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April 17, 2007

Tourney evokes quirkier side of Model U.N.

[img id="80203" align="alignleft"] What’s the strangest thing about attending a Chicago Model United Nations tournament as an outsider?

Is it the gossip overheard in the bathroom? (“Dude, I just know I’m gonna be assassinated.” “Did you hear that Hugo Chavez was just decapitated?”)

Is it the sight of two girls in a solemn embrace, one nearly in tears, the other patting her back, murmuring, “Be strong….I was on a joint crisis committee my first year too, and I survived”?

Is it the student with a placard reading “Quintus Fufius Calenus,” wearing a toga and opining about the fate of Cassius, recently captured by Julius Caesar, his speech muffled by intermittent bites of Arby’s mozzarella sticks?

It might actually be something else. The strangest thing about this past weekend’s Chicago Model United Nations (ChoMUN) tournament may have been the absolute seriousness with which students from 33 colleges and universities carried on proceedings as delegates and despots, senators and secret agents.

This earnestness was evident from the start, when this Maroon reporter entered a room to introduce himself and was immediately escorted out by Sue Wang, secretary general of the tournament. “That’s the Crisis Room,” she said. “What happens in there is secret. You can’t go in there.”

The 14th through 19th floors of the Chicago Mart Plaza hotel were organized into a simulated international body resembling the layers of an archaeological excavation. The most ancient strata of history were buried on the lowest levels, each level reenacted by “committees” of about 20 members charged with hashing out the issues of the day.

The 18th floor housed heated six-party talks with North Korea, represented by Walter Lamberson, president of the U of C’s team, the entirety of which was engaged with the operations of the tournament instead of competition. After a volley of insults with the Japanese delegates, Lamberson stormed out the room, vowing to continue his country’s nuclear weapons program. Even after this dramatic show, the remaining delegates only cracked smiles for a moment before returning to serious debate about how to contend with the North Korean threat.

A floor lower and 44 years earlier, the Warren Commission argued furiously about JFK’s possible assassins, while in a nearby room the CIA schemed to thwart the Commission’s encroachments on its classified evidence.

On the 16th floor, the Reign of Terror gripped Paris, and the Committee of Public Safety guillotined enemies of the state and deliberated over where to deploy Napoleon Bonaparte. On the 15th, the Second Continental Congress struggled to recuperate from the recent capture and execution of General George Washington.

And on the bottom floor of the tournament, the 14th, Quintus Calenus continued to munch on mozzarella sticks and argue for the execution of Cassius. His speech was interrupted by Cassius himself, who dropped by to reiterate his apology to Caesar and offer a slave girl as a token of reconciliation. The slave, who stood dutifully with lowered eyes beside Cassius, was played by a U of C first-year.

“First-years really bore the brunt of the work at this tournament,” said chief of staff Daniel Miller, a fourth-year. Over 90 U of C students of all years worked at this tenth annual ChoMUN tournament, which has a reputation as one of the best on the Model UN circuit.

“We’re the last competitive event on the circuit,” Miller said. “And we’re unique in that we focus on small crisis committees instead of large general assemblies.” That means more involvement for all delegates and more opportunity for creative committees, political hijinks, and bizarre alternative histories.

“One year we allowed the Human Rights committee to look up online news on their laptops,” Miller said. “But we hacked into the wireless and put fake news on CNN.com. Things like the Iranian president getting killed. They didn’t realize until after the tournament.”

“We really try to make it the tournament that we would want to attend as delegates,” Miller added. This enthusiasm was visible when finally, just before leaving, this reporter was allowed in the Crisis Room. Rows of laptops on dozens of tables were attended by an army of furiously typing U of C students. Hand-scrawled notes tacked to the walls and strategic maps of France and Italy allowed only a rare inch of visible plaster. The students calculated the results of battles and concocted fresh disasters to spring on unsuspecting delegates.

One student showed off a bill that had just been passed by the Aztec Empire committee demanding the sacrificial castration of a dozen young men to appease the god of agriculture. “We’re especially happy with that one,” he said, grinning.