In New York this week, the UN is meeting. On Tuesday, the session will concern itself with “rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity.” Chance would be a fine thing.

It is easy to mock, as well as expressing scepticism about the use of language. Ignition: surely there are enough fires already throughout the world?  Yet in 1945, when the whole enterprise began, there were cautious grounds for hope. The principal one was that the Western allies had prevailed. Europe was still full of shattered cities and refugees while the Soviet Union felt entitled to impose not only reparations but also ethnic cleansing. Victor’s justice: the Soviets certainly put the emphasis on “victor.” Loser’s justice was not a pleasant affair. Yet there was an air of idealism, especially among younger officials and soldiers. Many of them had been in combat but even among those who had fought bravely there was a feeling of “soldier no more”: a devout wish that mankind should order its affairs better. Those who had lived through wars and had witnessed the aftermath were ready to dedicate careers and lives to ensure that two World Wars in one century was enough.