Memoirs of ex-UN chiefHan Seung-soo was holding a breakfast prayer meeting the day he was supposed to be inaugurated as the president of the UN General Assembly when he was handed a memo. It was 8:30 a.m. on September 11th, 2001 and he was inside a cafeteria in the UN headquarters in New York. The memo was marked urgent and it was from Ban Ki-moon, the current UN secretary general. The message was shocking. “The World Trade Center is burning,” it read.
News spread that the UN headquarters was the next target, and within minutes, staff and diplomats were running for cover. It was the first time in history that a UN general meeting was cancelled. Han’s inauguration ceremony took place September 12.
Han, now a special UN envoy for climate change, recently published his diaries and writes extensively about his time at the UN, particularly about the aftermath of 9/11.
The book is called “Beyond the Shadow of 9/11,” and it’s the first memoir to be written by a president of the General Assembly in 62 years of UN history.
“Before I became president of the UN General Assembly, I realized that none of my predecessors had left any personal testimonies or written records,” Han said.
The decision to write the book came about for two reasons. By publishing his experiences as one of the world’s top diplomats, Han would be informing the rest of the world about some of the most significant events of the last few years as well as providing future UN personnel with a fascinating behind-the-scenes insight.
He started his dairy on his first day in office, and his scribblings soon filled four volumes. He started writing his book in 2004.
The book manages to convey the fraught tension that surrounded the events directly following 9/11. In one episode, Han and other Koran diplomats had to take swift action when different countries began drafting their own responses and statements concerning 9/11 and terrorism.
Han and his team worked to secure greater agreement and consolidated opinion during those post-9/11 days. Particularly poignant is when Han recounts how emotional he felt to see Korean diplomats working so closely with seasoned UN veterans at this period, especially because Korea had only been a UN member for ten years in 2001.
The book is not without its amusing incidents, too. One anecdote has U.S. President George W. Bush and Han joking about how women in their respective countries wield more power in the family than commonly appreciated. It turns out that even though two presidents grace the Bush family home, the women reign supreme. Han told Bush that the situation was not unlike that of Korean families.
By Nam Jeong-ho