As the Patricia’s Wisdom blog points out today, Capital of the World is a story in which everyday people cross paths with the powerful and prominent – and in some cases, individuals whose legacy was not yet known. The reviewer was pleased to find that the story includes Prescott Bush, whose son George H.W. Bush and grandson George W. Bush both went on to become presidents of the United States.
In 1946, Prescott Bush was moderator of the town meeting in Greenwich, Connecticut, a town that was caught by surprise when the United Nations selected it as its first choice for the new organization’s headquarters. Bush was among the civic leaders I refer to as “the parent generation” of World War II, but he was not among the boosters who lobbied for the UN’s attention. Instead, like some other townspeople in the orbits of growing American cities, he defended the traditional character of his community and its right to self-determination.
Bush summarized his position in a letter to the Greenwich Time newspaper, which published it on February 6, 1946:
Because my name has been connected with the opposition to the proposed UNO [United Nations Organization] site, I should like to make clear my feeling in the matter. I presume to speak for no one but myself, although a good many people have called me to voice strong opposition to the proposed site in our neighborhood.
My objection to the proposed site is based on the following points:
1. It certainly appears that the decision of the Committee was reached without the citizens of our community having had any opportunity whatever to express their sentiments regarding the proposition, which was sprung as a complete surprise to our community.
2. It appears that this proposition would ultimately require the displacement of more than one thousand families from their homes, and many thousands of people within the next few years would likely be required to find another place to live. Under present and prospective conditions it is very difficult for anyone to find a new home. We are already having great difficulty in finding homes for returned servicemen. It almost looks as though anyone losing his home in Greenwich at this time would have to move out of the area and it appears that even other areas are so short of housing that the displacement of our neighbors might work a very serious hardship upon them. The fact that it is proposed to pay a fair price for the properties does not alleviate the situation. Most people today value their homes more than money. This whole matter of displacement therefore appears to be a most important consideration.
3. It appears that the location of UNO in this area will not only provide great dislocation within the area but also within the surrounding area. The approaches to the area through Greenwich and from other directions are quite inadequate to deal with the heavy traffic that seems likely to develop. Indeed, our north and south roads are almost inadequate now to deal with the present traffic situation with adequate safety. The extensive improvements of our roads to deal with the additional traffic would seem to impose a heavy burden upon our community and to drastically change the character of the whole neighborhood. …
Bush went on to stress that Greenwichers did not object to the United Nations as an organization, only its designs on their town. With so many other communities vying for the UN’s attention, and offering the vast tracts of land that the UN sought, why Greenwich? The question divided the town, and the UN faced a public relations debacle that helped to drive the diplomats away from the New York suburbs.