Opening the U.N. Security Council’s Draperies Uncovers Forgotten History

This month Germany, serving as President of the United Nations Security Council, decided to open its curtains facing the East River of New York City. In so doing, Germany uncovered a forgotten piece of New York and U.N. history.

Opening the Curtains [1]

The German UN mission celebrated its month-long presidency with the symbolic step of calling for the heavy drapes covering the Council’s two-story high windows to be pulled aside to let the sunshine of a New York spring day flood into the Council chamber and on to its famous horseshoe-shaped table. Here is its photograph of the undraped chamber.

The mission’s purpose in so doing was expressed in its Twitter account. “Sunshine during today’s debate in the #UNSC–a rare occurrence throughout its 75-year history. #Transparency & openness to broader @UN membership & civil society are crucial not just symbolically, but also in practice for credibility & legitimacy.”

 The Previous Closing of the Curtains

The curtains had not been opened since their closing after a bazooka shell had been fired from the other side of the East River at the U.N. building on December 11, 1964, but had fallen 200 yards short of the target. A subsequent investigation concluded that if the bazooka had been properly aimed, it would have penetrated the building, especially if it had struck a window. Therefore, the curtains were drawn to protect diplomats and others in the Council’s chamber from flying shards of glass.

The Bazooka Attack on Che Guevara [2]

This bazooka attack happened while Cuba’s Che Guevara was addressing the U.N. General Assembly and while Cuban exiles in the U.S. were at the U.N. entrance on the west side of the building to protest the Cuban Revolution.

Although the blast was heard in the General Assembly, it did not interrupt Che’s speech denouncing the U.S. A subsequent post will discuss that speech.

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[1] Borger, Curtains opened on UN security council for first time since attack on Che Guevara, Guardian (April 4, 2019); German Mission to UN, Twitter Account (April 3, 2019).

[2] Bazooka Fired at U.N. as Cuban Speaks; Launched in Queens, Missile Explodes in East River, N.Y. Times (December 12, 1964).