One World Government and the War of Tomorrow

In 1950, journalist Vincent Sheean argued that renouncing national sovereignty was the only way to prevent nuclear war

Illustration by Fred Siebel in the January 1950 issue of Redbook magazine

A bright rainbow hangs in the sky, descending just over the horizon. The many people of Earth march slowly toward it, leaving behind the crumbling fist of war, oppression and international borders. Nothing less than the future is over that horizon; a future that is defined by a new world order where people are able to attain true happiness and leave behind the bleak conflicts of the early 20th century.

At least that’s how it was imagined by illustrator Fred Siebel and writer Vincent Sheean in the January, 1950 issue of Redbook magazine.

We may not have the one world government envisioned by Vincent Sheean, but we do have a version of the one-superpower world that he predicted would emerge. His vision left open many possible avenues by which this new world order might be achieved — many that left the United States, the Soviet Union or both in ruins. But however that cold conflict came to an end it would bring the dawning of a new age.

Sheean, writing in 1950:

Whatever shape your world may take in the year 2000 A.D., we can all be fairly sure that it will be one world. Whether through war or through peace, the nations fifty years from now will have learned to enmesh their sovereignties into a single supreme authority. They will have learned to do so because, difficult as it may seem now, no other alternative exists. One world or none at all is the choice.

If we examine the hateful and (to my mind) improbable possibility of war—atomic war between the great powers—we see that one or the other side must be destroyed. The A-bomb, the guided missile, bacteria weapons, make limited wars for limited objectives impossible between great powers. These powers are too powerful, and they have weapons, which once used, would lead into a completely unknowable future. If, however, anything survived, it is certain that one power alone (either the United States or the Soviet Union) would impose its version of world order upon the ruins. That single-power world is profoundly undesirable, because civilization will have been sacrificed to attain it. Barring war then, or a great depression, we can see that the next fifty years offer a tremendous prospect— and challenge. It is a fact that by increasing our production by only a tenth above normal expectations, the U.S. can provide enough to bring every American up to minimum living standards.

But Sheean held out hope that there was indeed reason to be optimistic about the year 2000. Tremendous scientific advancement and wondrous new tech like supersonic planes and a system of advanced highways (the Federal Highway Act of 1956 was still six years away) would allow humanity to achieve its full potential:

Vast advances in technology and science should let us insure our people against sickness, unemployment and the hazards of old age; lace the nation with 200-m.p.h., triple-tier highways and fill the skies with more comfortable, faster, perhaps supersonic air transports; build churches, schools, art galleries, lecture halls, libraries for everyone. Certainly power by nuclear fission will accelerate the most productive economic machine in world history. Nations will no longer be driven by hunger to overwork their soil and pillage other natural resources.

Thus, it is conceivable that we will have the time and the energies to attain the greatest of all goals — happiness — with values in art, music, culture, craftsmanship, intellect, and above all, in human relations. Without resolution of this issue—human relations on a world scale—productivity will mean little, for it will be devoted to only one ultimate weapon after another.

It seems to me that no atomic war will occur. We shall, indeed, work our way slowly, with much difficulty, through successive phases of “cold war” and uneasy peace arrangements, toward a world authority strong enough to establish and keep international order. This has been a dream for many men through the centuries. It now becomes a political necessity, the means of survival.

Sheean also argued that national sovereignty would become an antiquated notion.

This trend toward world authority will be contested bitterly for many years, because national sovereignty is something all men cling to. But sooner or later a number of overwhelming questions will impose themselves on everybody who thinks at all. Questions like these: Is national sovereignty more important than society itself? Is civilization not something bigger than either the nation or the society? When these questions are asked, over and over and over again, the tendency toward World Agreement, already strong in some areas, will become, I believe, irresistible.

Inspection and regulation of atomic energy enterprises will be established. World agreement, at top levels, will be achieved in a “crisis” — such as Berlin, Greece, or in southeast Asia — and we will have a pattern upon which, with many a failure and many a discouraging rebuff, men of good will will slowly build up and strengthen a world authority. Societies will continue to be different; nations will keep their identities in every respect, except the freedom to murder each other.

This one world government, Sheean writes, would not come without considerable debate. Americans in particular, he argues would be incredibly resistant to the idea of this transition.

The social and economic aspects of this slowly evolving process are very hard for any American, especially a Congressman, to contemplate. Whether our road lies through peace or through war, it is going to cost billions of dollars. There will be helpful factors: split-second communications, world-wide walkie-talkies perhaps, transocean facsimile newspapers, an international language, which would be of enormous aid in surmounting international barriers. There will be a helpful atmosphere, one freer of worry over cancer, tuberculosis and polio. Most important, there will be a constantly growing realization of the imperative need for a common brotherhood of man.

I dare guess that it will be peace, dangerous and difficult peace, leading at long last to a world authority for the government of international relations by controlled disarmament.

Controlled disarmament of the world is obviously far from a reality today. But thanks to the technological growth of the second half of the 20th century, it’s hard to argue that—despite the continued existence of very distinct national borders—we’re anything but a smaller world here in the 21st.

War, well that’s another thing entirely.

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