In Indiana in the 1960s, billboards proclaimed a central message of the John Birch Society: "U.S. Out of the U.N."
The United Nations, the right-wing crusaders believed, was part of a communist plot to undermine our sovereignty. Soon, Americans would be slaves to the puppet masters in Moscow.
Decades later, that fear looks almost comic. The United Nations is too inept to undermine anything expect itself and, perhaps, any movement toward peace in the Middle East.
The plain fact is, the world needs an international body for conflict resolution more than ever, but the United Nations is a pitifully inadequate vehicle for it.
All of this comes to mind in the face of this week's effort by the Palestinians to generate anti-Israel resolutions in the General Assembly in response to the recent ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) -- the judicial but injudicious arm of the United Nations -- that Israel's controversial new security barrier is illegal and must be torn down.
There are many reasons to object to the fence as planned by the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. In fact, Israel's high court has done just that, forcing changes in its path.
But the ICJ proved itself a kangaroo court -- and that may be an insult to marsupials. The United Nations' preoccupation this week with using the ruling to strike more blows against Israel is deeply revealing of why this is a failed institution.
In an international organization that is supposed to transcend mere politics, everything at the United Nations is political, even the black-robed justices of its court.
Some U.N. abuses border on the obscene. Its Human Rights Commission has proudly counted some of the world's most notorious human rights abusers among its members, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Libya is a former chair. This year, Sudan joined the commission -- even as other U.N. agencies were hand-wringing (a U.N. specialty when faced with catastrophe) over that country's continuing genocide in the Darfur region.
But the commission can always agree on one thing: That Israel is just about the worst human rights abuser in the world. Who cares about genocide, when you have a security fence to worry about?
The United Nations set back the worldwide fight against racism by allowing its conference on the subject in 2001 to be hijacked by anti-Israel racists who turned it into a festival of outright anti-Semitism. Its refugee agency in the Middle East has perpetuated the misery of displaced Palestinians to suit the political needs of local despots -- and in the process helped breed generations of terrorists.
The ICJ decision, in which some justices announced their views even before the case was even heard, was just another chapter in the same old story.
Instead of addressing both Palestinian concerns about the disruptions the fence is causing and Israel's concerns about terrorism and the Palestinian Authority's refusal to quell it, the court just took another political swipe at Israel that will inevitably make it harder to bring the two sides back to serious negotiations. It was an act of judicial vandalism, not an effort to give a fair and balanced ruling.
The United Nations has sowed suspicion and bitterness among Israel's friends. Even many who agree Israel must give up all or most of the land captured in 1967 and who abhor its treatment of the Palestinians are frequently appalled by its actions.
Its Israel obsession is the flip side of the United Nations' persistent unwillingness to act against genuine horrors in the world.
During the 1994 crisis in Rwanda, the United Nations, apparently unwilling to judge a Third World member the way it routinely judges Israel, was mostly mute. It's reaction was "willful ignorance and indifference," according to one member of the U.S. mission to the United Nations at the time.
In the case of Sudan, it had to be dragged kicking and screaming by the United States into even acknowledging there is a problem. Having acknowledged it, the General Assembly will no doubt quickly forget about it as it addresses Israel's security barrier -- a case of misplaced priorities that would be farcical, if it wasn't so tragic.
The smugly timid U.N. leadership ("Kofi Annan" may someday become a synonym for high-toned cowardice) and a General Assembly that gives the worst despots and rights abusers the same rights as the most representative democracies are forever part of the Mideast problem, not part of the solution.
The results have made Israelis of all political persuasions rightly suspicious of international involvement in their country's troubles.
And the biased, unhelpful United Nations is a perpetual boost to the Israeli extremists who make political hay from their claim that the whole world is against Israel -- a claim that the United Nations, sadly, does its best to reinforce.
The Birch Society was wrong. We need a strong international body to promote peace in a time of escalating danger. Unfortunately, the biased, weak-willed United Nations doesn't fit the bill.