UN,” said Michael C. Curtin, author of “Challenging the Misconceptions of the United Nation,” in an interview with LocalSource on Friday, June 2. “It’s not world government. That’s just one issue I’d like to emphasize. It does not infringe on a state’s sovereignty. It’s not a world government.”
Curtin’s novel, completed in December 2022 and published earlier this year, presents blogs that he published online from 2011 through 2021, which run through the gamut of issues the international body addressed during that time frame. Each blog begins with a chapter note that breaks down the topic to be discussed in a digestible manner so that readers know what is about to be presented to them.
“What prompted me to write it were the issues occurring today, especially in this globalized world in which we live, and to alter the negative narrative that was surrounding it,” Curtin said. “Today, we see a lot of funding shortages for the work the UN does. There’s still a lot going on as far as refugees and internal problems in Syria. The World Health Organization took a hit during COVID because many said they were too aligned with China. We want to highlight some of the success stories: providing humanitarian assistance to refugees, Chapter 11 of the UN charter, which speaks to decolonization and states that want to be independent. There was a success story in East Timor. We haven’t seen a great power conflict break out since World War II. The U.S.-China relationship is something that bears watching as we move forward. There’s certainly failure. Think of 1994 and the Rwandan genocide, despite the warnings that were coming for the head of the peacekeeping mission in Rwanda at that time.”
Curtin was a member of the United Nations Association of the USA since 1991. He began writing a blog for the local chapter in 2011.
“I did that for about 10 years and all of what’s contained in the book is all of my writing in that time span,” he said. “It’s a compilation of my blogs advocating for the world of the UN. When I set out to write these blogs, I knew the importance of multilateralism. Multilateralism, you can contrast that with the last administration, which believed we should go it alone. Multilateralism is working and acting through global institutions like the UN, especially with our allies. NATO is a prime example, especially now, with what we see going on in the Ukraine since 2022. We saw that particular policy of multiculturalism. Unfortunately, isolationists, they wanted to do things alone. They prioritized U.S. sovereignty instead of multilateralism. President (Joseph) Biden saw the ignorance of that.”
Curtin addresses topics ranging from population to human rights, war to arms trade treaties, global poverty to human trafficking. No topic is off the table and everything is discussed in a clear, concise manner that makes its relevance to the reader apparent. Nothing is sugar-coated either. Along with the accomplishments of the United Nations are its failures, revealing a potent tool to help the world when it’s needed, a tool too often misunderstood and ignored.
“With any large organization or bureaucracy, there are going to be some losses,” Curtin said. “There’s going to be some times when failure is going to occur. Bill Clinton said after he left office that one of his greatest regrets was not doing more about the Rwandan genocide. It would also be nice to see more women at high-ranking roles in the UN. It would be nice to see a woman as secretary general.”
Despite these failures, each chapter, Curtin describes the successes as well, and the efforts the United Nations undertakes to benefit the world, particularly those most disenfranchised.
“The United Nations Association of the USA seeks to work with all administrations,” Curtin said. “The amount of criticism that is leveled on them, I try to keep it to a minimum. This book was certainly written with their blessing. Should we continue to be funding the United Nations? The U.S. is, of course, the largest contributor. Roughly 22% of their budget is from us, followed by China and Japan, the next two largest economies. It’s based on population and gross income. I think the core conference of the UN is UNICEF (The United Nations Children’s Fund), the Office of the United Nations High Commission of Refugees and the World Food Program. They rely mainly on discretionary funding.”
Curtin said one of his concerns is that too much of what the United Nations does is no longer being taught in schools, particularly in civics classes. He said he hopes recent required changes in education in the Garden State can change this lapse in education.
“I believe Gov. (Phil) Murphy has instituted civics classes into the state of New Jersey,” Curtin said. “I want to make sure that I’m accurate but I would applaud that.”
In fact, Murphy signed legislation to expand civics instruction at the middle-school level in July 2021. The legislation is known as “Laura Wooten’s Law,” in honor of the longest continuously serving poll worker in American history. Wooten worked polls in New Jersey for 79 years before dying in 2019.
“I think the National Assessment of Educational Progress did a study and only a small percentage of students could tell you about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights,” Curtin added. “It all ties into having a better understanding of history.”
In a study published Wednesday, May 3, by the National Center for Educational Statistics, the NAEP assessment showed a continued decline across all grade levels, particularly in the history and civics portions of the exams. Students struggled to understand and explain the impact of civic participation and how the government works and the historical significance of events. For the U.S. history assessment, 2022 scores declined compared to 2018 across all racial and ethnic subgroups, as well as for both economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities. Only the average score for English learners held steady for the last two assessment periods. For the 2022 U.S. history assessment, NCES reported that performances declined across all four themes on the test: democracy, culture, technology, and world role.
The civics assessment measures students’ knowledge and understanding of civics with three interrelated components: knowledge, intellectual and participatory skills, and civic dispositions. NAEP, also known as the Nation’s Report Card, is the largest continuing and nationally representative assessment of what U.S. students know and can do in mathematics, reading, science, U.S. history, civics, and geography. The U.S. history and civics eighth-grade assessments were administered from late January 2022 to March 2022 to a national sample of 15,800 eighth-graders at 410 schools across the nation.
Meanwhile, Curtin said his book is an attempt to give readers an inside track on both what the United Nations has accomplished and what it intends to do in the future.
“Issues are so fluid,” he said. “I tried to update as best I can. I went up to COVID-19 in the last chapter. The research and compiling was pretty intense as well, putting together everything and going back to each blog I’ve written. It was a slow and steady process. Right now, I’m not blogging as much as I used to be because of teaching. I have written in conjunction with the blogs. I’ve written some op eds. I’ve had some op eds published, some local, one in the Trenton Times. I did have a letter to the editor and an op ed in the Star-Ledger on the refugee crisis. I interviewed, for that article, the International Review Committee. Along the journey, you meet a lot of interesting people.”
“Challenging the Misconceptions of the United Nations” is available at Target, Barnes & Noble and as an ebook at Google Books, or type internationalpolicydigest and the author’s name.