Our civilization is measured to a large extent by what we read and write, the music we compose and listen to, and the art we study and admire. All these things help to explain our culture. If we want to understand what a country's culture offers, we tour the art museums, attend the symphony concerts, and browse in the libraries of that country.
Many countries in the world have these facilities. But there is one international organization that has spent a tremendous amount of money, time, and effort in looking after the cultural values of the world as a whole.
The name of this organization is UNESCO. UNESCO stands for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. Like its sister organization , UNICEF, which helps the world's children, UNESCO belongs to a very big family: the United Nations.
The United Nations, or UN, started soon after the end of World War II in 1945 to build a peaceful world. UNESCO had a special role in carrying out this idea. UNESCO was founded on the ideal that ''since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.'' Peace, it was thought, stood a better chance if people were freed from ignorance.
In many parts of the world, millions of poor children have learned to read and write as a result of programs introduced by UNESCO.
UNESCO also helps countries gain a greater sense of their heritage, or their cultural past, by working to see that great art treasures that have been stolen are returned to their homelands. In addition, UNESCO has rescued valuable monuments that are centuries old from decay.
One of the greatest achievements of UNESCO was to help in the removal of two 3,000-year-old temples at Abu Simbel in Egypt. These temples were threatened by the waters that had backed up when Egypt built the Aswan High Dam.
With all the good things UNESCO has done, it should be one of the world's most popular organizations. It still does fine work, but in recent years it has come under sharp criticism from some countries in the West.
The United States, for instance, is so angry with UNESCO it is pulling out of that organization in a year's time. The US has no quarrel with the ideals of UNESCO. What it is saying is that UNESCO is not living up to these ideals as much as it should.
The US, which pays a quarter of the money needed to run UNESCO, thinks a lot of money is being wasted on hiring too many people. It doesn't think the organization is run by the most efficient people anyway. And the US also believes that the main officials in UNESCO hold an anti-US point of view.
The biggest complaint the US has is that the communist nations and the poorer countries of the world are trying to set up a code of behavior for journalists. The US and some other Western countries think these regulations are an excuse to stifle what journalists say. Quite a few journalists from the poorer countries themselves feel the same way.
Those member countries of UNESCO that are behind this move to set up a new information order claim it is necessary because most of the press and television and radio is in the hands of the West. These countries complain that all too often Western journalists report only the bad things that are happening in their lands and fail to appreciate that poor countries can't be expected to work like rich countries.
The US hopes that, in leaving the organization, it might bring about changes in the outlook of UNESCO, which is headquartered in Paris. But some American scholars and scientists are unhappy with the US decision to pull out of UNESCO. They still see value in maintaining international links through UNESCO, which they feel helps research and builds goodwill.